Yasiin Bey, Formerly Mos Def, Won’t Play Thelonious Monk Without Estate Approval

Yasiin Bey and Thelonious Monk. Photo: Dominique Charriau/WireImage; Gilles Petard/Redferns

Sorry, Denzel. Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def, has been cast as jazz musician Thelonious Monk in an upcoming film by screenwriter-producer Peter Lord Moreland. Thelonious will center on the pianist and composer’s “struggles for musical success, mental illness, and the spiritual love triangle between his wife, Nellie, and one of the world’s richest women, Nica Rothschild.” Production is slated to begin next summer. Finding an actor with the right vibe proved difficult, producer Alberto Marzan explained to Rolling Stone. So they found a musician. “When his name was brought up, there was a silence that I will never forget,” Marzan says. “We all envisioned him. This needed to be somebody that understood Thelonious’ music on an intimate level. It needed to be someone who understood the life and challenges of being a musician, a black man in this universe. Yasiin has Thelonious’ morals and focus on what matters.”

“A leader.A Lord.A shape in space.A man from a community of devotion who lives a simple life distant from society,” Bey said of Monk in an emailed statement to Rolling Stone. “The adjectives.can never be a verb.The Future has already happened.And a current event.Jupiter and team.”

Update, Thursday July 22, 1:40 p.m.: Yasiin Bey has updated his statement to say he will not be playing Thelonious Monk without approval from the musician’s family. Following yesterday’s report, Thelonious Monk’s son T.S. Monk told Pitchfork the Monk estate had not approved the film. “This project and its announcement are totally unauthorized! I hate the script and I control the music in Thelonious’s catalog,” he said. “There is no involvement by anyone in the Monk family with this project, and we actually condemn the effort.” Bey responded with a video on Instagram Thursday morning claiming he had been told the film was approved. “To be clear, I was given every indication by the production company that the family was onboard,” he said. “It was one of my primary questions — just as important as the music, if not more important, that the family supported the project. I took them at their word, and clearly that wasn’t the case.” Bey remains “super-excited” to tell the story “in the right way. “Perhaps another time,” he hoped. “Under better auspices, but not right now.”

Yasiin Bey Won’t Play Thelonious Monk Without Estate Support