So, while a crisp, cold craft beer and some hot be-bop might seem like a jamming mix, the fizz has more than flattened in a brewing deal involving a Northern California beer-maker and the son of acclaimed jazz keyboardist-composer Thelonious Monk.
A California judge recently denied North Coast Brewing Company’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Thelonious Monk Jr. for the unpermitted use of his father’s name and likeness to sell beer-themed merchandise. That means his legal action will advance, scoring a small victory for the Monk estate right before the 36th anniversary of his the be-bop artist’s death.
Monk pere died in New Jersey on Feb. 17, 1982, leaving a legacy not just in music but also style — with his distinctive cool suits, hats, facial hair, and sunglasses. He is the second most recorded jazz composer, trailing only Duke Ellington. His son, a jazz drummer, lives in New York and is the administrator of his father’s estate.
The Monk estate had agreed to allow the California brewer use Monk’s name and likeness for the limited purpose of marketing and distributing an ale called “Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale.” In exchange, the beer makers were to donate part of the profits to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a nonprofit that, among other things, seeks to “offer the world’s most promising young musicians college level training by internationally acclaimed jazz masters and to present public school music education programs for young people around the world.”
But Monk’s son asserted that the brewer violated their agreement by using his father’s name to sell not just beer but also merchandise like playing cards, caps, and T-shirts. He also said the company continued to use the Monk name without permission after he terminated and revoked all consent in January, 2016.
North Coast Brewing sought to dismiss Monk’s three causes of action: trademark infringement, violation of New Jersey’s common law right of publicity, and unjust enrichment. But the judge found it plausible that the Monk estate “has a protectable interest in the name, image, and likeness of Monk.” The court declined to rule on the motion to dismiss at this stage given the fact-intensive nature of the claims.
The brewer, which offers jazz concerts at its Mendocino facilities and whose operators say they are huge jazz fans, has posted on the company website that North Coast has donated $1 million to the Monk institute under the deal it had struck to use the musician’s name and likeness.
Merchandising, sometimes even more than music, has become a huge revenue source in the music business, with licensed music goods and services amounting to more than $3 billion in 2016, when this sector grew 9.4 percent over the previous year, according to industry experts.