He used to tell me that it's easier to play fast than slow. When he first told me that, I thought, "Oh no. There's no way in the world." But Monk was right. It's harder to play slow and accurate. He proved it to me. I'd been playing fast with all these groups. Man, there was no way anyone could tell me that some of the upstairs tempos I played with Maynard weren't the end all to drumming. Monk proved it to me on my first night, when I rejoined him in 1961 at the new Five Spot. We were in the back room and Monk said, "You want to solo and play fast all the time. All drummers are that way. When you're playing fast, soloing, and throwing your sticks, you think you're really playing. In your estimation, that's the hardest. Well, you know, it's really harder to play slow than it is to play fast, and to swing and create something while you're doing it."
Monk finished talking to me, and we went up to the stand. Monk had his hat on. The place was packed. He started off the tune with an extra-slow tempo. I wondered what was going on. Charlie Rouse came in and played the ensemble; Monk jumped off the piano and started dancing during Charlie's solo. He danced over to me and said, "Okay. Get to me now. Swing it, pal." I was wondering if I was doing it. I had to concentrate so hard on the music that I couldn't look at the audience. I couldn't look at the door. I couldn't even look to see what time it was. I had to swing. I thought, "Oh, my God." I was playing slow, which was the hardest thing for me. Monk would dance up to me and say, "Okay Frankie, come on now. Let me see you swing now. S***. I told you it ain't easy to swing when you're playing slow. I told you that, didn't I? Come on."
I said to myself, "Well, I'll just keep the time and get with John Ore. I know I'll never get a solo." Monk played his little solo after Charlie. Then he jumped up and said, "You got it. Drum solo." And John Ore was still playing the bass. Monk said, "It's a solo, John. Frankie's got it. Go on, Frank. Wail." And John stopped. The tempo was way down here. I thought, "What do I do?" I'd been used to playing all this fast stuff. It was so fast that, even if I'd miss a beat or lose my ideas for two measures, it wouldn't mean anything because the people wouldn't know it. But the tempo was way down. Monk said, "Drum solo. Let me hear something, Frank. Don't be bull*****in'." I was trying to do things that I couldn't do. Monk said, "And keep the time. Here's the tempo. Don't play some s*** that you don't know nothing about."
I didn't even know how to put a paradiddle in there, because I'd never played a paradiddle that slow. And whatever I played, Monk said that he wanted it to make sense. I couldn't do any of my rudiments. It's a different musical approach that I'd never attacked. And all these people were looking at me. Tony Williams, Tootie Heath, Clifford Jarvis—all these drummers were out there, because they'd heard me play a little on the first gig I had with Monk. They knew I'd been with Maynard and Duke. Here I was coming back with Monk. They figured that I was going to be wailing. I was thinking the same thing, and Monk put this on me. Do you know what? It not only made me look like an ass, but I also played like an ass, and it really showed me how handicapped I was.
Monk sensed it had me stumped, and he got back on the piano. When the set was over, I was so embarrassed that I went right to the back room with Monk. He pulled out a cigarette and said, "Hey, Frankie, you got a match for me?" I said, "Yeah, Monk." He said, "Hey, didn't I tell you, Frank, that it was harder to play slow than to play fast? You dig it? You thought I was going to play all that fast stuff that you did out there with Sonny and Maynard. That's cool, but drummers don't think that the stuff can swing when it's slow. They think that that s*** is easy to do, you dig?"