Thelonious Monk Estate Sues Brewery Over Merchandise

North Coast Brewing Co.'s Brother Thelonious beer (original picture cropped) (Photo: Bernt Rostad/flickr)

The legacy of jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk may have been tarnished by one brewery's gratuitous use of his face on its merchandise, his estate claims in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

The Monk estate, which is managed by the legendary pianist's son T.S. Monk, is suing North Coast Brewing in San Francisco federal court for trademark infringement and a series of other violations. According to a report by SFGate, they are seeking over $75,000 in damages.

In the suit, the Monk estate alleges that it granted the Fort Bragg-based brewery verbal permission to use his visage for its Brother Thelonious beer. The popular beer, which was introduced in 2005, is a Belgian-style ale that puns Monk's name by dressing him in monk's garb for the beer's packaging.

Thelonious Monk performs in an undated and unlocated picture
Thelonious Monk performs in an undated and unlocated picture. (Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

There was one caveat to this deal: For using Monk's likeness, North Coast would donate a portion of its profits from Brother Thelonious beer sales to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz -- a non-profit that promotes jazz education and performance.

The Monk estate rescinded the agreement in January 2016, when it was discovered that the brewery had used the musician's likeness on an assortment of merchandise, including T-shirts, iron-on patches and soap bars.

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The lawsuit states that the brewery has failed to compensate the estate for its use of Monk's image. It is unclear if North Coast is donating proceeds from its jazzed-up "beer gear" to the Monk Institute.

North Coast also sponsors jazz festivals throughout Northern California, where they sell Brother Thelonious and other brews.  The company brands itself as the "Official Brewery Partner" of the Monterey Jazz Festival. (Fittingly, Thelonious Monk performed at the Festival four times between 1963 and 1972.)

As of press time, North Coast Brewing is still selling Brother Thelonious merchandise on its website.

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