Often regarded as a founder of bebop, Monk's playing later evolved away from that style. His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are consistent with Monk's unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations.
Monk's manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano. One of his regular dances consisted of continuously turning counterclockwise, which has drawn comparisons to ring-shout and Sufi whirling.
He is one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of Time (the other four being Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, and Dave Brubeck) as of 2010.