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The Constantly Creative Lee Konitz

By Published: March 13, 2004
"At the date, I asked him if he remembered we had played one of the Tristano lines together at a concert in Europe once, just as a duo. We were in the dressing room. I just met him. I didn't know what his experience was or anything and I said 'What do you want to play?' He said 'how about "317 East 32nd Street."' Well, that's Tristano?s line. And we just went up and played it was really perfect the first time."

"And so at the date, I said 'Let's do that. Do you know any of the other lines that I wrote or anything?' And he knew two of them that I had written. He just kind of walked in the corner for a minute to check the notes and he played them perfectly. He's a fine player."

Konitz says the band achieved that special jazz feeling. "It sounds improvised. I like that premise. If it's improvised and it's done well, I like that especially well," he said.

Indeed, Konitz's sound is great throughout the CD, as it is for the other players. The band recreates "How Deep Is The Ocean" in medium tempo, Konitz sweet timbre creating a new melody over the solid rhythm support. The section is in great form throughout, whether on Konitz tunes like "Subconscious Lee," and "Palto Alto," or the standards.

At a few points — like "317 East 32nd," and "Eyes," Turner and Konitz play in unison, the lines twisting and harmonizing, and sometimes echoing each other, to great effect. It seems effortless. Bernstein's solos are light and tasty. The recording is crisp and the audiophile sound is delicious.

Solos by Konitz are thoughtful and engaging, the ideas at times ethereal. He doesn't care if people still refer to it as the "cool school." And he avows a great debt to Charlie Parker, even though he doesn't play in that frantic bebop mode.

"The notes are kind of filtered through the sound. If the sound is unpleasant for me, even a fine selection of notes doesn't have the impact that they have to have. Each of these instruments has a voice and if I hear a sound on an instrument that I don't like, I'm not interested usually in what he plays," he says frankly.

"Sound is the first thing that we tune into. I had a lot of trouble with Coltrane at first, and Ornette Coleman at first. And then finally I accepted it as inevitable, somehow, and enjoyed it for what it was. It was difficult at first. I even had trouble with Charlie Parker at first. Cause I'd been listening to Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges and people like that. But of course after some listening, [Parker] became very special."

"I copied him but," he said of Bird, breaking into song for a second, "I did it my way!"

"I tried to learn what the great solo feels like. That's why we copy great solos. And then I tried to rearrange it somehow. And I have a different kind of energy than [Parker] did. My god. He lived 24 hours a day for 34 years, pretty much. So I am very indebted to him, as I am to all the great musicians who I've heard through my life."

"Labels don't mean anything to me," he says. "I'm trying to play as passionately as I'm able to. If they want to call that cool, that's fine. Just spell the name right, is the formula."

Konitz says he had the basic same influences through his career that most people seemed to have. "Warne Marsh was one of the great players that I loved. Of course Lester Young and Louie Armstrong and all of the accepted people that we've all agreed on," he says. "The jury is in on all those people."

And he agrees there are some good musicians on the rise today. "I've heard a lot of the younger players that I like very much. Brad Mehldau and Mulgrew Miller. I could go on for a while. There's a lot of very talented players around," he said.

"People look for a messiah all the time. And everybody is just busy doing their own thing, trying to learn how to play the music and the education is really working very well," he says, looking at the future of jazz. "I hear young people who, if they're not playing with an original voice yet, are playing with a lot of understanding of the material. They have great facility, my god. It's great."

Konitz, one of the music's elder statesmen now, didn't want to go back and re-hash the past. He wants to look at today, and maybe peek at tomorrow. But he is satisfied with his long and interesting career. He admits, though, that while he was growing as a musician — which included things with the Claude Thornhill big band, Miles' nonet and other stellar work — he didn?t get much into the jam session scene.

"Actually, I didn't do a lot of that. I always felt as a horn player, a jam session wasn't satisfying enough for me. I should have been a rhythm section player, actually, and I could have at least been playing all the time. At a jam session, if there's a number of horns, you just play your few choruses and then sit and listen to everybody else. So I wasn't a jam session guy too much. I did them, certainly, but I didn't go out of my way for that.

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