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The Constantly Creative Lee Konitz

By Published: March 13, 2004
"I did have an opportunity to work, that's the best way. I am very happy that I can still do that. I'm doing it even more than ever now, so that's really a special blessing."

As far as assessing his career, he declined to go back and recount it.

"I appreciate all of those different situations that are still talked about today. And I appreciate today. Thankfully, I can still have these nice experiences."

Konitz is still writing, but because he is constantly throwing himself into different situations, he doesn?t always get to the playing of it right away.

" I write. I'm going to play with Ray Brown's trio in a couple days in Italy. Then Charlie Haden and Bobo Stenson in Portugal. I'm thinking of bringing some music along, but usually when I get there I say "Well, why don't we just play some things that we know?? So we're not standing there looking at music and having to try some new things on that short notice. So I usually say 'Lets play "Star Eyes," or "Body and Soul" or "All the Things You Are," the standards that everybody knows,' and then we can just play. If I'm going on tour with a band, I would play some of my tunes then," he said.

And the experience of traveling to play, and life on the road, is still satisfying, Konitz says.

"It's great. I went to South America a few weeks ago for the first time. In Argentina, I was with my rhythm section from New York, Ron McClure and Jeff Williams, for about 10 days. It was a terribly long trip, about 15 hours, to get there. But it was a very rewarding experience. The traveling gets rough. But all the things that happen when you get there are generally very rewarding."

And the audiences? Konitz says he doesn't notice much of a difference between American or European audiences. "It depends how you play. Audiences all over are receptive if they think something is happening, I think," he says.

There is some club work he could do without, because of the ambiance, or lack thereof, but despite complaints from musicians about a declining club scene, Konitz stays busy enough and appears content.

"I'm working more in the states now than over here in Europe," he said. "So it's picking up for me. Except for the special clubs, I don't look forward to going into smoky clubs. But if that's the case, if I play some place I'm not sure of, in Italy or whatever, and I get in a club — usually when we start to play it becomes a concert hall. So, the smell of beer and the cigarettes are quickly forgotten. But I try to avoid that more and more now."

Regardless whether it's a large hall or small club, Konitz is most concerned with what comes out of the musical situation, what new ideas can be found and what the unexpected nature of the art will bring.

"Usually, when I have the opportunity to play with great players, that becomes very special for the total music. Sometimes I've played with not such great players, who are good players, and found that I was inspired to play very well. So it can happen under the strangest circumstances. The door opens up, and I welcome every one of those opportunities," he says.

"I found that there's a small audience, if they know that if you're really improvising, and not just going through what you know, they're willing to hear you think on the stand, so to speak. So I have been able to get that kind of an audience. It's not the huge audience, of course, but it's enough to make it possible to play. I appreciate that."

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