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Cathing up with Lee Konitz

Lazaro Vega By

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Pretty much I've thought of myself as a sideman and when I'm invited into a situation I, usually, eagerly jump in and hope that I can make some music with some different people. And frequently it works; sometimes it doesn't. But that's kind of the attitude I go into it with.
This interview was first published at All About Jazz in May 1999 and is part of our ongoing effort to archive pre-database material.

The Lee Konitz Trio, Mother's Day, May 9th At 4 P.M. In The 165 Seat Urban Institute For Contemporary Arts Theater, 41 Sheldon Blvd. Ne, Grand Rapids, Mi. The Alto Saxophone Master With Bassist Jeff Halsey Of Bowling Green University And Drummer Pete Siers Of Ann Arbor. Tickets Are $15.

All About Jazz: I was just going over some of the records by you I've gotten here at the radio station in the last year or so. There's the Strings for Holiday, the record with the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, Saxophone Dreams, various things on Evidence music, a trio record on Steeplechase, It's You. I'm looking at all this stuff and I'm wondering, what kind of process do you go through to choose what you're going to pick out to play? Because you're on so many diverse things, I was wondering how you choose that?

Lee Konitz: Yes, I've been trying to figure that out myself lately. Pretty much I've thought of myself as a sideman and when I'm invited into a situation I, usually, eagerly jump in and hope that I can make some music with some different people. And frequently it works; sometimes it doesn't. But that's kind of the attitude I go into it with.

LV: So how does it come about?

LK: Well, I get invited to do various projects and I have a choice to accept or not. If someone invites me I immediately say yes if I'm interested and kind of positive about being invited in the first place. I play with local musicians all over Europe and that means for me being able to work frequently and not having to charge big prices for a band. The way you learn how to play, I figure, is by playing. So, I just welcome all these different situations.

Having a band is still something that I would like to do, but in addition to these other kinds of projects.

Incidentally, I really appreciate you starting with the contemporary records. Very frequently in these sessions we talk about the beginnings and sometimes I don't feel like going back there too quick.

LV: O.k. Another group that I know you've been involved with in the last couple of years that a friend of mine just saw at Ronnie Scott's is the Kenny Wheeler Quartet with Dave Holland, Bill Frisell, Kenny and yourself. That's another freelance situation, isn't it?

LK: Well that's a result of the record. Do you have that record?

LV: Oh, Angel Song, absolutely.

LK: Actually, we didn't play at Ronnie Scott's, but we played in England in January. We did a six-concert tour. Actually Bill Frisell was unable to make it, so John Abercrombie made that one. Bill is so busy that it's been difficult. We've done about two concerts since we've made the record with Bill.

LV: Isn't that a little bit different? When you think about Strings for Holiday or the Metropole Orchestra record, or the trio record on Steeplechase, you're dealing pretty much with song forms and improvising on changes. Now with Kenny's music it seemed to be a little different atmosphere. I was wondering if you could comment on that a little bit as a challenge musically.

LK: First of all I traveled from Tel Aviv the day before the date, 11 hours, and went immediately to a rehearsal with the group. We were all eager. Because I love Kenny's music, which are great melodies on changes, basically. The one difference, probably, is that there was no drummer. But anyway, on the morning of the next day we didn't play any of the tunes that we rehearsed. It was a long session and I really felt the jet lag. But the music was so compelling that I was more than delighted it turned out as well as it did. That's just another kind of chamber-like group with more of an emphasis on the composition than the arrangement, just playing a tune and playing solos. And they're just such great players that it was really a pleasure.

LV: Dave Holland just came through with his sextet two weekends ago.

LK: And he tore the house down, right?

LV: Sure did.

LK: My wife and I went to the Knitting Factory the other night and listened to a great violin player, Mark Feldman, and he plays with a very fine free Japanese lady, Yuko Fujiyama. We really enjoyed their music, and then went upstairs to the next room for Dave's set. They hit so hard after this very gentle music that we had just listened to that we listened to one tune and admired what they did and left. It was just, whew, God it was like an avalanche or something.

LV: When they were in Grand Rapids they stayed for two days doing a public concert and then a private home concert with catering and all that in a living room.

LK: Well, my God.

LV: I liked the concert better because they were a little bit in better eye contact with each other and they could get louder. The dynamic level is so extreme...

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