MANNHEIM, Germany: Lee Konitz was on stage here for the last stop on his nonet's European tour in mid-October of 2007 when he discovered that he had left his own music charts at the previous stop, in Porto, Portugal.
Panic? Konitz? Not on your life. Especially not at the concert celebrating the pioneer American saxophonist's 80th year of life.
While the lead alto parts were hastily written out on the spot, reports Matthias Spindler in the October 15 Mannheimer Morgen, the usually taciturn leader had a hard time sorting through the sheets on his music stand. Konitz bridged the gaps with some choice jokes.
For example: "The doctor says to his patient, 'I'm sorry to have to tell you that you have two illnesses. One is Alzheimer's.'
'Okay,' says the patient, 'and what's the other?'
'Well,' says the patient, 'at least it's not Alzheimer's.'
During a reconstructed number, the critic thought he heard some sour notes. Spindler said he was unsure whether these were due to the sidemen's nervousness or hasty manuscript copying by tenor saxophonist Ohad Talmor.
In a blues-based orchestral suite, the players cleared up any doubts about their own abilities. Konitz played the alto sax he had bought in 1945, during his heydays with Lennie Tristano when he built a reputation as a pioneer of the "cool alto style. At the time, most alto saxophonists were trying to imitate the forceful note cascades of their icon, Charlie Parker.
At one point Konitz had the audience hum a note while he played a modal improvisation on it. Another critic, Ulrich Olshausen of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, called this "the first and only audience participation without any feeling of embarrassment that we can recall.
In his review, Olshausen underscored the American saxophonist's importance as well as that of the whole Tristano circle for postwar jazz in Germany. Konitz lived in Cologne for a period when many American musicians put down roots in Europe.
Considering that Konitz once lived in Germany, celebrated his birthday there, recorded his last two CDs with German pianists, and played dances by Franz Schubert on those recordings, Olshausen wrote, "Konitz and the Germansthere just has to be some deeper connection.
After the final number, the audience treated the bandleader to a rousing round of "Happy birthday, dear Lee.