R. I. P. Lee Konitz (1927-2020)

My word this Covid-19 pandemic is having a terrible effect on the Jazz world. I heard this evening that it has now taken from us the great alto saxophonist Lee Konitz at the age of 92 after a career lasting 75 years.

I can’t possibly do justice here to the memory of such a legend but at least I can post one of my favourite tracks of his, a live performance from the 1950s of a tune called Ablution. If Lee Konitz hadn’t announced it at the start the comping of pianist Ronnie Ball would have told you straight away that this is a contrafact built on the chords of the famous Jerome Kern tune All The Things You Are, the unusual chords of which have made it a popular vehicle for jazz musicians to improvise on ever since it was written back in 1939.

In the bebop era it was typical practice to base original compositions on top of the chord sequences of standard tunes in such a way as to hide their foundations from the casual listener. A famous example of this was the Charlie Parker – Dizzy Gillespie session in which they decided to play a variation on the standard Cherokee. It went well until they absent-mindedly played the actual theme of Cherokee at which point there was a cry of anguish from the control room from a producer who had obviously hoped that if they stayed off the original melody he wouldn’t have to pay composer’s royalties. So off they went again called the next take Ko Ko and created one of the Charlie Parker classics.

Although Lee Konitz had a tone much more reminiscent of Paul Desmond than Charlie Parker he had a wonderfully agile and inventive way of playing that had echoes of Bird at the same time as being definitely his own style, as I hope you will agree after listening to this!

Here are just two classic albums that Lee Konitz played on relatively early in his career, if you want to check them out

R.I.P. Lee Konitz (1927-2020)

3 Responses to “R. I. P. Lee Konitz (1927-2020)”

  1. brissioni Says:

    Well this is sad, losing legends.

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Was on the main German news last night.

  3. stallphill Says:

    yes, a great one. I took a couple of lessons from Lee. He was musical, witty, philosophical, and very kind to me. He was also one of the most elegant teachers on the art of improvisation, as was one of his mentors, Lennie Tristano.

    The wit is there…. “George Shear…I mean Ronnie Ball…”

    Ronnie Ball is also a legend, love his playing.
    thanks for posting this performance.

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