Preview: Lee Konitz, 87, plays Ronnie's




Andy Hamilton previews two May 2015 appearances at Ronnie Scott's by cool-school veteran Lee Konitz with trumpeter Dave Douglas

Cool-school maestro Lee Konitz, in his 88th year, leads a group with trumpeter Dave Douglas at Ronnie Scott's in May. Konitz is, with Sonny Rollins, the last major representative of early modern jazz who's still active. Konitz's greatest influence was his still-neglected teacher Lennie Tristano, but he also thoroughly assimilated the heritage of saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young. Konitz's partnership with Tristano, and with fellow Tristano pupil, the highly individual tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, were the defining ones of his career.

In his 80s, Konitz is busier than ever, and still developing artistically. As friend and fellow musician Karl Berger puts it, he's "still trying". He is unerringly self-critical and always aims to do the best work he can.  It should be stressed that though Konitz is a highly reflective musician, what he plays is intuitive, the product of an intensely emotional sensibility – so the term "cerebral", with its implied criticism, rests on a confusion.

Konitz has been ingenious in creating novel contexts for the traditional approach of "theme and variations" which he follows. He seeks out challenging situations and strives for perfection in his momentary art.  His partnership with Dave Douglas promises much.  Douglas is known for his re-creations of jazz tradition, and is sure to provide a simpatico partner for the altoist.  Word is that Konitz is also doing wordless vocals these days, as a supplement to his totally distinctive alto-playing.  Bass and drums - maybe with piano – are still to be decided.

Lee Konitz plays Ronnie Scott's, London, on Sunday 3 and Monday 4 May 2015. Details here.

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Lee Konitz photo by Tim Dickeson

Jazz Journal writer Andy Hamilton is the author, with Konitz, of Conversations On The Improviser's Art (2007, University of Michigan Press).


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