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Lee Konitz

Background information
Birth name Lee Konitz
Born October 13, 1927 (1927-10-13) (age 82)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Cool jazz
Occupations Saxophonist, Composer
Instruments Alto saxophone
Labels RCA Red Seal
Atlantic Records
Verve Records
Prestige Records
Palmetto Records
Associated acts Jim Hall, Elvin Jones, Lennie Tristano
Warne Marsh

Lee Konitz (born October 13, 1927) is an American jazz composer and alto saxophonist born in Chicago, Illinois.

Generally considered one of the driving forces of Cool Jazz, Konitz has also performed successfully in bebop and avant-garde settings. Konitz was one of the few altoists to retain a distinctive sound in the 40s, when Charlie Parker exercised a tremendous influence on other players.

Konitz, like other students of pianist and theoretician Lennie Tristano, was noted for improvising long, melodic lines with the rhythmic interest coming from odd accents, or odd note groupings suggestive of the imposition of one time signature over another. Paul Desmond and, especially, Art Pepper were strongly influenced by Konitz.

Konitz's association with the Cool Jazz movement of the 1940s and 50s, includes participation in Miles Davis' epochal Birth of the Cool sessions, and his work with Lennie Tristano came from the same period. During his long career, Konitz has played with musicians from a wide variety of jazz styles.


Life and career

Konitz was born in 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. At age eight Konitz received his first instrument—a clarinet—but later dropped the instrument in favor of the tenor saxophone.

Konitz eventually moved from tenor to alto. His greatest influences at the time were the swing big bands he and his brother listened to on the radio, in particular Benny Goodman. Hearing Goodman on the radio is actually what prodded him to ask for a clarinet. On the saxophone he recalls improvising before ever learning to play any standards.[1]

Konitz began his professional career in 1945 with the Teddy Powell band as a replacement for Charlie Ventura. The engagement apparently did not start out smoothly, as Ventura is said to have banged his head against a wall when Konitz played. A month later the band parted ways. Between 1945 and 1947 he worked off and on with Jerry Wald. In 1946 he first met pianist Lennie Tristano and worked in a small cocktail bar with him. His next substantial work was done with Claude Thornhill in 1947, with Gil Evans arranging and Gerry Mulligan as a composer in most part.[2][3]

In 1949 he teamed up with the Miles Davis group for one or two weeks and again in 1950 to record Birth of the Cool. Konitz has stated that he considered the group to belong to Gerry Mulligan, and credits Lennie Tristano as the true forebearer of "the cool". His debut as leader also came in 1949, with the release of Subconscious-Lee on Prestige Records. He also turned down an opportunity to work with Benny Goodman that same year—a decision he is on record as regretting.[4]

In the early 1950s, Konitz recorded and toured with Stan Kenton's orchestra. In 1961, he recorded Motion with Elvin Jones on drums and Sonny Dallas on bass. This spontaneous session, widely regarded as a classic in the cool genre, consisted entirely of standards. The loose trio format aptly featured Konitz's unorthodox phrasing and chromaticism.

Charlie Parker lent him support on the day Konitz's child was being born in Seattle, Washington with him stuck in New York City. The two were actually good friends, and not the rivals some jazz critics once made them out to be.[5] He has also had problems with his heart which he has received surgery for in the past.[6]

In 1967, Konitz recorded The Lee Konitz Duets, a series of duets with various musicians. The duo configurations were often unusual for the period (saxophone and trombone, two saxophones). The recordings drew on very nearly the entire history of jazz, from a Louis Armstrong dixieland number with valve trombonist Marshall Brown to two completely free duos: one with a Duke Ellington associate, violinist Ray Nance, and one with guitarist Jim Hall.

Konitz contributed to the film score for Desperate Characters (1971).

Konitz has been quite prolific, recording dozens of albums as a band leader. He has also recorded or performed with Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Elvin Jones and others.

Konitz has become more experimental as he has grown older, and has released a number of free and avant-garde jazz albums, playing alongside many far younger musicians. He has released albums on contemporary free jazz/improv labels such as hatART, Soul Note and Omnitone.



As leader

  • 1949: Lee Konitz With Tristano, Marsh And Bauer (Prestige)
  • 1954: Konitz (Storyville)
  • 1954: Jazz At Storyville (Storyville)
  • 1954: In Harvard Square (Storyville)
  • 1954: Lee Konitz With Warne Marsh (Atlantic)
  • 1956: Lee Konitz Featuring Hans Koller, Lars Gullin, Roland Kovac (Swingtime)
  • 1956: Inside Hi-Fi (Atlantic)
  • 1957: Tranquility (Verve)
  • 1957: The Real Lee Konitz (Atlantic)
  • 1958: Very Cool (Verve)
  • 1958: An Image: Lee Konitz with Strings (Verve)
  • 1959: Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre (Verve)
  • 1959: You and Lee (Verve)
  • 1961: Motion (Verve)
  • 1965: Trio and Quartet (Magnetic)
  • 1966: Modern Jazz Compositions from Haiti (Impulse!)
  • 1967: The Lee Konitz Duets (Milestone: OJC)
  • 1968: Impressive Rome (CAM)
  • 1968: European Episode (CAM)
  • 1969: Peacemeal (Milestone)
  • 1970: Lee Konitz Sax Duets (Music Minus One)
  • 1971: Spirits (Milestone: OJC)
  • 1974: Jazz A Juan (SteepleChase)
  • 1974: Satori (Milestone: OJC)
  • 1974: Lone-Lee (SteepleChase)
  • 1974: I Concentrate on You (A Tribute to Cole Porter) (SteepleChase)
  • 1975: Warne Marsh Quintet: Jazz Exchange (Storyville)
  • 1975: Hal Galper: Windows (SteepleChase)
  • 1975: Trio: Oleo (Sonet)
  • 1975: Chicago 'n' All That Jazz (Denon: LaserLight)
  • 1976: Lee Konitz Meets Warne Marsh Again (PAUSA)
  • 1976: Figure and Spirit (Progressive)
  • 1977: The Lee Konitz Quintet (Chiaroscuro Records)
  • 1977: The Lee Konitz Nonet (Chiaroscuro)
  • 1977: Tenorlee (Candid)
  • 1977: Pyramid (Improvising Artists)
  • 1979: Seasons Change (Circle Records (Germany), with Karl Berger)
  • 1979 Nonet: Live at Laren (Soul Note)
  • 1979: Yes, Yes Nonet (Steeple Chase)
  • 1980: Martial Solal: Live at the Berlin Jazz Days (MPS)
  • 1980: Heroes (Verve)
  • 1980: Anti-heroes (Verve)
  • 1982: Toot Sweet (Owl)
  • 1983: Glad, Koonix! (Dragon)
  • 1983: Martial Solal: Star Eyes, Hamburg 1983 (HatOLOGY)
  • 1983: Dovetail (Sunnyside)
  • 1983: Dedicated To Lee: Lee Konitz Plays The Music of Lars Gullin (Dragon)
  • 1983: Art of the Duo (Enja)
  • 1984: Wild as Springtime (GFM)
  • 1986: Quartet: Ideal Scene (Soul Note)
  • 1986: Medium Rare (Label Bleu)
  • 1987: Quartet: The New York Album (Soul Note)
  • 1988: The Space Jazz Trio: Blew (Philology)
  • 1988: Solitudes (Philology)
  • 1989: In Rio (MA)
  • 1989: Konitz in Denmark (Rightone)
  • 1989: Round and Round (Music Masters)
  • 1990: Frank Wunsch Quartet: S'Nice (Nabel)
  • 1990: Zounds (Soul Note)
  • 1990: Once Upon a Line (Musidisc)
  • 1991: Lars Sjosten Quartet: Friends (Dragon)
  • 1991: Lullaby of Birdland (Candid)
  • 1992: The Jazzpar All Star Nonet: Leewise (Storyville)
  • 1992: Jazz Nocturne (Evidence)
  • 1992: Lunasea (Soul Note)
  • 1992: From Newport to Nice (Philology)
  • 1992: Frank-Lee Speaking (West Wind)
  • 1993: Rhapsody (Evidence)
  • 1993: Renato Sellani: Speakin' Lowly, Volume 1 (Philology)
  • 1993: So Many Stars (Philology)
  • 1993: Rhapsody II (Evidence)
  • 1993: Italian Ballads, Volume1 (Philology)
  • 1993: Brazilian Rhapsody (BMG: Music Masters)
  • 1994: Orchestra Il Suono Improvviso: A Venezia (Philology)
  • 1994: Swiss Kiss (TCB)
  • 1995: Haiku (Nabel)
  • 1995: Umberto Petrin: Breaths and Whispers (Homage to Alexandr Skrjabin) (Philology)
  • 1995: John Pl Indreberg: Step Towards a Dream (Odin)
  • 1995: Don Friedman: Attila Zoller: Thingin' (HatOLOGY)
  • 1995: Move (Moon)
  • 1995: Free with Lee(Philology)
  • 1996: Alone Together (Blue Note)
  • 1996: Live at the Manhattan Jazz Club (GAM)
  • 1996: Guarana (AxolOtl Jazz)
  • 1996: Unaccompanied Live in Yokohama (PSF)
  • 1996: Strings for Holiday: A Tribute To Billie Holiday (Enja)
  • 1996: Lee Konitz Meets Don Friedman (Camerata)
  • 1996: It's You (SteepleChase)
  • 1997: Twelve Gershwin in Twelve Keys (Philology)
  • 1997: Out of Nowhere (SteepleChase)
  • 1997: The Frankfurt Concert (West Wind)
  • 1997: Dearly Beloved (SteepleChase)
  • 1997: Body and Soul (Camerata)
  • 1998: Saxophone Dreams (Koch)
  • 1998: Inside Cole Porter (Philology)
  • 1998: L'Age Mur (Philology)
  • 1998: Tender Lee (for Chet) (Philology)
  • 1998: Self Portrait (Philology)
  • 1998: Dialogues (Challenge)
  • 1999: Dig-It (SteepleChase)
  • 1999: Three Guys (Enja)
  • 1999: Trio: Another Shade of Blue (Blue Note)
  • 2000: The Axis Quartet: Play French Impressionist Music from the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Palmetto)
  • 2000: rich Perry: RichLee! (SteepleChase)
  • 2000 Quartet: Sound of Surprise (RCA Victor)
  • 2000: Pride (SteepleChase)
  • 2001: Franco D'Andrea: Inside Rodgers (Philology)
  • 2001: Renato Sellani: Minority, Volume 2: All The Way (The Soft Ways) (Philology)
  • 2001 Trio: Some New Stuff (DIW)
  • 2001 Quintet: Parallels (Chesky)
  • 2002: Matt Wilson: Gong with Wind Suite (Steeplechase)
  • 2002: Irio De Paula: Duas Contas (Philology)
  • 2002: Barbara Casini: Outra Vez (Philology)
  • 2002: At the New Mississippi Jazz Club (Philology)
  • 2003: Live-Lee (Milestone)
  • 2003: Stephano Bollani: Suite for Paolo (Philology)
  • 2003: Kenny Werner: Unleemited (Owl)
  • 2003: A Day in Florence (Philology)
  • 2004: BargaLee (Philology)
  • 2004: Sound-Lee (Membran International)
  • 2004: One Day With Lee (Capri)
  • 2006:Ohad Talmor String Project: Inventions(OmniTone)
  • 2006: New Nonet (directed by Ohad Talmor) (OmniTone)
  • 2007: Riccardo Arrighini: The Soprano Sax Album: Standards (Philology)
  • 2007: Brian Dickenson: The Glen Gould Session (Philology)
  • 2007: Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology(featuring the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos) (OmniTone)
  • 2009: Lee Konitz / Dan Tepfer: Duos with Lee (Sunnyside)

As sideman

With Stan Kenton

  • City Of Glass
  • This Modern World
  • New Conceptions Of Artstry In Rhythm
  • Portraits On Standards

With Gerry Mulligan

  • Lee Konitz And The Gerry Mulligan Quartet
  • Lee Konitz Plays With The Gerry Mulligan Quartet

With Miles Davis

With Bill Evans

With Gil Evans

With Lennie Tristano

With others

With Arkadia Jazz All Stars

  • Thank You, Gerry!

TV Appearances

  • SOLOS: The Jazz Sessions[7] (2004)
  • Weightless - a recording session with Jakob Bro (2009)

Further reading

Andy Hamilton: *Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art* (University of Michigan Press, 2007).

Crafted out of numerous interviews between the author and his subject, the book offers a unique account of Konitz’s life and music, detailing his own insights into his musical education and his experiences with such figures as Miles Davis, Stan Kenton, Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Bill Evans.[8]


  1. ^ Robinson, Michael. "An interview with Lee Konitz". Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  2. ^ "Ibid"; Gordon, Jack
  3. ^ "Ibid"; Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center
  4. ^ "Ibid"; Gordon, Jack
  5. ^ "Ibid"; An Interview with Lee Konitz
  6. ^ Jung, Fred. "A Fireside Chat With Lee Konitz". Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links


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