Friday, 15 March 2013

Lee Konitz, Conversations on the Improviser’s Art

Just finished reading Andy Hamilton’s excellent book of interviews with and about 85-year-old alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, one of the few remaining survivors of Bird’s generation, who continues to create masterfully until this day. It is a good read all the way through and I heartily recommend it. Rather than review the book, since I am sure you can find reviews elsewhere on the net, I decided to post some of my favorite quotes from Lee. His prologue is a strong start: 

“I'm writing this after a trip to Vienna, and while I was there I had the opportunity to hear an Austrian tenor player, fifteen years old, who really played the instrument very well, and wowed the audience with his expertise. And a few days ago I heard an Italian alto player of the same age who was really unbelievably accomplished, instrumentally and musically – and he really got the audience shouting approval. When I was fifteen years old I was playing, but no one had really inspired me like these two guys have obviously been inspired. These two people were not aware, as of yet, of a true musical statement, without the sensationalism – something they will learn, we hope. 

…I never wowed an audience in my whole life like these young players did, so I can’t help but feel I've missed something. But in a more modest way I've been able to continue playing, in private and in public, with occasional comments from people after a concert telling me they like the way I played through the years.” 

On Charlie Parker: (Hamilton) At his peak, for a few years in the late 1940’s, Parker was probably the most phenomenal improviser jazz has ever seen. (Konitz) “Red Rodney was quoted as saying that he didn't think Bird knew the changes all that well! So I wonder. He certainly knew elementary harmony…” 

On Anthony Braxton: “Well, it’s the worst solo I've ever heard in my life, I think. I don’t know what his real intention is in doing this…I can’t stand his sound. I think it’s awful.” 

On practicing: “I haven’t read music for years. I don’t enjoy doing that too much.” 

On the sound of the saxophone: “Our sound has to do with our whole anatomy…We are the sound. When Charlie Parker borrowed my horn for a set at Birdland, to my complete astonishment, it no longer sounded familiar to me. It’s a most flexible instrument.” 

On perfect pitch: “No, I have imperfect pitch! Sometimes when things are right I can hear pretty accurately. But waking up in the morning and hitting a concert A or whatever, I have to think about that for a minute…Absolutely unsure – after all these years. That’s amazing!” 

Great stuff – go get the book and read more (yes, I know it is old school but some people still read books these days). Better yet, get out some Lee Konitz records and listen for a while.

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