Lee Konitz - alto sax; unknown - bass; unknown - drums
A daring improviser and singular voice in jazz over the last 50 years, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz continues to play with rare authority and ingenuity at the age of 82. A key figure on the 1949 landmark recording, Birth of the Cool, Konitz also played in the innovative Lennie Tristano trio of that time, introducing a cool alternative to bebop at a time when Charlie Parker was a magnetic influence for everyone who played the alto saxophone. Konitz's signature tune, "Subconscious-Lee" (a brisk, sinuous line based on the chord sequence to the jazz standard "What Is This Thing Called Love"), was the title track of his 1950 debut as a leader on the Prestige label and has remained a staple in his concert appearances to this day. (He recorded the piece several times over the decades and it appears on his latest recording for the Enja label, 2010's Live at the Village Vanguard.)
For his Sunday afternoon appearance at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival on July 4th, Konitz kicks off his set by engaging the crowd at the festival's new Cornell Highway site (following the banning of festivals at Freebody Park) with some unique audience participation. Instructing the audience to collectively hum a note, he proceeds to use that pedal point as a springboard into a melodic extrapolation on the jazz standard "There Will Never Be Another You." With the assembled crowd droning on in the key of E, Konitz improvises freely on the theme, dropping in a quote from "A Nightengale Sang in Berkeley Square," before an unnamed rhythm tandem enters at the five-minute mark to deliver a swinging rendition of the 1942 Mack Gordon-Harry Warren tune. For Konitz, who had appeared at George Wein's very first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 with his own quartet and with the Lennie Tristano-Lee Konitz Quartet, it was a typically inventive set by the tirelessly creative saxophonist-bandleader.
One of the respected elders on the jazz scene today, Konitz remains a potent, fiercely uncompromising force on the bandstand. A Chicago native (born October 13, 1927), Konitz began his professional career in 1945 with the Teddy Powell band as a replacement for Charlie Ventura and later worked off and on around Chicago with Jerry Wald before meeting pianist Lennie Tristano in 1946. In 1947, Konitz joined the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and remained for 10 months before moving to New York, where Tristano had relocated. They hooked up and began performing together in an innovative sextet with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, guitarist Billy Bauer, bassist Arnold Fishkin, and drummer Denzil Best.
In the early 1950s, Konitz recorded and toured with Stan Kenton's orchestra. Through the rest of that decade he made important recordings with such like-minded collaborators as baritone sax ace Gerry Mulligan, tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh, trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, and saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre. He made equally significant recordings in the '60s, including the freewheeling 1961 album Motion with bassist Sonny Dallas and drummer Elvin Jones and 1967's daring The Lee Konitz Duets project, which paired him with trombonist Marshall Brown, guitarist Jim Hall, pianist Dick Katz, violinist Ray Nance, and others.
Konitz continued his high level of artistry through the '70s, '80s, and '90s and has remained a vital force in the music through the first decade of the new millennium. In fact, his recorded output since 2000 has been astounding, totaling 35 releases in a variety of settings from duos, trios, and quartets to his acclaimed nonet, as well as collaborations with string quartets and big bands. And today in his live performances, he exudes the same wide open sensibility, lively imagination, and sense of humor that he exhibited with the Newport crowd back in 1965. (Milkowski)