Lee Konitz Quartet
Lee Konitz – alto saxophone
Florian Weber – piano
Jeremy Stratton – bass
George Schuller – drums
Lee Konitz is one of the more distinctive alto saxophonists in jazz since Charlie Parker (and one of the few that did not outright copy Parker’s style), pairing his individual style and voice with a strong sense of innovation.
Born to an Austrian father and a Russian mother in Chicago, Konitz as a youth studied clarinet, then alto saxophone with various teachers. In the early 1940s, Konitz met noted pianist Lennie Tristano, under whose influence and tutelage Konitz’s mature style in jazz began to emerge. His recordings with Tristano include the 1949 releases “Intuition” and “Digression” — precursors to the “free jazz” movement of the 1960s.
In 1947, Konitz played with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, meeting Gil Evans, who was then arranging for Thornhill. Evans brought Konitz along to participate in Miles Davis’ nonet performances and recordings (Birth of the Cool, 1948-50), considered the beginning point for what came to be called “cool jazz.” Konitz went on to play with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker’s influential band and worked from 1952-53 in Stan Kenton’s big band. From then on, he mainly led his own small groups, occasionally touring abroad.
In the early 1960s, as opportunities for performances declined, Konitz withdrew from the music business and took on day work. He continued to develop his unique sound, however, occasionally working with such musicians as Paul Bley, Martial Solal, Charlie Haden, and Brad Mehldau. He also worked as a private teacher, conducting lessons by tape with students worldwide. Konitz joined with Warne Marsh, his fellow sideman from early Tristano sessions, to tour Europe and record in 1975-76; he also founded his own nonet and performed regularly during the 1980s. In 1992, Konitz won the prestigious Danish JAZZPAR Prize.
With his insatiable musical curiosity, Konitz records in a variety of different settings. His later albums include French impressionist music with a string quartet (Lee Konitz & The Axis String Quartet Play French Impressionist Music from the 20th Century), work with the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos (Portology), and an album with the big band Mark Masters Ensemble (One Day with Lee). Konitz divides his time between residences in the United States and Germany and continues to travel and perform around the globe.
Photo credit: Frank Eppler