Lee Konitz

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Lee Konitz
Konitz Lee Koeln altes pfandhaus 201207.jpg
Konitz performing in 2007
Background information
Born(1927-10-13)October 13, 1927
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedApril 15, 2020(2020-04-15) (aged 92)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz, cool jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Instruments Alto saxophone
Years active1945–2019
Labels RCA, Atlantic, Verve, Prestige, Palmetto, Whirlwind
Lee Konitz (top, centre) performing in 1947 Lee Konitz making of Beautiful Doll, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947.jpg
Lee Konitz (top, centre) performing in 1947

Leon Konitz (October 13, 1927 – April 15, 2020) was an American composer and alto saxophonist.


He performed successfully in a wide range of jazz styles, including bebop, cool jazz, and avant-garde jazz. Konitz's association with the cool jazz movement of the 1940s and 1950s includes participation in Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool sessions and his work with pianist Lennie Tristano. He was one of relatively few alto saxophonists of this era to retain a distinctive style, when Charlie Parker exerted a massive influence. Like other students of Tristano, Konitz improvised 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. Other saxophonists were strongly influenced by Konitz, such as Paul Desmond and Art Pepper.

He died during the COVID-19 pandemic due to complications brought on by the disease.


Konitz at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay, California, November 24, 1985 Lee Konitz.jpg
Konitz at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay, California, November 24, 1985

Early life

Leon Konitz was born on October 13, 1927, in Chicago. [1] He was the youngest of three sons of Jewish immigrant parents. [2] [3] His Austrian father, Abraham, operated a laundry business in the back of which the family lived. His mother, Anna, had emigrated from Russia. The family spoke Yiddish at home and were not religiously observant. [4] Neither of his parents were musical but were supportive of Konitz's interest in music. [3] [4]

At the age of eleven, inspired by Benny Goodman, Konitz received his first clarinet. [5] [6] He received classical training from Lou Honig who also taught Johnny Griffin and Eddie Harris. [4] A year later, his admiration for Lester Young led him to drop the instrument in favour of the tenor saxophone. He eventually moved from tenor to alto. [6] He received instruction on the saxophone from Santy Runyon. [4] Konitz's early influences were big band horn players such as Johnny Hodges, Roy Eldridge, Willie Smith and Scoops Carry. He also greatly admired Louis Armstrong and credited the influence Benny Carter's solo on 'I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me' had on him. [4]


Konitz began his professional career in 1945 with the Teddy Powell band as a replacement for Charlie Ventura. A month later, the band broke up. Between 1945 and 1947, he worked intermittently with Jerry Wald. In 1946, he met pianist Lennie Tristano, and the two men worked together in a small cocktail bar. His next substantial work was with Claude Thornhill in 1947 with Gil Evans arranging and Gerry Mulligan as a composer. [7] [8]

He participated with Miles Davis in a group that had a brief booking in September 1948 and another the following year, but he also recorded with the band in 1949 and 1950; the tracks were later collected on the album Birth of the Cool (Capitol, 1957). The presence of Konitz and other white musicians in the group angered some black jazz players because many were unemployed at the time, but Davis rebuffed their criticisms.

Konitz stated he considered the group to belong to Mulligan. His debut as leader also came in 1949 with tracks collected on the album Subconscious-Lee . (Prestige, 1955). [9] He turned down an opportunity to work with Goodman in 1949, a decision he later regretted. [8] Parker lent him support on the day Konitz's child was born in Seattle, Washington, while he was stuck in New York City. The two were good friends, not the rivals some jazz critics made them out to be. [5]

In the early 1950s, Konitz recorded and toured with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, but also continued to record as a leader. In 1961, he recorded Motion for Verve, with Elvin Jones on drums and Sonny Dallas on bass. This spontaneous session consisted entirely of standards. The loose trio format aptly featured Konitz's unorthodox phrasing and chromaticism.

In 1967, Konitz recorded The Lee Konitz Duets for Milestone, in configurations that were often unusual for the period (saxophone and trombone, two saxophones). The recordings drew on nearly the entire history of jazz from Louis Armstrong's "Struttin' with Some Barbecue", with valve trombonist Marshall Brown, to two free improvisation 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). In 1981, he performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, which was held in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Creative Music Studio.

Konitz worked with Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Attila Zoller, Gerry Mulligan, and Elvin Jones. He recorded trio dates with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden, released by Blue Note, as well as a live album recorded in 2009 at Birdland and released by ECM in 2011, with drummer Paul Motian. Konitz became more experimental as he grew older and released a number of free jazz and avant-garde jazz albums, performing with many younger musicians. He soloed on Elvis Costello's song "Someone Took The Words Away" in 2003, and his album with saxophonist/vocalist Grace Kelly was given 4 1/2 stars by Michael Jackson in Down Beat magazine. [10]

Konitz had heart problems requiring surgery. [11] He was scheduled to appear at Melbourne's Recital Centre in 2011 for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, but canceled due to illness.

In August 2012, Konitz played to sell-out crowds at the Blue Note club in Greenwich Village, as part of Enfants Terribles, a collaboration with Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock, and Joey Baron. Days after his 87th birthday in 2014, he played three nights at Cafe Stritch in San Jose, California, with the Jeff Denson Trio, improvising on his favoured old standards. [12] In 2018, his duo album Decade (Verve Records) celebrated both his 90th birthday and ten years of collaboration with pianist Dan Tepfer.

Konitz died at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City on April 15, 2020, as a result of pneumonia brought on by COVID-19 during the pandemic in New York City. [1] [4]


Television appearances

Related Research Articles

Cool jazz is a style of modern jazz music that arose in the United States after World War II. It is characterized by relaxed tempos and lighter tone, in contrast to the fast and complex bebop style. Cool jazz often employs formal arrangements and incorporates elements of classical music. Broadly, the genre refers to a number of post-war jazz styles employing a more subdued approach than that found in other contemporaneous jazz idioms. As Paul Tanner, Maurice Gerow, and David Megill suggest, "the tonal sonorities of these conservative players could be compared to pastel colors, while the solos of [Dizzy] Gillespie and his followers could be compared to fiery red colors."

Lennie Tristano American jazz pianist and composer

Leonard Joseph Tristano was an American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and teacher of jazz improvisation.

<i>Subconscious-Lee</i> 1955 studio album by Lee Konitz

Subconscious-Lee is a jazz album by Lee Konitz although a few tracks were issued on 78rpm under Lennie Tristano's name. It was recorded in 1949 and 1950, and released on the Prestige label.

Peter Ind is a British jazz double bassist and record producer.

"Intuition" is the title of a free improvisation by the Lennie Tristano quintet. It was recorded on May 16, 1949, and is credited as being one of the first two freely improvised jazz recordings, along with "Digression".

Crosscurrents is an album by jazz pianist Lennie Tristano. The sides were recorded in 1949 and the album released by Capitol in 1972. The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013.

<i>Spirits</i> (Lee Konitz album) 1971 studio album by Lee Konitz

Spirits is an album by American jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz recorded in 1971 and released on the Milestone label.

<i>Lee Konitz Meets Warne Marsh Again</i> 1977 live album by Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh

Lee Konitz Meets Warne Marsh Again is a live album by American jazz saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh recorded at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in 1976 and released on the Pausa label.

<i>The Lee Konitz Quintet</i> 1977 studio album by Lee Konitz Quintet

The Lee Konitz Quintet is an album by American jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz recorded in 1977 and released on the Chiaroscuro label.

<i>Live at the Berlin Jazz Days 1980</i> 1982 live album by Lee Konitz and Martial Solal

Live at the Berlin Jazz Days 1980 is a live album featuring a memorial concert for Lennie Tristano by saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Martial Solal which was recorded at the Berliner Philharmonie by Sender Freies Berlin as part of the Berliner Jazztage in 1980 and released on the MPS label in 1982. The album was also released in the US on Pausa Records.

<i>Star Eyes, Hamburg 1983</i> 1998 live album by Lee Konitz and Martial Solal

Star Eyes, Hamburg 1983 is a live album by saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Martial Solal which was recorded in Germany in 1983 by Norddeutscher Rundfunk and released on the HatOLOGY label in 1998.

<i>Lunasea</i> 1992 studio album by Lee Konitz and Peggy Stern

Lunasea is an album by saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Peggy Stern which was recorded in 1992 and released on the Italian Soul Note label.

<i>Ne Plus Ultra</i> 1970 studio album by Warne Marsh

Ne Plus Ultra, is an album by saxophonist Warne Marsh recorded in 1969 and originally released on the Revelation label in 1970 before being rereleased on CD the Swiss HatOLOGY label in 2006 with a bonus track.

<i>Warne Marsh Quintet: Jazz Exchange Vol. 1</i> 1976 live album by Warne Marsh Quintet featuring Lee Konitz & Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen

Warne Marsh Quintet: Jazz Exchange Vol. 1, is a live album by saxophonist Warne Marsh's Quintet featuring Lee Konitz and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen which was recorded at the Jazzhus Montmartre in late 1975 and released on the Dutch Storyville label.

<i>Live at the Montmartre Club: Jazz Exchange Vol. 2</i> 1977 live album by Warne Marsh Lee Konitz Quintet

Warne Marsh Quintet: Jazz Exchange Vol. 2, is a live album by saxophonists Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz which was recorded at the Jazzhus Montmartre in late 1975 and released on the Dutch Storyville label.

<i>Warne Marsh Lee Konitz: Jazz Exchange Vol. 3</i> 1985 live album by Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz

Warne Marsh Lee Konitz: Jazz Exchange Vol. 3, is a live album by saxophonists Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz which was recorded at the Jazzhus Montmartre in late 1975 and released on the Dutch Storyville label in 1985.

<i>Dig-It</i> (Lee Konitz and Ted Brown album) 1999 studio album by Lee Konitz and Ted Brown

Dig-It is an album by saxophonists Lee Konitz and Ted Brown recorded in 1999 and released on the Danish SteepleChase label.

<i>Lee Konitz at Storyville</i> 1954 live album by Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz at Storyville is a live album by saxophonist Lee Konitz featuring performances recorded at the Storyville nightclub in Boston and which was originally released as a 10-inch LP on George Wein's Storyville label. It was recorded on January 5, 1954.

Lee Konitz discography

This is the discography for American jazz musician Lee Konitz.

<i>Costumes Are Mandatory</i> 2013 studio album by Ethan Iverson, Lee Konitz, Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy

Costumes Are Mandatory is a studio album by American jazz pianist Ethan Iverson recorded with saxophonist Lee Konitz, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jorge Rossy. The album was recorded in 2012 and released by the HighNote label the following year, on July 23, 2013.


  1. 1 2 Keepnews, Peter (April 16, 2020). "Lee Konitz, Jazz Saxophonist Who Blazed His Own Trail, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  2. Beaumont-Thomas, Ben (2020-04-16). "Lee Konitz, jazz saxophonist with 75-year career, dies of coronavirus aged 92". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  3. 1 2 Fordham, John (2020-04-16). "Lee Konitz obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Adler, David R. (April 15, 2020). "Lee Konitz, Alto Saxophonist Who Exemplified Jazz's Imperative to Make It New, Is Dead at 92". WBGO. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  5. 1 2 Robinson, Michael. "An interview with Lee Konitz". Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2007-05-31.
  6. 1 2 West, Michael J. "Lee Konitz 1927–2020". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  7. Hamilton, p. 265
  8. 1 2 Jack, Gordon. "Lee Kontiz", Jazz Journal , December 1998, pp. 6–8
  9. Umphred, Neal (1994). Goldmine's Price Guide to Collectible Jazz Albums' 1949–69. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. p. 290.
  10. Jackson, Michael. "GRACEfulLEE Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz-Down Beat Review" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-15. Retrieved 2015-08-10.
  11. Jung, Fred. "A Fireside Chat With Lee Konitz" . Retrieved 2007-05-31.
  12. San Jose Mercury News, October 16, 2014.
  13. Lee Konitz. Solosjazz.com. Retrieved on 2012-06-29.