A living legend’s sax appeal
Within the great cacophony of hypermodern life, it is important to take a moment to listen to one’s elders. Quite literally, listen to one’s elders, such as when the 85-year-old saxophone legend Lee Konitz plays a three-night gig with his quartet at Jazzhus Montmartre.
Smooth, sweet and enjoyably digestible wisdom is shared through Konitz’s alto saxophone. Jazz may not necessarily have the strongest foothold in this fast-paced world, and as a genre it holds nowhere near the sway it did during its nearly 70-year long heyday, but still it has value. It requires careful listening, celebrates creativity, and is played with a subtle attention to thoughtful details − qualities that are abundant in Konitz’s music.
“The essence of playing meaningful music is improvisation and spontaneity,” Konitz said in an interview with InOut. “I’m not interested in playing arrangements or prepared music.”
When performing, Konitz had adopted the unique practice of blindly beginning a jazz standard with his band. The bandmates have to identify the piece and are thus forced to seek their way into the collaboration. “I have the good fortune of playing with some guys who like to improvise standard tunes and make them interesting,” said Konitz. “I don’t like to make plans. We take turns starting tunes, and the rest of us join in and make a piece of new music from it.”
The Chicago-born Konitz has played with many of the great artists in jazz history − he even fondly recalled his performances at the Montmartre playing with the café’s regulars Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster and Jackie McLean. He was early on associated with the ‘Cool Jazz’ or ‘West Coast Jazz’ movements, but feels that such classifications are artificial and misleading, especially considering some of the negative connotations and comparisons between black and white musicians that came with the Cool Jazz term.
Konitz was a member of the nonet for Miles Davis’s seminal 1957 recording Birth of the Cool. Davis received criticism for integrating the band, bringing white musicians such as Konitz and Gerry Mulligan into the group. In his autobiography, Davis responded to the criticism. “I just told them that if a guy could play as good as Lee Konitz played − that’s who they were mad about most, because there were a lot of black alto players around − I would hire him every time, and I wouldn’t give a damn if he was green with red breath,” he said. “I’m hiring a motherfucker to play, not for what colour he is.”
On The Birth of the Cool’s first tune, ‘Move’, Konitz plays the second solo, after Davis’s own soaring turn. He immediately establishes credibility with a lilting jaunt that manages to merge jazz’s past alto sound with a new variant of be-bop. Konitz was known for being one of the few alto saxophonists of his time who did not imitate the style of the immortal be-bop giant Charlie Parker, but strove to establish his own. His peaceful sway was thus perfect for critics and labels to sweep into this brand new genre of cool, but it belies the fact that Konitz has always been progressing, both reaching back and looking forwards.
Konitz was 16 when he met his mentor, the blind teacher and pianist Lennie Tristano. The earliest of Konitz’s over 150 recordings are with Tristano, but the roll-call of musicians he has played with includes names like Davis, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau and many others.
In Copenhagen, Konitz will perform with the exciting Minsarah trio, consisting of the young musicians Florian Weber on piano, Jeff Denzon on bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums.
Young jazz artists carry the flame of their musical forebears, but jazz is a music that has seen most of its greatest practitioners pass on. It is therefore a privilege to see an artist like Lee Konitz at such an intimate location like Jazzhus Montmartre. Listening to the inventiveness of this legendary musician at the very least, should offer the audience a kind respite from a busy day and might even teach them a thing or two about music, life and how to practise both of them.
Lee Konitz Quartet
Jazzhus Montmartre, Store Regnegade 19A, Cph K
Thu 20:00, and also Oct 19-20
tickets 375kr; 7015 6565;