The Music Plays On — Lee Konitz

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Lee Konitz

The great saxophonist, Lee Konitz, passed away ten days ago at the age of 92 from complications brought on by COVID-19. For an astonishing 73 of those years he was on stage playing sax, joining the Teddy Powell band in 1945, and appearing on Dan Tepfer’s album, Decade, in 2018.

And it’s not like he started small and ended big…he was always at the top! Appearing on seminal recordings like Miles Davis’ genre-defining, Birth of the Cool, in 1949, and Lennie Tristano and Buddy DeFranco’s solo-driven album, Crosscurrents, in 1949, cemented Konitz’s place in jazz history.

Miles Davis Birth of the Cool
Lennie Tristano/Buddy DeDranco Crosscurrents

But this was just the beginning. Even from his first recordings as a leader in 1949, heard on the album, Subconscious-Lee, we hear a fully formed artist with a unique sound and voice.

Lee Konitz Subconscious-Lee

Konitz joined the great Stan Kenton big band in the early fifties and recorded albums with them that many consider to be the high watermark of the big band era.

Stan Kenton City of Glass
Stan Kenton New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm
Stan Kenton Sketches on Standards
Stan Kenton Portraits on Standards

In 1961 Konitz recorded a great album for the record label, Verve, with Elvin Jones on drums and Sonny Dallas on bass called, Motion.

And in 1967 a very unique duet album, pairing Konitz with unlikely instrumentalists.

The Lee Konitz Duets

A wonderful collaboration with Dave Brubeck, All the Things We Are, was recorded in 1976. It is fitting they recorded together as Konitz was such an influence on a younger Paul Desmond.

Dave Brubeck All the Things We Are

As Konitz aged he became ever more experimental, always searching for a new path. This bold and unique perspective was a remarkable journey, ending with extraordinary albums from the last decade of his life.

Lee Konitz Live at Birdland 2011
Enfants Terribles 2012
Costumes are Mandatory 2013
Decade 2018

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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