One of the most individual of all altoists (and one of the few in the 1950s who did not sound like a cousin of Charlie Parker), the cool-toned Lee Konitz has always had a strong musical curiosity that has led him to consistently take chances and stretch himself, usually quite successfully. Early on he studied clarinet, switched to alto, and played with Jerry Wald. Konitz gained some attention for his solos with Claude Thornhill & His Orchestra (1947). He began studying with Lennie Tristano, who had a big influence on his conception and approach to improvising. Konitz was with Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool Nonet during their one gig and their Capitol recordings (1948-1950) and recorded with Lennie Tristano's innovative sextet (1949), including the first two free improvisations ever documented. Konitz blended very well with Warne Marsh's tenor (their unisons on "Wow" are miraculous) and would have several reunions with both Tristano and Marsh through the years, but he was also interested in finding his own way; by the early '50s he started breaking away from the Tristano school. Konitz toured Scandinavia (1951), where his cool sound was influential, and he fit in surprisingly well with Stan Kenton & His Orchestra (1952-1954), being featured on many charts by Bill Holman and Bill Russo.
The Lee Konitz DuetsKonitz was primarily a leader from that point on. He almost retired from music in the early '60s but re-emerged a few years later. His recordings have ranged from cool bop to thoughtful free improvisations, and his Milestone set of Duets (1967) is a classic. In the late '70s Konitz led a notable nonet and in 1992 he won the prestigious Jazzpar Prize. He kept a busy release schedule throughout the '90s and dabbled in the world of classical music with 2000's French Impressionist Music from the Turn of the Twentieth Century. The Mark Masters Ensemble joined him for 2004's One Day with Lee, and in 2007 he recorded Portology with the Ohad Talmor Big Band. He has recorded on soprano and tenor but has mostly stuck to his distinctive alto. Konitz has led consistently stimulating sessions for many labels, including Prestige, Dragon, Pacific Jazz, Vogue, Storyville, Atlantic, Verve, Wave, Milestone, MPS, Polydor, Bellaphon, SteepleChase, Sonet, Groove Merchant, Roulette, Progressive, Choice, IAI, Chiaroscuro, Circle, Black Lion, Soul Note, Storyville, Evidence, and Philogy. In 2011, he released his own trio album Knowinglee and appeared on the live ECM date Live at Birdland (recorded in 2009) with pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian.
Alto saxophone jazz master Lee Konitz teams up with pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington for his first-ever release on Impulse!, Frescalalto. The quartet covers jazz standards and breathes new life into works such as "Stella By Starlight," "Body and Soul," and more. The album will be released digitally on February 10. This quartet contains a fascinating intersecting history: Forty years ago, Kenny Washington made his recording debut playing with Konitz on his 1977 LP, Lee Konitz Nonet. The two performed together again on 1992's Jazz Nocturne, which also featured Impulse! recording artist and pianist Kenny Barron. Furthermore, over the decades, Kenny Washington and Peter Washington (no relation) made up one of New York City's distinguished jazz rhythm sections, performing frequently with Barron and other jazz greats.
Prolific alto saxophonist and composer Lee Konitz has always fought to sound distinct from everyone else. Carefully dodging Parker's bop clichés, he was at Miles Davis' side for The Birth Of The Cool and recorded with the pianist Lennie Tristano, a big influence in his approach to improvisation. Throughout his nearly 70-year career, Konitz himself has been highly influential in the way of playing of several musicians.
Frescalalto marks his debut on Impulse Records and features the acclaimed pianist Kenny Barron, and a tight bass-drums engine composed of Peter Washington and Kenny Washington (no family ties, but natural musical rapport). For this session, Konitz selected three originals and five standards, which were dressed with inventive new outfits.
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"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust couldn't have been thinking about the chord changes to "Cherokee" when he first articulated this idea, writing in France a century ago. But his point feels perfectly suited to the example of alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who at 89 is still extracting fresh insight from familiar places, as he proves on an effervescent new album, Frescalalto.
The album - due out in digital formats on Impulse! this Friday - features Konitz with a sterling rhythm section spearheaded by his fellow NEA Jazz Master, pianist Kenny Barron. On bass and drums respectively are Peter Washington and Kenny Washington, best known for their service in the longstanding Bill Charlap Trio. And to say that Konitz sounds right at home with this band is both an understatement and a bit off the mark. He sounds more like someone getting comfortable behind the wheel of a luxury sedan, along a winding but familiar country road.
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