"Over the course of his long career, Konitz has proven himself to be not only highly adaptable but also capable of retaining his singular instrumental voice in the wide variety of contexts in which he's played."
- Andy Hamilton, author
Lee Konitz has always been a lone wolf. Never the flashiest or most aggressive of saxophonists, over the course of a remarkable recording career that has--amazingly--now nearly reached the 50 year mark. For Konitz, being a jazz musician means being an improviser, and being an improviser means taking risks and searching for new challenges.
When Konitz first came to prominence in the late 1940s he was one of the very few alto players of the period who was able to escape the dominating presence of Charlie Parker and create a completely personal, recognizable sound and style on the instrument. Influenced at first by suave, pre-bop saxophonists like Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Lester Young, he developed a demeanor which was thoughtful and reserved, and a tone nearly transparent but with a lithe lyricism and a resilience that suggested shadowy undercurrents of emotion. He appeared in Claude Thornhill’s impressionistic big band (which included charts by the budding genius arranger Gil Evans), Stan Kenton’s most progressive orchestra, Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool nonet, Lennie Tristano’s intricate combos and Gerry Mulligan’s “cool” bands of the 1950s before moving on to lead his own bands including the formation of the Lee Konitz Nonet.
His discography is a dazzling assortment of session of all sizes, shapes, and styles--from mid-sized ensembles to trios and duos (usually drummerless or pianoless) and even one totally unaccompanied saxophone recital. Some of the highlights include a hard-blowing trio date with drum dynamo Elvin Jones, a round-robin series of duos with the likes of tenor saxist Joe Henderson, guitarist Jim Hall and ex-Ellington fiddler Ray Nance, soloing over imaginative scores for string quartet, a five-man saxophone section with Jimmy Giuffre, some breathtaking collaborations with the brilliant French pianist Martial Solal. Konitz recently performed and/or recorded with Charlie Haden, Bob Brookmeyer, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, Paul Motian, Steve Swallow and Brad Mehldau.
Deeply interested and committed to jazz education, Konitz strives to teach solo improvisation, something he regards as being even more of a measurable discipline than ensemble playing. Konitz currently tours extensively throughout Europe and Japan and continues to present his music with a mature and creative perspective.