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Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz
Background information
Birth name Leon Konitz
Born (1927-10-13) October 13, 1927
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Cool jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Alto saxophone
Years active 1945-present
Labels RCA Red Seal
Atlantic Records
Verve Records
Prestige Records
Palmetto Records
Whirlwind Recordings
Lee Konitz: Playing in Aarhus, Denmark.Photo Hreinn Gudlaugsson

Lee Konitz (born October 13, 1927) is an American jazz composer and alto saxophonist who was born in Chicago, Illinois. He has performed successfully in bebop and avant-garde settings. Konitz was one of the few altoists to retain a distinctive sound when Charlie Parker exercised a tremendous influence on other players. Konitz, like other students of pianist and theoretician Lennie Tristano, was noted for improvising 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. Paul Desmond and, especially, Art Pepper were strongly influenced by Konitz.

Konitz's association with the cool jazz movement of the 1940s and 50s, includes participation in Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, and his work with Lennie Tristano came from the same period. During his long career, Konitz has played with musicians from a wide variety of jazz styles.


  • Biography 1
  • Discography 2
    • As leader 2.1
    • As sideman 2.2
  • Television appearances 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5
  • External links 6


Konitz was born on October 13, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois to Jewish parents of Austrian and Russian descent. Aged 11, Konitz received his first instrument — a clarinet — but later dropped the instrument in favor of the tenor saxophone. He eventually moved from tenor to alto. His greatest influences at the time were the swing big bands he and his brother listened to on the radio, in particular Benny Goodman. Hearing Goodman on the radio is actually what prodded him to ask for a clarinet. On the saxophone he recalls improvising before ever learning to play any standards.[1]

Konitz began his professional career in 1945 with the Teddy Powell band as a replacement for Charlie Ventura. A month later the band parted ways. Between 1945 and 1947 he worked off and on with Jerry Wald. In 1946 he first met pianist Lennie Tristano and worked in a small cocktail bar with him. His next substantial work was done with Claude Thornhill in 1947, with Gil Evans arranging and Gerry Mulligan as a composer in most part.[2][3]

He participated with Miles Davis in a group that only had a brief booking in September 1948 and another the following year, but recorded in 1949 and 1950 the sides collected on the Birth of the Cool album. The presence of Konitz and other white musicians in the group angered some black jazz players, many of whom were unemployed at the time, but Davis rebuffed their criticisms.[4] Konitz has stated he considered the group to belong to Gerry Mulligan. His debut as leader also came in 1949 with sides later collected on the album Subconscious-Lee in 1955 (Prestige Records).[5] He also turned down an opportunity to work with Goodman in 1949—a decision he is on record as regretting.[3] Parker lent him support on the day Konitz's child was being born in Seattle, Washington, while he was stuck in New York City. The two were actually good friends, and not the rivals some jazz critics once made them out to be.[1]

In the early 1950s, Konitz recorded and toured with Stan Kenton's orchestra, but continued to record under his own name. In 1961, he recorded Motion with Elvin Jones on drums and Sonny Dallas on bass. This spontaneous session, widely regarded as a classic, consisted entirely of standards. The loose trio format aptly featured Konitz's unorthodox phrasing and chromaticism. In 1967, Konitz recorded The Lee Konitz Duets, a series of duets with various musicians. The duo configurations were often unusual for the period (saxophone and trombone, two saxophones). The recordings drew on very nearly the entire history of jazz, from Louis Armstrong's "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" with valve trombonist Marshall Brown to two completely free 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, held in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Creative Music Studio. Konitz has recorded or performed with Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Elvin Jones, among others. His latest recordings are a pair of trio dates with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden released on Blue Note as well a live album recorded in 2009 at Birdland and released by ECM in 2011 featuring the same lineup with the addition of drummer Paul Motian. Konitz has become more experimental as he has grown older, and has released a number of free and avant-garde jazz albums, playing alongside many far younger musicians. His album with Grace Kelly was given 4 1/2 stars by Michael Jackson in Down Beat magazine.[6] Konitz has released albums on contemporary free jazz/improv labels such as hatART, Soul Note, Omnitone and the aforementioned ECM.

He has also had problems with his heart which he has received surgery for in the past.[7] He was scheduled to appear at Melbourne's Recital Centre as a key attraction of the 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival. However he fell ill causing the last minute cancellation of the performance.

In August 2012 Konitz played to sell-out crowds at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village as part of Enfants Terribles, a collaboration with Bill Frisell, Gary Peacock and Joey Baron. Just days after his 87th birthday in 2014, Konitz played three nights at Cafe Stritch in San Jose, California with the Jeff Denson Trio - improvising on the old standards he favors.[8]


As leader

  • 1949–50: With Tristano, Marsh and Bauer (Prestige)
  • 1949-50: Lee Konitz and Stan GetzThe New Sounds (10", Prestige)
  • 1949-50: "Subconscious-Lee" (Prestige/OJC, 1949–50)
  • 1951: Lee Konitz Featuring Miles DavisThe New Sounds (10″, Prestige, reissued on Conception, 1956)
  • 1953: Lee Konitz Plays with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet (10″, Konitz on A-side only, Pacific)
  • 1953: Lee Konitz and the Gerry Mulligan Quartet (10″, Pacific)
  • 1954: Jazz Time Paris Vol. 3: Lee Konitz Plays (Vogue)
  • 1954: Konitz (10″, Storyville)
  • 1954: Jazz at Storyville (Storyville)
  • 1954: In Harvard Square (Storyville)
  • 1954: Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh (Atlantic)
  • 1956: Lee Konitz Featuring Hans Koller, Lars Gullin, Roland Kovac (Swingtime)
  • 1956: Inside Hi-Fi (Atlantic)
  • 1957: Tranquility (Verve)
  • 1957: The Real Lee Konitz (Atlantic)
  • 1958: Very Cool (Verve)
  • 1958: An Image: Lee Konitz with Strings (Verve)
  • 1959: Live at the Half Note (Verve)
  • 1959: Lee Konitz Meets Jimmy Giuffre (Verve) with Jimmy Giuffre
  • 1959: You and Lee (Verve)
  • 1961: Motion (Verve)
  • 1965: Trio and Quartet (Magnetic)
  • 1966: Modern Jazz Compositions from Haiti (Impulse!)
  • 1967: The Lee Konitz Duets (Milestone)
  • 1968: Impressive Rome (CAM)
  • 1968: European Episode (CAM)
  • 1969: Peacemeal (Milestone)
  • 1970: Lee Konitz Sax Duets (Music Minus One)
  • 1971: Spirits (Milestone)
  • 1974: Jazz à Juan (SteepleChase)
  • 1974: Satori (Milestone)
  • 1974: Lone-Lee (SteepleChase)
  • 1974: I Concentrate on You (A Tribute to Cole Porter) (SteepleChase)
  • 1975: Trio: Oleo (Sonet)
  • 1975: Chicago 'n' All That Jazz (Denon: LaserLight)
  • 1976: Lee Konitz Meets Warne Marsh Again (PAUSA)
  • 1976: Figure and Spirit (Progressive)
  • 1977: The Lee Konitz Quintet (Chiaroscuro)
  • 1977: The Lee Konitz Nonet (Chiaroscuro)
  • 1977: Tenorlee (Candid)
  • 1977: Pyramid (Improvising Artists)
  • 1979: Seasons Change with Karl Berger (Circle)
  • 1979: Nonet: Live at Laren (Soul Note)
  • 1979: Yes, Yes Nonet (Steeple Chase)
  • 1980: Heroes (Verve)
  • 1980: Anti-heroes (Verve)
  • 1982: Toot Sweet (Owl)
  • 1982: High Jingo (Atlas)
  • 1983: Glad, Koonix! (Dragon)
  • 1983: Dovetail (Sunnyside)
  • 1983: Dedicated to Lee: Lee Konitz Plays the Music of Lars Gullin (Dragon)
  • 1983: Art of the Duo (Enja)
  • 1984: Wild as Springtime (GFM)
  • 1984: Stereokonitz (Soulnote)
  • 1986: Quartet: Ideal Scene (Soul Note)
  • 1986: Medium Rare (Label Bleu)
  • 1987: Quartet: The New York Album (Soul Note)
  • 1988: The Space Jazz Trio (with Enrico Pieranunzi): Blew (Philology)
  • 1988: Solitudes (Philology)
  • 1989: In Rio (MA)
  • 1989: Konitz in Denmark (Rightone)
  • 1989: Round and Round (Music Masters)
  • 1990: Zounds (Soul Note)
  • 1990: Once Upon a Line (Musidisc)
  • 1991: Lullaby of Birdland (Candid)
  • 1992: The Jazzpar All Star Nonet: Leewise (Storyville)
  • 1992: Jazz Nocturne (Evidence)
  • 1992: Lunasea (Soul Note)
  • 1992: From Newport to Nice (Philology)
  • 1992: Frank-Lee Speaking (West Wind)
  • 1993: Rhapsody (Evidence)
  • 1993: So Many Stars (Philology)
  • 1993: Rhapsody II (Evidence)
  • 1993: Italian Ballads, Volume1 (Philology)
  • 1993: Brazilian Rhapsody (BMG: Music Masters)
  • 1993: Steps Towards A Dream (Odin Records), with Erling Aksdal Jr., John Pål Inderberg and Bjørn Alterhaug
  • 1994: Swiss Kiss (TCB)
  • 1995: Haiku (Nabel)
  • 1995: Move (Moon)
  • 1995: Free with Lee (Philology)
  • 1996: Alone Together (Blue Note)
  • 1996: Live at the Manhattan Jazz Club (GAM)
  • 1996: Guarana (AxolOtl Jazz)
  • 1996: Unaccompanied Live in Yokohama (PSF)
  • 1996: Strings for Holiday: A Tribute to Billie Holiday (Enja)
  • 1996: Lee Konitz Meets Don Friedman (Camerata)
  • 1996: It's You (SteepleChase)
  • 1997: Twelve Gershwin in Twelve Keys (Philology)
  • 1997: Out of Nowhere (SteepleChase)
  • 1997: The Frankfurt Concert (West Wind)
  • 1997: Dearly Beloved (SteepleChase)
  • 1997: Body and Soul (Camerata)
  • 1998: Saxophone Dreams (Koch)
  • 1998: Inside Cole Porter (Philology)
  • 1998: L'age mur (Philology)
  • 1998: Tender Lee (For Chet) (Philology)
  • 1998: Self Portrait (Philology)
  • 1998: Dialogues (Challenge)
  • 1999: Dig-It (SteepleChase)
  • 1999: Three Guys (Enja)
  • 1999: Trio: Another Shade of Blue (Blue Note)
  • 2000: Quartet: Sound of Surprise (RCA Victor)
  • 2000: Pride (SteepleChase)
  • 2001: Trio: Some New Stuff (DIW)
  • 2001: Quintet: Parallels (Chesky)
  • 2002: At the New Mississippi Jazz Club (Philology)
  • 2003: Live-Lee (Milestone)
  • 2003: A Day in Florence (Philology)
  • 2004: BargaLee (Philology)
  • 2004: Sound-Lee (Membran International)
  • 2004: One Day with Lee (Capri)
  • 2004: Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor String Project: INVENTIONS (Featuring the Spring String Quartet) (OmniTone)
  • 2005: New Nonet (Directed by Ohad Talmor) (OmniTone)
  • 2006: Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology (Featuring the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos) (OmniTone)
  • 2008: Lee Konitz/Grace Kelly: GRACEfulLEE (Pazz Recordings)
  • 2008: Lee Konitz & Minsarah: Deep Lee (Featuring Jeff Denson, Florian weber, Ziv Ravitz) (Enja)
  • 2009: Lee Konitz / Dan Tepfer: Duos with Lee (Sunnyside)
  • 2009: Lee Konitz New Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (Featuring Jeff Denson, Florian weber, Ziv Ravitz) (Enja)
  • 2011: Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (ECM)
  • 2014: Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer/Michael Janisch/Jeff Williams: First Meeting: Live in London, Volume 1 (Whirlwind Recordings)

As sideman

With Miles Davis

With Lennie Tristano

With Stan Kenton

  • City of Glass (Capitol, 1951)
  • New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm (Capitol, 1952)
  • This Modern World (Capitol, 1953)
  • Sketches on Standards (Capitol, 1953)
  • Portraits on Standards (Capitol, 1953)
  • Kenton Showcase: The Music of Bill Holman and Bill Russo (Capitol, 1954)

With others

Television appearances

Public television series in the late 50"s with Warne Marsh,Billy Taylor, Bill Evans,Mundell Lowe and others.


  1. ^ a b Robinson, Michael. "An interview with Lee Konitz". Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  2. ^ Hamilton, p. 265
  3. ^ a b Gordon, Jack. "Lee Kontiz", Jazz Journal, December 1998, pp. 6–8
  4. ^ "So 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. I'm hiring a motherfucker to play, not for what color he is." Miles Davis, Autobiography
  5. ^ Neal Umphred Goldmine's Price Guide to Collectible Jazz Albums' 1949-69, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1994, p.290
  6. ^ Jackson, Michael. "GRACEfulLEE Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz-Down Beat Review" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  7. ^ Jung, Fred. "A Fireside Chat With Lee Konitz". Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  8. ^ San Jose Mercury News, October 16, 2014.
  9. ^ Lee Konitz. Retrieved on 2012-06-29.


  • Hamilton, Andy and Konitz, Lee (2007), Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art, University of Michigan Press, ISBN 0472032178. Crafted out of numerous interviews between the author and his subject, the book describes Konitz's life and music.

External links

  • A 1985 interview
  • Lee Konitz: 12 Memorable Duets by Thierry Quénum (
  • Lee Konitz Trio: Live At The Village Vanguard by NPR
  • French documentary of Konitz and Dan Tepfer European tour
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