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Lee Konitz: 'Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh'

The cover of Lee Konitz with Wayne Marsh

[MUSIC]

MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Well, if you could stick a thermometer in that music, it would be below 98.6 and that's why they called it "cool." That's the sound of saxophonist Lee Konitz in a group that included his mentor the great pianist Lennie Tristano. A.B. Spellman, why should this record be in our Basic Jazz Record Library?

A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: Because Konitz and Tristano were sort of the second phase of the revolution that occurred in jazz in the 1940s. These records made in 1949 and 1950 represent a more cerebral approach to redefining and redirecting the innovations of Bird and Diz and the other beboppers.

HORWITZ: Yeah, this is not the sort of frantic music we associate with bebop. What did they do that was different?

SPELLMAN: Well, after the work of Lennie Tristano, who was very analytical about music and had a clear ideological way that he thought that jazz would evolve, they started applying all kinds of techniques that were not exploited so fully before.

HORWITZ: These are like European music techniques...

SPELLMAN: In some instances. Atonality, for example. You will also hear them playing across the bar line. They were not restricted by the bar line as many of the other bebop musicians would have been. You will find a very great harmonic complexity and different jagged line melodic developments.

HORWITZ: I'm going to ask you about all those developments in a minute, but maybe we can hear an example of what you're talking about with that compositional complexity in a piece called "Tautology."

[MUSIC]

HORWITZ: So A.B., even though this is a disc under Lee Konitz's name, it's really Lennie Tristano who functions as a kind of mentor, right? How did he influence the music and what was his place in it?

SPELLMAN: Well, Tristano is on about half of the recordings here. And his place in it was a very interesting one, because it's controversial. Tristano influenced rather indirectly because a lot of the musicians who came out of his thought, out of his school, became influential in their way. But Tristano himself didn't play that much. He became very withdrawn at a certain point, did very little recording. And so I think he more anticipated the direction of the music rather than directed it.

HORWITZ: I see. You know you mentioned that he had studied a lot, was very analytical, and also has a little of the feeling to me of early New Orleans jazz in that it's very — there's a lot of counterpoint, a lot of voices going at the same time.

[MUSIC]

SPELLMAN: It is very definitely polyphonic, a great deal of counterpoint here. In fact, it seems almost baroque to me. It's very interesting how many modernists went back to the baroque to try to set a new direction — John Lewis, for example.

HORWITZ: Right, of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

SPELLMAN: That's right. So I think what we have here is a recording that will be a very interesting addition to the Basic Jazz Library for anyone who is collecting the music. It's an essential thing to have because it does anticipate the direction of the music, and you'll see a certain influence in it.

HORWITZ: It certainly sounds like a lot of things we associate with later music of the '50s and '60s and even '70s, as you say. The name of the CD is Lee Konitz, and it's on the Prestige label. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

A.B. SPELLMAN: And I'm A.B. Spellman.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A. B. Spellman
Murray Horwitz
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