Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lee Konitz - Conversations on an Improviser's Art

After several rave reviews from friends, I finally bought a copy of the new book on Lee Konitz by Andy Hamilton, which is the result of several years of interviews between Konitz and the author, who is an amateur jazz pianist in England. After about the fifth page, I could not put this book down, and have since been incredibly inspired by it and hope that many people read it. In the book, Konitz shares candid opinions and feelings about himself and others, his career, approaches to music, improvisation, the saxophone, his influences, Tristano, and much more, all with a deep humility and sense of humor. In addition, the book contains interviews with other musicians about Konitz which are equally fascinating. I strongly recommend this book to anybody who has ever listened to Konitz and appreciated his unique offering to music. Personally, I can't think of any artist more demanding on himself and so eager to put himself in new settings.

Personally, one of the most resonant parts of the book was Konitz's distinction between "emotion" and "feeling" in music. He downplays many musicians who he feels are too emotional in their playing, who he feels put their particular emotional and expressive needs before the music itself. (Konitz, who also briefly talks of his Jewish roots in the book, loves to use the word "schmaltz.) Instead of emotion, Konitz places value on feeling in music, something that is more universal and not as based on the individual. Emotion assualts the listener, entrapping them, while feeling leaves the listener the freedom to bring him/herself to the creation at hand, and perhaps experience something different on each listening.

The balance between craft and emotion/feeling is one of the most artistically challenging things, and I think if one dedicates themself to transmitting feeling within their craft over emotion, something much deeper and more indicative of a lifetime commitment is produced, and perhaps this is part of what keep Konitz (now eighty years old) so inspired dedicated to improvisation.

I have been fortunate to see Konitz play many times over the last fifteen years and it has always been memorable, sometimes transcendant, and I even took a lesson with him while in college, something I was not ready for at the time but am thankful to have experienced. These are some of my favorite recordings of Lee's:

Live at the Half Note
Lee Konitz with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet
Paul Motian - On Broadway Volume One
Strings for Holliday
Lee Konitz and the Axis String Quartet

I also want to take this chance to recommend a recent book by Jason Weiss (a Brooklyn resident whose kids are students of mine) about the late saxophonist/composer Steve Lacy called Conversations, which is a collection of interviews and articles compiled and translated by Weiss. Though I am not as versed Lacy's music as I am in that of Konitz, this book was amazingly inspiring and beautifully put together and reads like an autobiography. Lacy was never a dull interview subject, and possessed a uniquely individualist and thoughtful dedication to his art and played a role in some pivotal periods of the music. Pick this on up - it is well worth the read.

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