I was going to write about something else, but I learned of the passing today from pneumonia of the great alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, and with all that’s going on, I want to acknowledge him.
Look him up, listen to his playing. Maybe you won’t, but that’s what I’m doing right now.
I checked my archives and I found that on Sunday, February 4, 1968 I did a concert in Louisville with Lee and Kenny Dorham, another under-appreciated voice from the bebop era.
The gig was for the Louisville Jazz Society, and we played in a club located on the top floor of a downtown office building.
Lee had just gotten a brand-new pickup mic for his alto, so that he could play through an amp, and he was eager to try it out. Unfortunately, the downtown office building was apparently located quite near the transmitter of a Louisville radio station, so when Lee turned up his amp, it picked up the signal of the local FM station. The station was playing its evening set of Mantovani-style dinner music. We all began laughing, and I suggested we could record an album called Lee Konitz with Strings.
That was the only time I got to meet and play with Lee, but his name came up during our 2017 tour, when we played Louisville and I took a bunch of our band members to a winery in New Albany to hear Jamey Aebersold play and sit in a bit.
Jamey is legendary in jazz circles, so it was a great chance to visit, and I chatted afterward, and I asked after Lee, who had turned 90 by then. Jamey said that he had recently heard from Lee, who had developed an interest in learning to do scat singing. For the uninitiated, scat singing is that Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vocal style of attaching tricky words to difficult melodies.
I’m sure he was working hard at getting better until the end. RIP Lee Konitz.