Lee Konitz, Prolific And Influential Jazz Saxophonist, Dies At 92 : Coronavirus Live Updates Konitz was devoted to improvisation and played on more than 100 albums over a seven-decade career, including the historic sessions that became Miles Davis' album Birth of the Cool.
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Lee Konitz, Prolific And Influential Jazz Saxophonist, Dies At 92

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Lee Konitz, Prolific And Influential Jazz Saxophonist, Dies At 92

Lee Konitz, Prolific And Influential Jazz Saxophonist, Dies At 92

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Lee Konitz has died. The legendary jazz saxophonist was a prolific performer and a recording artist for seven decades. He developed his own sound in the 1940s, at a time when others were trying to imitate Charlie Parker. Konitz was also part of one of the most celebrated sessions in jazz. He died yesterday in New York City of pneumonia related to COVID-19. He was 92 years old. Tom Vitale has this appreciation.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: In 1949 and '50, Lee Konitz was a member of the Miles Davis Nonet on historic record dates that became known as the "Birth Of The Cool."

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "JERU")

VITALE: But 60 years after those sessions, Konitz sat in his Upper West Side living room and dismissed the "Birth Of The Cool" as merely written music with incidental solos, having little to do with the heart of jazz - improvisation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LEE KONITZ: Improvisary means unforeheard, unforeseen. I don't know what the Latin word for heard is. But it's something like that. And that's a question that I asked the so-called improvisers - how much of what you're improvising is really preplanned? The idea is that the music is full of surprises.

(SOUNDBITE OF LENNIE TRISTANO QUARTET'S "317 EAST 32ND")

VITALE: Lee Konitz dedicated a lifetime to making music that was full of surprises.

(SOUNDBITE OF LENNIE TRISTANO QUARTET'S "317 EAST 32ND")

VITALE: Konitz got his deep respect for improvisation, he told me, in 1980 as a teenager when he spent three years studying and playing with the blind pianist Lennie Tristano.

KONITZ: It was very inspiring. I really started to take music more seriously. I was just a kid, you know, just with some kind of natural facility, and he kind of indicated to me the direction that the music was really in.

(SOUNDBITE OF LENNIE TRISTANO QUARTET'S "317 EAST 32ND")

VITALE: Lee Konitz was born in Chicago in 1927. In a career that spanned seven decades, Konitz improvised on scores of records in every conceivable setting, from big bands to duets. When the alto saxophonist was in his 80s, he released a record with pianist Dan Tepfer of duets improvised on the fly with no predetermined melodies or rhythms.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN TEPFER AND LEE KONITZ'S "ELANDE NO. 1 (F SHARP)")

VITALE: Lee Konitz never made a lot of money. But he made a living playing jazz, and he never had to compromise. When he was 82, he said that was enough of a career for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

KONITZ: Well, it's as modest as it could be. I never got into the big money or the big record sales area. So I can move around as an old-timer, so to speak, and have that kind of respect and opportunity to play. And it's great.

VITALE: Great for Konitz and his audience.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEE KONITZ NEW QUARTET'S "SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE")

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