Spring semester of my freshman year at college – this would have been 1973 – I took a jazz history class taught by a youngish (28 year-old) jazz scholar and graduate student named Jim Patrick. (In preparation for writing this blog, I Googled Jim to see what he was up to, expecting – foolishly – to see pictures of the bearded, somewhat rotund, dryly funny guy I knew in the early ‘70’s. Instead, I found his obituary from just a few days ago – July 25, 2013 –which mentions that he died at 68, was predeceased by his wife, was a loving grandfather and yadda yadda. Holy crap. Sometimes I hate the internet; we can no longer pretend “not to know”. Meanwhile, the question, no matter how cliché, must be asked: where does the time go?)
I became friends with Jim, because he was the one-and-only jazz guy on the Princeton music faculty. (An interesting factoid: as a graduate student in jazz, he wasn’t being advised and overseen by a music department faculty member but rather, by a sociology professor named Morroe Berger. In those days at ivy-strangled Princeton, jazz was not considered a genuine musical genre but rather, a sociological phenomenon. Thankfully, forty years later, that has changed.)
In January of 1973, just before the beginning of the semester during which I took Jim Patrick’s jazz class, my paternal grandfather went to that great pinochle game in the sky and I inherited a couple of thousand dollars. That might sound like chump-change today, but in ’73 it was serious bucks. I used the money to do two things. First, I bought a Fender-Rhodes 73-key electric suitcase piano at Sam Ash on West 48th street in New York City. (Dang, I loved that Rhodes. I owned a couple more Fender-Rhodes but neither ever played as easily or sounded as sweet as that 73. Wish I still had it.)
I decided to spend the remainder of my inheritance on private lessons. Now, as a potential music major, I was already taking private lessons funded by the music department with a whiz-kid disciple of Robert Helps named Jerry Kuderna. (Thankfully, Jerry is alive, kicking, and playing the living daylights out of the piano to this day. He lives in Berkeley California, about twenty minutes away from where I’m writing this missive. He premiered a work of mine called South Bay Angle on March 17 of this year, and that’s how I prefer my relationships: living.)
(No more long, gratuitous parenthetical statements; I promise.)
So even though I was working on Chopin Etudes with Jerry, I wanted to take private lessons in jazz with someone. Enter Jim Patrick. About two or three weeks into the jazz class, I made an appointment with him, introduced myself, and told him what I was looking for. We put our heads together and came up with the name Lee Konitz. Though Konitz was (is) a brilliant alto saxophonist and not a pianist, he had a reputation as an excellent teacher of improvisation, and that’s what I was looking for. Phone calls were made, a time was set up, and on the appointed day I got on the bus to NYC with Lee Konitz’ east side address scribbled in my notebook.
My next post: lessons with Lee.
But first! A beautiful duet between Lee Konitz and Chick Corea, playing “Stella By Starlight” at the Woodstock Jazz Festival in 1981. It is my humble opinion much of the best work done by both Konitz and Corea are duets, and the link below is a prime example of the sort of freedom and simpatico each player exhibits in a duet setting (with the proper partner, of course!).