Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Lee Konitz

Greenberg Recommends — Lennie Tristano

It was as a result of my lessons with Lee Konitz that I was first exposed to the music of Lennie Tristano (as well as Tristano’s teaching method, which Konitz employed pretty much verbatim). Along with my discovery of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, Tristano’s compositions and style of playing was the great musical revelation of my late teens. To repeat an assertion made in my previous post, along with J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Béla Bartók, Lennie Tristano is my single greatest influence as a pianist and composer. Leonard Joseph Tristano was born in Chicago on March 19, 1919 and died on November 18, 1978. Mention his name to most jazz fans (to say nothing for most concert musicians) and you will draw a blank. Part of that is Tristano’s fault; though he complained endlessly about his lack of recognition, he hardly ever played in public and did next-to-nothing to create a rapport with a fan base. Blind since childhood and rather thorny of temperament, he instead devoted himself to his teaching, to practicing, and, later in his life, making recordings in his home studio. We are told that “unfortunately, Tristano’s esoteric style of playing and improving […]

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Lessons With Lee

I studied jazz improvisation with the alto saxophonist Lee Konitz for the better part of a year between 1973 and ’74. As best as I recall, his apartment in New York City was on the East 30’s. He shared it with his wife and a two cats. Of the three, Konitz clearly had the better relationship with the cats. (One day I went in for a lesson and the place felt different; a bit dustier and more cluttered. His wife, who had always been around during my lessons, was nowhere to be seen. I asked after her. Konitz said, “My old lady’s GONE.” I said I was sorry to hear it. He said, “I’m not”, and that was the end of that conversation.) Konitz was part of a small and elite group of musicians who had studied and/or worked with the pianist Lennie Tristano in the 1940’s, ‘50’s, and 60’s. This “Club Tristano” included the tenor sax player Warne Marsh, the pianist Sal Mosca, the guitarist Billy Bauer, and the bassist Peter Ind. What all these musicians had in common were mad technical skills and a penchant for improvising long, harmonically complex lines marked by a rhythmic asymmetry and phrase […]

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Jim Patrick and Lee Konitz

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 […]

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