Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Lennie Tristano

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Lennie Tristano

Let’s get this out of the way up front, because the pretext for today’s post on Lennie Tristano was yesterday’s Music History Monday which, for the large part, was about sightless musicians. Writes Tristano biographer Eunmi Shim (Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music; The University of Michigan Press, 2007): “Born with weak sight, Tristano’s vision grew worse and by the time he was nine or ten years old he became completely blind. According to Bob Blackburn [writing in the Toronto Telegram, July 22, 1964], it was ‘the result of glaucoma probably stemming from his mother being stricken in pregnancy by the post-World War I flu epidemic.’ Judy Tristano, Lennie Tristano’s first wife, recalled that Tristano’s parents tried unsuccessfully to cure his blindness: ‘they had tried everything to cure his glaucoma. Legitimate doctors, quacks, going to church and everybody praying en masse, praying for his sight. But of course, nothing worked. They couldn’t cure glaucoma or treat it.’” As an adult, when the subject of his eyesight came up, Tristano’s standard response was, “I’m blind as a motherf***er.” Brief Biography Leonard Joseph Tristano was born in Chicago on March 19, 1919, and died in New York City on November 18, 1978. […]

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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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