A Lee Konitz memorial playlist

It’s been hard to keep up with all the losses that the pandemic has dealt us. But I had a particular admiration for Lee Konitz, who died this week at 92 from complications of Covid-19.

What’s really impressive about Konitz is not just the length of his career–he was born only seven years after Charlie Parker, who has now been dead for 65 years–but its remarkable diversity and creativity. He played with everyone and in every context, and always sounded like himself and almost always found something new to say.

Many great Konitz recordings are not mentioned in the obituaries (the best ones are David Adler’s for WBGO and John Fordham’s for The Guardian), which is more an indication of the incredible depth of his discography than anything else. His most recent album–Old Songs New–just came out in November. Ethan Iverson’s deeply personal appreciation of Konitz rightly highlights his playing in Paul Motian’s On Broadway project, which is one of my favorites as well.

Here are a few of the other Konitz recordings that have particularly stayed with me:

  • The Lee Konitz Duets (1967). A radically diverse and surprising jazz album, offering an early taste of the range of partnerships his career would encompass.
  • I Concentrate On You: A Tribute To Cole Porter (1974). Gorgeous, intimate duets with bassist Red Mitchell.
  • We Thought About Duke (1994). One of the most interesting Ellington tributes ever recorded; a collaboration with Franz Koglmann and other European avant-gardists.
  • Some New Stuff (2000). A characteristically modest title for an outing that uncharacteristically focuses on Konitz’s original compositions rather than standards. The high-energy rhythm section of Greg Cohen and Joey Baron push his playing to new heights.
  • Jugendstil II (2005). A masterpiece of improvisational counterpoint. Konitz shines in this darkly minimalist trio with tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek and French bassist-composer Stephane Furic Leibovici.
  • Owls Talk (2010). Konitz and the saxophonist Alexandra Grimal entwine complex, moody lines, backed by elders Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

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