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Book Review: Lee Konitz - Conversations on the Improviser's Art

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by hdiddy, Dec 30, 2012.

  1. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I've been having a Lee Konitz kick lately - both listening, purchasing a DVD and now reading a book that basically full of interviews that he did with a bunch of famous people (Steve Lacy, Rufus Reid, etc etc). Yeah the guy is opinionated and learning about his relationship with Lennie Tristano is interesting.

    The book gives insight into the more melodic approach and in ways similar to Joe Solomon's approach that Ed writes about. I'm only 1/4 through the book but already what's fascinating is that there is a heavy emphasis on the melody - to the point that even understanding harmony is secondary. When learning new tunes, he only looks at the chord symbols only after he has a strong grasp of the melody. Time, changes, etc... everything is negotiable it seems. As he puts it, changes on a lead sheet is just a bunch of "****ing chords".

    Very interesting and I dig what he has to say. I think it would be an interesting read for others who are into Tristano's vein of things.
  2. tito mangialajo

    tito mangialajo

    Feb 1, 2006
    I have read the book. It's great!!!
    A must for every jazz musician (or student or simply jazz fan).
    Veri illuminating. It's like a philosophy book by a jazz wise.
    I read it twice already...
  3. Anonymatt


    Jan 3, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    Thanks for the tip.
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    The thing about Lee as being an alternate style to Charlie Parker is rather interesting. He definitely has a strong influence from Tristano how he's developed over the years is fascinating - to the point of basically finding more music at slower tempos and eschewing pattern/scale pattern based playing. The book goes into depth about his study with Tristano and his relationships to other players like Warne Marsh. The interviews show that he's not afraid of talking about more taboo subjects, like criticisms of himself, other players, the drug scene, etc. etc.

    Again, interesting how his and Tristano's approach seems to me like being imaginative from the inside and concentrating on just creating melodies. An approach that can't be boxed and put into some kind of pedagogical curriculum and sold. Also his relationship with time and changes... that time is a negotiable aspect and that sometimes getting lost or losing the changes leads to interestingly good results. It doesn't seem that he thinks it's entirely a bad thing.
  5. GrowlerBox


    Feb 10, 2010
    Nude Zealand
    Thanks for alerting us to this book, Did he?. I found a pdf version of chapter 6, "The Art Of Improvisation". It's from the U of Michigan Press website, so I don't think there's a copyright issue. Fascinating stuff.
  6. I don't get the reference to "style". Tristano said that but he also has former students like Sheila Jordan saying he made them learn " a Parker line" in there initial lessons. His approach is different? Everybody sounds different.
  7. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    You have to read the book. That's wasn't what I was neccessarily referring to when I said "style". Konitz indeed study alot of Bird's tunes and soloing, in Tristanos fashion of singing everything before writing it out. He studied Bird's language, but that isn't what the "style" is referring to. Bird and Konitz have mutual appreciation and respect for each other.

    The way Konitz describes it is that Bird has a compositional approach to soloing. The way I interpret what he's saying is that Bird has a bunch of set pieces, much like a chess player, and employs the licks of pre-studied ideas and alters them on the fly as needed. In a certain sense, the soloing is pre-meditated in the sense that the set pieces have been practiced thoroughly. The compose-by-improvisation thing happens by assembling a bunch of the set pieces to create a new melody. Same goes with Coltrane and much of the regular jazz canon.

    With Konitz, his intention is to wholly compose on the spot and not to use any preconceived ideas or concepts. He's kinda flying by the seat of his pants when soloing and does not hear or think of anything else other than the next note he's going to play. It's the antithesis to lick playing. If he is conscientious about his playing and hears a familiar pattern, he tries to move away from it. It ends up being very fresh and original, but because he hangs back and also listens to his environment, he ends up sounding like he's always playing behind the beat. He's trying to compose by composing or hearing new ideas in the moment. If he happens to play a familiar lick, it's probably a subconscious thing.

    He says as he gets older, his solos tend to slow down because melodically there's more going on for him now. He's just after melody, even if he's playing free - which he did and recorded even before Ornette.

    IIRC, there's a short interview with Sheila Jordan in the book of her experiences with Konitz.

    EDIT: It's also probably worth pointing out that Konitz was probably the most commercially successful player out of the Tristano school. More than Warne Marsh, Sal Mosca, etc. etc., born out of the need to feed and clothe and entire family. That need to bring home the bacon also created a rift between him and Tristano because Konitz was regarded as a sell-out for playing in any paying situation he could find. Meanwhile, Tristano was still tucked away at home practicing hard and not going on the bandstand very much though keeping true to the concept. Their definition of their role and how the rhythm section was supposed to behave was not the same.

    I'd like to read Warne Marsh's book now just see his take on things.
  8. Thanks. I'll read the book.
  9. GrowlerBox


    Feb 10, 2010
    Nude Zealand
    Much of Konitz's thinking on this is in the sample chapter linked above.
  10. Who is the guy interviewing Lee Konitz and Bob Brookmeyer? Does he play? IMO, it sounds like a guy who doesn't play but WRITES about people who play.

    EDIT - At first I thought it was Bob Brookmeyer interviewing Lee Konitz after I scrolled down and saw his name. I thought he was putting him on for sure with those ridiculous questions, assumptions, ANALYSIS and statements about Charlie Parker's playing. Man, I thought it was hilarious. Then I realized it wasn't Bob Brookmeyer interviewing. He was the next victim.
  11. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Andy Hamilton. I believe he's a pianist in the UK?

    Check out the book. It's just basically one gigantic interview with LK - very organic. Hamiton doesn't do that much except help clarify LK's opinions and asks him questions so that LK would elaborate on anything he's saying. The edits to the interviews are reviewed by LK so that they don't miscontstrue what he's saying. They cover everything, from relationships to titans like Bird & Miles, the Tristano school, pedagogy and learning to play jazz, criticisms/opinions about other players, through the ages up til more recently in the 2000's. It is peppered with comments on Konitz's playing by other greats.

    It's not a biography really and works more like an autobiography. Even the other players he talks about, it brings them all down to earth as more like other people who think differently. Not so much like gods. I don't agree with Konitz on everything, but I think hearing his perspective is really eye opening.
  12. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Not sure which segment you're referring to as it is a bit confusing. That's the only part of the book I don't like - how it's laid out.

    Just to be clear, if there's Q&A going on, it's pretty much just Hamiton asking questions to Konitz. When someone else gets interview it's just a very very short commentary (some are a little longer). I think Paul Bley's interview goes a couple pages.

    Anyways that Bob Brookmeyer section is only 2 paragraphs long, and goes back to Hamilton asking Konitz questions. I think all that analysis you're looking at is Konitz' opinions - FBFW.
  13. Well regardless of what ANYONE says, I really like Lee Konitz' playing. He can explain it if he wants I guess.
    Lennie Tristano is fantastic. I just don't get the WRITING and explanation of it all but I sure like to listen their playing. Thanks.
  14. GrowlerBox


    Feb 10, 2010
    Nude Zealand
    I thought, given their obvious connection, that this book on Warne Marsh by John Klopotowski might constructively be discussed in this thread.

    It's in two parts, the first on the author's introduction to and association with Marsh, the second an elaboration on the lessons in improvisation he had with Marsh.

    Illuminating stuff for those interested in the "Tristano school", and freely, legally available to read on Scribd. I'm just starting it, so don't have much to add just now; I rather selfishly hoped that other, more experienced improvisors than I might share their insights if given the opportunity to read this.
  15. Thanks for the hip, diddy.

    FWIW, I couldn't agree more with what Lee has to say in the pdf. (Thanks, Growler).
    I worked a week back in the 60's with Jim Hall and he came up with a simple version of basically the same stuff. I asked him one night how he avoided licks and played so differently each night on a tune we'd played the night before. He said that he purposely tried "to play himself into a corner" to avoid licks and the trick was to play himself out of that corner with something that made musical sense.
    I was in my early 20's then and tried for years to pull this off. The biggest problems were my ego, (playing my lick with my chop to impress the masses to show my brilliant virtuosity) and that I felt that I "owed" my audience proof of my reputation as a player.
    I finally "got it" about 17 years ago and even recorded my quartet side using Jim's concept. Low and behold, there ain't one lick on it and even purposely played myself into a corner on the end of a bass feature on a ballad. You have no idea of the sense of satisfaction playing this way creates unless you've been there. Muscle memory can be your friend IF you really need it, but if you let it rule your playing, you're not really a truly creative musical artist.
    IMO, Lee Konitz is right on. (and in more ways than just one).
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Great thread, great topic. I like the theory of the "three sides" of improvisation put forth in the beginning of the PDF chapter:

    I know exactly what me means by this. For me and for a lot of players I play with, these three "faces" are part of a single continuum that players who aspire to some version of greatness carry around within them and use different parts of situationally. If I had to chart it out from one "end" to the other, it would look like this:

    Prepared Performance (preplanned/practiced material) --> Compositional Style (free arrangement of practiced material strung together in the moment) --> Pure Improvisation (all "in the moment", eschewing pre-practiced ideas; searching for melody

    I won't presume to speak for everyone, but most of the best players I play with regularly do all of these things, and the more I get to know them, the better I am able to recognize in the moment what point on their continuum they are coming from. Further, this perception of where they are usually affects where on the same scale I play in relation to that. If I were to put the above scale into psychological terms, I could simplify it into something like:

    Total Security --> Balancing Security and Risk Taking --> Pure Risk Taking

    I don't want to hijack Huy's thread, but a discussion of how players use these positions on the scale from moment to moment, tune to tune, performance to performance, and especially in relation to each other could be an interesting sidebar.

    This is brilliant, and something I try to do often (with varying degrees of success). Glad you brought this up. I like where this thread is going.
  17. Me too, man, because it's been pretty repetitious around here in terms of the same old, same old, over and over again. I kindly, can't even find anything or anybody to make fun of in here. (yet).
    Really nice to have a chance to use your brain for a change.

    Props to Huy fer pulling the trigger.
  18. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Please, derail away - that's the stuff I live for on TBDB. Out of the entire book, for the musician, the chapter that is available online (there's another site you can find it) is the most valuable. That one chapter is chock-full of goodness.

    Thanks for the scribd link Growler, I was gonna start digging into Unsung Cat or a book about Tristano next.

    P, I think you also end up capturing when playing in this manner, especially if they can follow your train of thought. I recently saw a show with Mulgrew Miller & Kenny Barron as a duo. Mulgrew repeatedly would play himself almost off the keyboard using a single motif and the excitement of digging himself out of the hole combined with a good resolution made for a great so. No fireworks needed.
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    Also, FWIW, I'm linking some youtubes from Lee's Jazz Heaven DVD. Don't bother buying it, the best parts free.

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