Others who knew him well have written with great eloquence about Lee Konitz, who moved into spirit a few days ago, having shared his gifts with us for 92 years. So I will simply share a video-recording of the one performance I was privileged to attend and record, and the story around it. I am sharing this performance at the request of several of the participating musicians, to honor Lee Konitz as he was in life, moving from WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? into SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE (a title given the line by string bassist Arnold Fishkind).
The performance took place on December 6, 2015, at a session celebrating Ted Brown, held at the Drawing Room, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s strudio in Brooklyn: the late Lee Konitz is far right, Brad Linde, tenor, in the center, Ted Brown, tenor, to the left, Judy Niemack, vocal; Michael Kanan, piano; Murray Wall, string bass; Jeff Brown, drums.
Before I tell my tale, I am grateful to Brad Linde for writing about that night:
Birthday party performances with and for Ted Brown were perennial favorites for me to host at the Drawing Room in Brooklyn. Over the years, there has been a cast of characters from the Tristano School family and adjacent musicians that frequently play with Ted and myself.
This particular night I drove up from DC, returning Aaron Quinn, Miho Hazama, and Jon Irabagon to the city after a gig at the Kennedy Center. I picked up Ted’s cake and made it to the venue with less than the usual time to spare. Two big surprises awaited me. The first was that my tenor has suffered damage in transit and was leaking in the middle of the horn – a devastating discovery. The second was the improbable appearance of Lee Konitz in Brooklyn!
For years, I had dreamed of situating myself in a performance alongside Ted and Lee. And here the dream came true at the worst possible time for my Conn 10M. We started off with “All The Things You Are” and after my stuttering improvisation on a out-of-balance horn, Lee said to me “Nobody’s perfect,” and smiled.
Lena Bloch arrived and graciously loaned me her horn while she diligently worked to repair mine. The night became a family affair with Judy, Lena, Aaron, Murray, Joe Solomon, Jeff, Michael, Ted, and Lee playing familiar standards with unfamiliar results. Lee, at the time known for scatting as much or more than playing, was on fire, playing long choruses and revisiting the sinewy lines.
A big, fun night with heroes and friends. The sounds of surprise.
My perspective on the evening is possibly more humanly embarrassing than Brad’s leaking tenor saxophone. I met Michael Kanan in 2010 through Joel Press, and Michael impressed me immediately as musician and person, so when I could I came to his gigs and often brought my video camera, about which he was both gracious and scrupulous. I think it was through Michael that I met Ted Brown and Brad Linde, both of whom extended the same welcome to me. Thus I attended a number of sessions at The Drawing Room, the upstairs studio on Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, that Michael and Stephanie Greig maintained.
When I heard of this December 2015 session in celebration of Ted, I immediately bought a ticket and came with my camera, as I had done before. The studio was a long narrow room, and I took up the best position I could, a chair to the far right in the first row, set up my tripod, and waited for the music to begin. As you can see on the video, the chairs in the front row were not far from the front line. When Brad and Ted arrived, bringing Lee with them, the room was not wide enough to accommodate all the horn-players in one straight line, so Lee ended up sitting right in front of me. Reluctantly and with hesitation, I might add. I chose the large photograph for this blogpost because his expression carries some of the same unspoken emotions.
Lee did not speak to me, but he was clearly discomfited to find someone he did not know seated almost at his elbow with an (admittedly small) camera aimed at him and the rest of the front line. I did not hear precisely what he said to Brad, but motioning to me, his face turned away, I could see his face in a grimace of inquiry. Other musicians have said of me, speaking to someone in the band whom they knew, “What [not who!] is that?” and I believe Lee asked Brad something similar, and I think Brad replied, “That’s Michael. He’s OK. I asked him to come here,” which mollified Lee so that he didn’t turn to me and tell me to leave, but whenever he did notice me, his facial expression was shocked and stern. But he was a professional, with decades of blocking out nuisances, and the evening proceeded. I spent the evening in anxiety, waiting for him to decide he had had enough of my proximity, but perhaps he lost himself in the joy of playing and singing among friends. You can see the results for yourself.
All I can hope for myself is that Lee’s spirit forgives me interloper who was much too close and, without asking permission or begging his pardon, gobbled up a piece of his art and has given it to the public. And all I can hope for us is that we crate what we are meant to with such prolific energy, and that we, too, leave such a large hole in the universe when we move into spirit.
May your happiness increase!