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Everything’s Great in Guelph — Unless You Ask Sainkho Namtchylak

Lee Konitz

Alto Saxophonist Lee Konitz and pianist Frank Kimbrough played a one-time only duo performance at the Dayton Art Institute on Saturday, January 20, under the auspices of Cityfolk, Dayton’s jazz and ethnic presenting organization. Cityfolk’s Dave Barber introduced Konitz and he came out to play an extended solo improvisation on Cole Porter’s “The Song is You.” He then stepped to the microphone and feigned ignorance as to where he was. “I do so much traveling,” he said “that you all look alike to me.” He injected dry humor throughout his duo performance with pianist Frank Kimbrough.

After introducing Kimbrough, Konitz remarked that we would be hearing a lot of standard tunes, but in a different way. True enough. At 73, his alto still soars and he is as cerebral as ever. Kimbrough, some 29 years his junior, also puts a lot of thought into his playing. The two men meshed beautifully, mostly improvising with wisps of the melody line coming and going. They played “Sweet and Lovely,” Bronislaw Caper’s “Invitation,” Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To a Kiss” and “Stella By Starlight” in this manner, then closed out the first set with a romping version of Charlie Parker’s “Cool Blues.” Konitz dedicated “Prelude” to the memory of former Ellington saxophonist and Kettering resident Norris Turney who died a few days before the concert.

Like Konitz had done for the first set, Kimbrough came out alone after intermission and played “Wayfaring Traveler” solo. Konitz then appeared and they played “Lover Man.” Konitz dedicated the tune to Stan Kenton, in whose band he soloed on the same piece in 1949. He began playing the next piece, which sounded familiar, while Kimbrough stared at him. He realized that he was starting “Lover Man” again and was able to laugh at his own mistake.

After that false start, they played “What Is This Thing Called Love?” And then went into a stirring rendition of Johnny Green’s “Body and Soul.” This tune has been overdone since Coleman Hawkins recorded it over 60 years ago, especially by saxophonists, but this version was unlike any other. It made the piece seem brand new. The duo then played Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” another old tune given a new reading and without Dizzy Gillespie’s line, and Konitz again stepped to the microphone.

He thanked the audience for coming and said how much they enjoyed playing for us. Then he said, “We’re going to do one more number and then we’ll all go over to the disco.” That one more number turned out to be a medium tempo version of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” another overdone tune, but again the slower tempo made it seem like a completely different song.

The two players had very little rehearsal time together and this was their only performance as a duo, but it showed what happens when the musicians listen to each other. They were so in tune with each other musically that sometimes one would start a solo with the other’s ending. Cityfolk deserves thanks for putting these two together in this one-time only experience.

Originally Published