“I chose to play some correct notes in that solo, and some incorrect ones, so I hope you’ll forgive me,” Lee Konitz said onstage at the Newport Jazz Festival in August, wry and unassuming in his rumpled warm-up jacket and khaki bucket hat. “It’s all in the spirit of improvisation.” His audience, gathered around the smallest of three stages at Fort Adams State Park, answered with an appreciative mix of laughter and applause. Then Konitz, armed with his alto saxophone and his rhythm section, was on to the next tune.
As you may have heard, the Newport Jazz Festival marked its 60th anniversary with due ceremony, and more than a few remarkable performances. But in the festival’s immediate afterglow, the set I keep thinking about was in many ways an unremarkable performance. I believe that says something about Konitz, his steadfast career as a jazz modernist, and the high standard to which he so routinely aspires.