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The Gig: Lee Konitz at Newport

Magical mundane

Lee Konitz and Grace Kelly
Lee Konitz and Grace Kelly, Newport Jazz Festival 2014 (photo: Ken Franckling)

“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.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).