“As for Lennie Tristano, I’d like to go on record as saying I endorse his work in every particular.” —Charlie Parker, 1953
Born 100 years ago (March 19, 1919), pianist Lennie Tristano has represented controversy for most of that century. Nobody can deny that he grasped the cutting edge of early bebop and ably took it in his own idiosyncratic, ingenious direction. That direction had some disturbing elements, though: Tristano had little use for the blues, called Thelonious Monk “just about the dumbest pianist I’ve ever heard,” and was and is seen—not unfairly—as attempting to erase the music’s African-American distinction. Though he died in 1978, the backlash against him has never entirely faded.