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JazzTimes 10: Essential Lennie Tristano Recordings

To honor the influential—and controversial—pianist’s centennial, here are 10 of his greatest moments

  1. Lee Konitz Quintet: “Subconscious-Lee” (Subconscious-Lee, Prestige/Original Jazz Classics, 1992 [originally recorded January 11, 1949])

Like Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House,” “Subconscious-Lee” is based on the changes of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and, in fact, it retains a bit more of the imprint from Porter’s melody than Dameron’s version does. Still, it’s a winding 32-bar tune that never repeats itself, and Tristano’s single improvised chorus doesn’t either. (There’s a bit more leitmotif in Bauer and Konitz’s solos, and later they trade inspired eights.) “Subconscious-Lee” was included in the 1973 Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz by critic and educator Martin Williams, who cited it as an early example of the “cool” school of jazz because of its brushed drums, even-tempered rhythms, and overall quiet dynamic. That should tell you something about how loosely and relatively the term “cool jazz” was batted around; under its surface, “Subconscious-Lee” is boiling.

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Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.