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Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art by Andy Hamilton

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In jazz circles there is always talk about the importance of individuality, and there are always legions of musicians striving to play like someone else. A journeyman striver who patterns himself on one of the music’s geniuses may practice hard, embed in his brain and muscle memory an arsenal of phrases and techniques, reach high levels of accomplishment, develop a following and be a success. Most of the great individualists worked hard to develop their means of expression, but hard work neither requires nor supplies originality. Paul Quinichette worked diligently to learn to play like Lester Young. That is one way to approach jazz. Then there is Lee Konitz’s way.

In a generation loaded with alto saxophonists who wanted to be Charlie Parker, Konitz never wanted to be anyone but himself. He tells Andy Hamilton in this book of transcribed conversations that as a youngster he was impressed when he was studying with Lennie Tristano and encountered Parker’s records. He went on to learn some of Parker’s solos. But, he says, “When I first heard him I was already formulating a style. … It was very fortunate that I started with Tristano before hearing Bird-I would have gone the way of all the others, the imitators.” Based on six decades of recorded evidence and on the cogency and clarity of his thinking expressed in this book, that seems unlikely.

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