Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art
paperback; 312 pages
University of Michigan Press
It's mentioned in the author's introduction to this new tome that Konitz himself had doubts that people would be interested in a series of interviews with him at book length. However, this is a thoroughly absorbing read: a must-have for Konitz fans but highly recommended for anyone interested in jazz, the art of musical improvisation and the creative process.
The book is dedicated "to the memory of Lennie Tristano (1919-1978) and indeed one of the issues raised in the book is the recognition of which Tristano and many of his dedicated students/adherents (Konitz being one of them, though he is happy with the attention his music has received) have been deprived.
What is most engrossing are Konitz' thoughts on the art of improvising. Pushing aside and through the facile anecdotes, Konitz talks about why he is totally dedicated to "really improvising , avoiding licks or "showboating while focusing on melody. Author Andy Hamilton really does his homework along these lines, quoting and referencing other interviews related to the Konitz idea of "getting away from fixed functions .
There are contradictions and ambivalent feelings and in Walt Whitman style they are all laid out in the open for all to be examined: the role of blues in jazz, for instance. "I do play the blues every day, but not "bluesy blues. I just play it as a form, with or without the standard harmonic structure ... it's a great short story form. It's still a challenge to me to play that form ... and not sound corny.