Before & After: Lee Konitz

A memorable Lee Konitz moment occurred just before we met. Stepping off the elevator on his hotel floor, I heard the faint sound of an alto saxophone gradually growing louder as I walked toward his room. I stood outside his door listening to him practice, transfixed by his sound and melodic variations. Eventually, he took a break, which broke the spell and I knocked. For this B&A, the 82 year-old Konitz was characteristically outspoken and unguarded. Continue reading

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Before & After: Sonny Rollins

Molde Sonny Rollins

At age 81, Sonny Rollins shows no signs of slowing down. He still records and tours internationally, keeping his musical tools sharp and his ears open. Though adulation makes him uncomfortable (of late, he humbly refers to himself as “a musical primitive”), Rollins has received nearly every important accolade in the world of music and the arts, including two Grammys, the Edward MacDowell Medal, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize and the NEA Jazz Masters Award. On March 2 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama at the White House. (Kennedy Center Honors, what are you waiting for?) Rollins latest release is his second volume of Road Shows recordings on his Doxy label.

In July of 2010, I caught up with the celebrated saxophonist in Norway at the 50th anniversary of the Molde International Jazz Festival, where he performed an outdoor concert for thousands of dancing, rain-soaked fans. At his hotel, we took a few minutes to enjoy the panoramic view of the fjord, and then sat down to listen.

1. Coleman Hawkins
“Picasso” (from The Jazz Scene, Verve). Hawkins, tenor saxophone. Recorded in 1948.

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Before & After: Larry Coryell

IMG_2997Unlike some wary musicians, guitarist Larry Coryell seemed to really enjoy the Before & After experience. In between selections, we talked about his 40-year recording career, lessons learned from working with Gary Burton and Jimmy Smith, his role as a jazz-rock fusion pioneer, his current power trio with Paul Wertico and Mark Egan, the shrinking jazz record industry, global politics and a recent fascination with Abraham Lincoln. His 2007 autobiography Improvisation: My Life In Music has been published by Hal Leonard, along with a retrospective print folio of  Coryell compositions.

1. Tal Farlow
“Gibson Boy” (from Legends of Guitar Jazz Vol. 1, Rhino) Farlow, Barry Galbraith, guitars; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Joe Morello, drums. Recorded in 1954.

Before: It’s beautiful. Yeah! That’s Tal. [listens, chuckles] I sat with his records when I was 16 years old. He and Jimmy Raney had no text book, they just lived in New York and tried to play like Bird. I cut my teeth on that guy; His tone, his time feeling, his ideas. Tal Farlow was one of the greatest musicians in the world. but he was off the scene during the revolution, the revolution that I helped start in the middle 1960s. After he came back I went to see him in a small club in New York and George Benson was there that same night. I talked to him and I related to him a lot of things I had read about his life on the back of his albums and he said, “Oh, those are just fables.” Later on we hung out and did a  bit of jamming. I showed him some of the tunes and solos I had learned off his records, he was flattered and pleased. His intro to “Yesterdays” was amazing. His entire solo on “Autumn In New York,” I carried that with me forever. That really shaped my ballad playing, it’s still with me today. That’s not even a song. That’s a composition.

After: Oh, I love Barry Galbraith. He was so humble. He made a good living as a studio musician and at that time in the middle to late 50s, that’s all I wanted to do, be a studio musician. I grew up in the sticks, man. I just wanted to make a living. I wanted to be like Barney Kessel and Kenny Burrell and Barry Galbraith.

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