Born in Chicago, Illinois on October 13 1927.
After studying the clarinet and the tenor, he pursues with the alto, with Jerry Wald, since age 16.
Having met, in Chicago, Lennie Tristano, in the mid 40ties and studying with him, he joins Claude Thornhill (1947-8), with whom he did his first recordings.
It is frequently emphasized in many discussions of the Konitz career that the late Lennie Tristano was a shaping force. Absolutely true, but Lennie simply firmed up an approach to playing that was already in place. Lee's earliest recorded solos, with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra in 1947, illustrate that Lee has embarked on a wholly individual stylistic journey.
Moving to New York, he plays at the Royal Roost as a member of the Tuba Band of Miles Davis and so, participated in the Birth of The Cool sessions (1948-50).
At the meantime, he records with Lennie Tristano "Intuition" and performs with Warne Marsh, with whom he records a LP as leader (1949).
After a tour of Europe (1951) he plays with Tristano in Canada (1952), joins Stan Kenton (1952-54) and records with Gerry Mulligan (1953).
After his association with Kenton, he works, on occasions, in New York and Boston, leading his own quartet (1954-55), with Tristano, at the Sing Song Room of the Confucius Restaurant, does more recordings with Marsh (1955). He is back in Europe (1956, 1958), more recordings with Mulligan (1957), Gil Evans (1957) and under his own name.
In California he is playing occasionally with Vince Guaraldi, Clare Fischer, Virgil Gonsalves. He returns to New York and appears at the Half Note with Tristano (1964); teaches, takes interest in the flute, the electrified saxophone, varitone, and performs at Carnegie Hall (1965), at the Paris jazz festival, in Lugano (1965-66).
Konitz found his own route through the musical maze, emerging with a wholly personal conception. After his collaboration with Tristano, his participation in the Birth of the Cool experiments with Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and John Lewis, Lee braved the Stan Kenton powerhouse and opened up to other influences, taking different directions, especially during the 1960s, before returning to his natural habitat, the intimate small group.
Records a series of duos with Joe Henderson, Richie Kamuca, Jim Hall, Ray Nance, Elvin Jones... (1967) - a formula which becomes a speciality of his : with Sal Mosca (1971), Red Mitchell, Hal Galper (1974/5), Jimmy Giufre, Martial Solal (1978, 1980), Karl Berger (1979), Michel Petrucciani (1982), Harold Danko (1984).
He is in Germany with Attila Zoller or Albert Mangelsdorff (1968 - they record in duo in 1983), in Italy with Solal (1968) or Enrico Rava (1968). Tours with Primordial Jazz Five of Roswell Rudd (1968-70). He can be heard aside Mingus at Town hall (1972). He takes place in the concert, 1974, of Newport in New York and the Antibes festival. Records under his own name and with Dave Brubeck and Anthony Braxton, with Andrew Hill. Assisted by Peter Ind and Al Levitt, he tours Europe with Warne Marsh (1975-6) and with him records with Bill Evans (1977). He devotes an album to the tenor (1977), plays with Paul Bley, appears in France with Shelly Manne. He rejoins Mingus in 1978, Gil Evans in duo in 1980 and pays tribute to him at the New York jazz festival in 1983. His curiosity and availability result in appearance, in France, with accordionist Francis Varis and the Cordes et Lames group of guitarist Dominique Cravic (1986)...
Taking, very early, certain liberties with the sacred style of bebop and inventing, versus the music of Charlie Parker, a way of relation singularly more able and complex than the rest of his saxophonists generation, Lee Konitz anticipated the avant guard of the sixties.
Experimentalist, his style never ceased to evolve: the sonority of the cool period progressively took grain, enriching with emotions and sensuality sensibility initially turned towards abstract. Man of encounters, he maintained close relation with his instrument and his renovated conception of standards manifested with astonishing quality in his improvisations.
Lee Konitz has been applying his considerable energy and intellect in highly personal and specialized musical cause for almost half this 20th century. The century is virtually over, but Lee, as he nears the mature milestone of 70, shows no sign of running out of steam, enthusiasm or ideas. His music and self-belief have proved to be as durable as in the cases of Coleman Hawkins or Duke Ellington.
Lee has never lost his inquisitiveness or propensity to grow artistically during a recording career that spans six decades.
Sources: Jazz Dictionary / Mark Gardner (co-author, The Blackwell Guide to recorded Jazz)
Lee KONITZ was occasionnally associated with Belgian musicians, such as Nathalie LORIERS (1 CD on AMC), Sal LA ROCCA, Bruno CASTELLUCCI, Michel HERR, Nicolas THYS, etc..., and more often, with guitarist Jeanfrançois PRINS and Judy NIEMACK, with whom he recorded a few times, a.o. :
Lee KONITZ & the Jeanfrançois PRINS Trio : Live (Gam 915), with Sal LA ROCCA and Bruno CASTELLUCCI.