Konitz On Cool by David M. Yaffe

Konitz Comments On Cool
by David M. Yaffe! 

Just thought that I'd post this wonderful statement by Lee Konitz. I am posting it for people who dig labels ["bop", "cool"] and lump people together, for those who accept Miles' recent autobiography at its word, and just because he really says it!

It was in the June 25, 1996 issue of the Village Voice. In a special section entitled "When Jazz Was Cool", Lee was quoted in an article by David M. Yaffe. He said:

"Cool jazz always had a negative connotation, so that was a bit of a problem. It was compared to hot jazz, and seemed to lack something. These labels, I think, separated the white and the black. As far as I'm concerned, Lennie Tristano's music was the manifestation of cool jazz. It was not Miles' nonet - that was cool chamber music, a kind of arranger's workshop. Of course, there were great soloists on that record, but they were incidental to the arrangements. But for improvised playing, I think it was Tristano's music that first got that label. I can't think of anyone earlier who played that kind of improvised music. So other people like Brubeck emulated it. Some of the players were trying to play like me; others were trying to play like Warne Marsh. The fact is that we were trying to play as intensely as possible. People can call the music what the want as long as they spell the name right.

I remember hearing the term "cool jazz" as far back as the late '40.s, when people attributed it to Tristano.s music. When I was in that band, we were trying to emulate the hot players - Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Christian, and Louis Armstrong. Those were our predecessors. Also, I think that Miles, as a soloist, would have been labeled a cool player. Even when he was playing with Charlie Parker, he wasn.t playing with Bird.s intensity, so there was a contrast. I hooked up with Miles through my association with Gil Evans in the Claude Thornhill band, when I was playing with people like Gerry Mulligan. We all decided to put together a little band that was the essence of Thornhill's group, with the tuba and the French horn. Miles was designated the leader because he could get the gigs, and he had the voice they wanted for the ensemble. He was very young at that point, but, then again, we all were.

But while Miles' role in all this has been pretty well documented, I think Tristano's function in this development has been underappreciated. Of course, in his case, I always thought that cool was a misnomer, since he was one of the hottest players who ever lived, if you ever care to relisten to him. "

David M. Yaffe

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