May 27, 2024

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Saxophone legend Lee Konitz’s 90th birthday. He is back in New York after celebrating: Video

It’s a crisp Monday afternoon in November on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, just a few days after saxophone legend Lee Konitz’s 90th birthday.

He is back in town after celebrating with his three daughters, Stephanie, Karen and Rebecca, who traveled from various parts of the country to Washington D.C. to catch their father’s weekend gig at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. After meeting the NEA Jazz Master at his 86th Street apartment, we stroll to the nearby Columbus Cafe, his favorite deli in the neighborhood. As we enter the crowded deli, Konitz begins whistling in a distinctive trill. It’s his code to the short order cooks behind the counter that he has arrived. They acknowledge his presence by whistling back at him as they begin making his usual tuna sandwich. He’s got them trained.

After consuming our tuna sandwiches, we return to Konitz’s apartment for a lively Q&A session. In his library, next to a collection of Chekov and Sherlock Holmes books, there’s a framed picture of his mentor Lennie Tristano, a shot of his trio with Brad Mehldau and Charlie Haden and several paintings of the alto saxophone great, given to him by various admirers. One vintage picture carries the cutline: “Relative newcomer on the scene Lee Konitz playing at the Royal Roost.” A large painting of Konitz playing his sax sits on the floor in his living room. “A guy on the 13th floor,” he explains. “I don’t really have room to hang it properly so I just let it sit there.”

Konitz is relaxed and sitting in a comfortable chair in his living room, like a king on his throne as he delivers his views on singing, group empathy, scatting, contrafacts and more.

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