Pianist Dan Tepfer (age 36) and saxophonist Lee Konitz (age 90) forge a unique, timeless and enrapturing musical partnership which has been documented on multiple releases over the past ten years. Their most recent, Decade, out now on Verve/Decca Records France, celebrates their improvisational connection performing and recording as a duo (it has been almost ten years since the release of their album Duos With Lee on Sunnyside Records). We spoke with both musicians about their creative process; the creation and release of this album; and about towing the line between lush free-improvisation and songbook reinvention.
The Jazz Gallery: Lee, I feel that there is an almost universal, romantic quality to your playing which is featured well on this stripped down duo recording; somehow you resist grandiosity while remaining interesting—can you speak about that description at all, and about what we might expect at the release show at the Gallery?
Lee Konitz: Let’s talk after the show, so you can use your Imagination, but thank you, that’s a good description, I guess. Thanks!
TJG: Dan, you’ve been playing with Lee for 10 years now, and you play a little bit of saxophone yourself (on your duo album with Ben Wednel). What can you say about Lee’s saxophone playing, and it’s impact on you as a musician, and on this duo’s aesthetic?
Dan Tepfer: Um (laughs) well, he’s one of the all time great saxophone players. He’s one of the people who’s really carved a path for a certain way of playing jazz saxophone. Back in the day he was really the main alternative to Charlie Parker, in terms of bringing something different to the table on the alto. One thing that draws me to Lee Konitz is his total commitment to making music in the moment. I’ve witnessed this over and over on the stage. He’s just never phoning it in. He’s always asking himself, what is happening right now and what is the most musical, best decision i can make for the music right now. That sounds simple, but it’s something that you have to constantly renew, and he’s 90 and still renewing it.
TJG: Lee, you’ve performed and recorded in a duo context many times, on many different albums (Martial Solal; Jim Hall; Elvin Jones; Joe Henderson; Gil Evans; Hal Galper; Jimmy Raney; Matt Wilson; many others). As a guitarist, I’m really interested in what your duos with Billy Bauer were like, and how they were constructed.
LK: Well if I can remember back 45 years or so…! Billy had some sort of idea or theme and I added something and we put it together for that piece, or something. And yes, I think that music does relate.