When Lee Konitz makes music, folks stop and listen. This may be due to his deep connection to the repertoire, his constant search for new sound, his adoration and celebration of the tradition. It may also be because he just turned 92 years old.
How does someone like Konitz stay engaged in the music after a career of over seven decades? Over the years, Konitz has become a mentor for younger musicians, creating a community around him that approaches performance with intimacy, intricacy, and adventure. These musicians include Dan Tepfer, Florian Weber, George Schuller, and for the last two decades, saxophonist/composer/conductor Ohad Talmor. We’ve spoke with Talmor a number of times, about his composition and arranging.
For this latest project, Old Songs New (Sunnyside), Talmor and Konitz agreed on a collection of well-loved yet seldom recorded standards. Talmor’s arrangements were designed as a kind of playground for Konitz: Talmor describes them as “this prismatic object where Lee could decide to play with the arrangements, stick to the melodies, play on top, get abstract, lay out, it doesn’t matter, the music is made to work any way he wants.” The full ensemble including Konitz will be at The Jazz Gallery this Sunday, October 20, to celebrate the release of the work.
The Jazz Gallery: When it comes to you, we can always talk about almost anything musical, from film scoring and big band arranging to Hindustani music and electronic improvisation. Off the bat, where are you now, and what are you doing?
Ohad Talmor: I’m in Brazil, in São Paolo. There’s a creative big band down here that I’ve been associated with since the early 2000s, and one of the saxophone players specializes in playing modern arrangements of choro, a form of Brazilian music. I’m doing a few gigs with them as a saxophonist and improviser—I’m not a specialist, but during my first trips to Brazil, I hooked up with this big band called Soundscape, who commissioned me to write some big band material, as well as some music in the choro tradition. Since then, I’ve learned to play some on saxophone, and have listened to the repertoire: At this point, it’s very much a part of my musical fabric. Brazil is a country with such a rich heritage, and choro is just one of the things I’m dealing with here.
For this trip, I’m playing with Samuel Pompeo, a great saxophonist who has a quintet he’s been working with for a few years. Choro is a very set form, so he kind of rearranged and opened the tunes up, modernized them, and is using this phenomenal rhythm section of Brazilian guys, so I get my assed kicked just playing with them. It’s just beautiful. I’m just playing, too, I have zero responsibility with writing or conducting, so I don’t have do do anything but learn the music and play it. I love that [laughs].
TJG: Then you’re jumping right back to New York for the gig at the Gallery?
OT: Yes. Before that, I have a trio thing with Miles Okazaki and Dan Weiss. We have two days in the studio on Thursday and Friday, and we’ll bring that project to The Jazz Gallery on December 4th, because we’ll be touring Europe in December. It’s a whole new repertoire. That’s first. Then, Sunday, we’re playing at the Gallery with Lee Konitz.