KONITZ, LEE (1927– ), U.S. alto and soprano saxophonist. With his coolly geometric lines and lightly breathy tone with just the faintest hint of vibrato, Konitz's playing is instantly recognizable; his creativity and longevity have allowed him to bestride post-World War II jazz like a colossus. Konitz was the first major voice on alto to emerge after Charlie Parker, a disciple of pianist-composer Lennie Tristano whose improvisations reflected his mentor's cerebral approach to the music. Born in Chicago and originally trained as a clarinetist, Konitz played locally before joining Jerry Wald and then Claude Thornhill. While in Thornhill's band, he met arranger Gil Evans, which led to Konitz's participation in the pivotal Miles Davis "Birth of the Cool" sessions in 1949–50. After a stint in the Stan Kenton Orchestra, he joined forces with Tristano, being paired with tenor player Warne Marsh, with whom he would play frequently over the next five decades. After leaving Tristano towards the end of the 1950s, Konitz would experiment with a wide range of jazz contexts, a practice he continued throughout his career. Konitz has said, "The concentration involved and the ability to play spontaneously and with other people, that's an extreme challenge that I welcome every time." His openness to that challenge and to new developments in the music resulted in a fruitful and prolific discography totaling well over a hundred recordings. He was awarded the Jazzpar Prize for career achievement in 1992.
B. Case, Brian and S. Britt, "Lee Konitz," in: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz (1978); R.J. DeLuke, "The Constantly Creative Lee Konitz," in: All About Jazz (March 3, 2003); at http://www.allaboutjazz.com; E. Holley, "Lee Konitz," in: Downbeat (Dec. 1985).