Wednesday, April 22, 2020

RIP Lee Konitz, Henry Grimes, Giuseppi Logan, Bucky Pizzarelli

My wife mentioned that after David Bowie and Prince died in 2016, a friend of hers pondered that maybe the Rapture had come and those two were the only ones that were saved. After last week, I started wondering the same thing because we lost Lee Konitz, Bucky Pizzarelli, Henry Grimes and Giuseppi Logan. Maybe the Rapture is happening in slow waves, with an earlier wave having come for the likes of John Prine and Wallace Roney.

Or maybe the world just sucks.

Probably the latter.

I'm not feeling miserably depressed and my sanity is still with me. But of course the days can be exhausting, especially if you dare to look at social media and dare even further to read comments on articles or posts, wondering, "Is this going to piss me off and doubt humanity even more?"

But this blog is social media, technically, isn't it? It's time to raise the mug to some of the ones that we lost over the past week. Here is a little of what they mean to me.

Lee Konitz.
I was always interested in him because he played alto saxophone, the instrument I played while I was in high school, and thought I would seriously pursue. It was several years beyond that before I finally dug into some prime Konitz material. It started with my parents' Gerry Mulligan Quartet 10" on which Lee is a guest. I loved that cool, dry tone of his. It was clear he was on to something with those few tracks and his mind was miles ahead even as the song started because he was already beyond the head of the song, soloing away, probably reshaping it about three times before it came out of his horn.

A friend had told me about "some Konitz album" where it was just him, Elvin Jones and a bassist doing standards but never playing the theme until the very end of the tune. Imagine how stoked I was when I found Motion, the album in question, at Jerry's Records. It was convoluted, again, like the conversation between the players had started before the tapes were rolling. It felt like the record was saying, shut up and listen and dig into the nuances of what they're doing.

When I took the record over to my parents' house, my dad noticed that Sonny Dallas was the bassist. "He's from Pittsburgh. I knew him. I used to think I was a better player than him. But he was ambitious." Interesting aside - in his early 20s, I always felt my dad looked a bit like Lee Konitz, what with the crew cut and the horn-rim glasses. At least as much as an Irish Catholic boy can resemble a Jewish boy with Russian roots.

I finally got to see Lee play at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2013. A day before his set, we crossed paths in the hotel lobby, a few hours after he had done a Q&A with one of the festival emcees. Lee was a man who didn't mince words and that was obvious at the talk. But I was in awe. So in awe that I felt that if I ever did meet him, I should say, "I love you, Lee Konitz."

That awe came to a boil upon having him to myself. I didn't express my love but I did thank him for the music.

Henry Grimes.
There was a good reason that Grimes' return to the limelight was so significant, aside from the fact that it was such a wonderful story of helping someone get back to what they were born to do. Grimes was a monster bassist. I mean, up there with Mingus. That was apparent in 2006 when he came to Pittsburgh with multi-reedist Oluyemi Thomas. The sound that emanated from Grimes' instrument was huge, rich and imaginative. The fact that he was back playing again, which happened through the efforts of a social worker, gave me hope for the world

Earlier that day, I met with Grimes to do a Before and After listening test for JazzTimes. The real reason for those types of articles is not to see how well a musician can identify performers. The goal is to uncover what they listen for, what they like or don't like, etc, and get them to talk about it. Having been out of the music arena for a few decades, Henry identified a few people but missed others. As many articles have said, he was a man of few words too, so it was hard to get much out of him that day. The piece never ran but no matter. There were bigger things he had on his mind.

Giuseppi Logan.
New York Times writer Giovanni Russonello wrote an article about Grimes and Logan, which mentioned that both had similar histories of disappearance followed by comebacks. Like Grimes, Logan recorded for ESP-Disk', releasing two albums of wild, free jazz that were intriguing despite being a bit more on the primitive side. Logan might not have been technically as adept as his peers, but there was no denying the passion of his work. More, his second album for ESP, includes a piano solo that really got to the emotional heart of what Logan was trying to convey. While I wasn't as into his 2010 comeback disc, it felt like he was just getting (re)started, getting his chops going and that greater things were coming. Hopefully, the last ten years gave him some sense of satisfaction artistically.

Bucky Pizzarelli
Of these four musicians, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli is the one whose catalog I am least familiar with. But at the same time, he was one of the most recorded guitarists in history, doing session work all the time, so perhaps I've heard him more often that I realize. Anyone who is that prolific and called upon has to be an ace at what they do, so I tip my hat to him. Besides, he played on Walter Wanderley's album Kee-Ka-Roo, an album that my sister and I practically wore out when we were kids. (At least we wore out the cover because I have the same copy at my house and the seams are totally split, making it a double gatefold record.)

Another Detroit story: The first year I attended the Festival, I was sitting in the hotel lobby talking to author Ashley Kahn (listening to him, rather) when Bucky Pizzarelli walked by. Kahn looked at him, smiled and said, "Hi, Mr. P." It made me think that anyone who can get a well-rounded author like Kahn to address him as "Mr. P" deserves kudos.

For a full obituary on Lee Konitz, check out Michael West's piece on the JazzTimes page.  There is also a great one on the WBGO website by David Adler.

West also wrote this one on Bucky Pizzarelli.

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