Lennie Tristano and Free Jazz

Jazz pianist Lennie Tristano is called an improvisational genius and groundbreaker — but one who was difficult to get along with, at least professionally. Jazz.com sums it up:

But the main reason why Tristano is usually discussed as a symbol or theorist rather than as a musician stems from the man himself. Tristano was frank, opinionated, and not afraid of bucking the system. Critics frequently reviewed the man’s personality rather than his records. And, as time went on, there were fewer and fewer records to review.

The profile at Tristano’s site notes that he was an important innovator:

Until relatively recently, it had seldom been acknowledged that Tristano had been the first to perform and record a type of music that came to be called “free jazz.” In 1949 — almost a decade before the making of Ornette Coleman’s first records — Tristano’s group (which included Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Billy Bauer) cut the first recorded example of freely improvised music in the history of jazz. The two cuts, “Intuition” and “Digression,” were created spontaneously, without any pre-ordained reference to time, tonality, or melody. The resultant work was an outgrowth of Tristano’s preoccupation with feeling and spontaneity in the creation of music. It influenced, among others, Charles Mingus, whose earliest records sound eerily similar to those of Tristano in terms of style and compositional technique. Mingus came by the influence honestly; he studied with the pianist for a period in the early ’50s, as did many other well-known jazz musicians, such as Sal Mosca, Phil Woods, and the aforementioned Konitz and Marsh.

Here is a nice essay on Tristano by Jeffery Taylor at The Stranger.

There is not much footage of Tristano. Thus, both clips apparently are from the same concert, which was in Copenhagen in 1965. Above is “You Don’t Know What Love is” and below is “Lullaby of the Leaves.”

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