Lee Konitz-A Unique Saxophone Voice

Lee Konitz-A Unique Saxophone Voice

This post first appeared several years ago on my old website.  I have updated it here and rewritten it slightly.  Please look for future posts about both Lee Konitz and his saxophone soul mate Warne Marsh.

Lee Konitz
-Billie’s Bounce solo from Very Cool, Verve 1958

For over 50 years now Lee Konitz has displayed a unique alto saxophone style that is loved the world over.  It is no secret that Lee learned Charlie Parker solo’s in his studies with Lennie Tristano; Lee obviously knew Bird’s Billie’s Bounce solo well as he and Warne Marsh have been recorded playing the solo verbatim both live and in the studio.  It’s very interesting to see his four chorus solo statement here written out; this is a beautifully crafted and executed solo that includes some simple yet interesting harmonic ideas.  Notice how pretty Lee’s sound is, and how he never forces the sound nor overstates his melodic ideas.
Some observations…..
Chorus 1:

The figure in bar three of this chorus is a nice intervalic gesture that incorporates the major 9 and 6 of the D7 chord before landing squarely on the minor 7th, which then logically resolves to the 3rd of the G7 in bar 5 of the chorus.  He then ascends to the 7th of the G7, works his way through the D7 to the turnaround, clearing spelling out the B7 in bar 8, then plays a nice little shape that includes the major 6 and 9 of the A7, and the major 6th of the D7.  Notice the use of space in the chorus as well.
Chorus 2:

Notice the use of neighbor tones over the D7 in bar three of this chorus.  He implies the D7b9 in bar 4, and again we see the major 6 being emphasized in bar 6 against the G7.  Notice how he squarely lands on the D# of the A7 in bar 10, the #11 of that chord.

Chorus 3:

A nice imitative phrase begins this chorus in bars 1 and 2, notice again the neighbor tones in bar 5 that precede the b natural in bar 6.  He works his way through the D7 in bar 7, again hitting the 6th and 9th, and then clearly works his way to the b9, the B flat, against the A7 in bar 10.

Chorus 4:

A cool descending shape is presented here, which begins with the pickups to this chorus.  Notice how this phrase touches the high C, then grabs the B on beat four of bar one, then hits the A and G in bar two, and then concludes with the F# on the downbeat of bar three before landing on the C, the 7th of the D7.  Again there are some nice intervals chosen here, look how the line is not really linear but moves about, with a couple of fifths present, the expansion of the major third to a forth in bar 8, and the leap of a major 6th in bar 10 from the A to the F# and back again in the same bar.
Aspiring improviser’s can learn a lot from a simple yet elegant solo like this from a master such as Lee Konitz.  This is a classic solo that should be learned note for note back from the recording, and etched into the memory banks.  There is much to absorb from a solo such as this.  As Lee likes to say…..”These are our etudes……”

Billie's Bounce:LK


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