With its ever-growing audience and notoriety, New Orleans’ beloved Jazz Fest has gone through a great deal of musical expansion, for better or for worse. The selection of artists performing under the Jazz Tent each year shows that the festival, on top of valuing the forms of jazz deeply rooted in the city’s traditions, has kept up with the different forms its music has evolved into as it historically rose to become a national and global cultural phenomenon. The coming of alto saxophonist and cool jazz pioneer Lee Konitz on May 4 only furthers this acknowledgment of modern jazz history.
Defying all stereotypes of jazzmen’s longevity, Konitz remains an active musician today. “I’m going to be 90 years old in October, and I got more gigs than ever,” he says. “People enjoying the music is a big kick for me.”
When Konitz was 22 years old he sat in on a recording session that was to bring tremendous changes to the direction of the music—Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool. In an era when alto saxophonists caught the Charlie Parker frenzy, Konitz managed to develop a voice on the instrument that was truly his, navigating gently from one idea to the next with a tremendous sense for melodic phrasing and a delicate tone.