NEA Jazz Master Lee Konitz & Dan Tepfer Duo at Constellation in Chicago 2/20

by Ronaldo Oregano   
February 14, 2015

Legendary saxophonist Lee Konitz - whose career has included work with Miles Davis and Lenny Tristano - performs tonight in a rare, intimate duo setting with pianist Dan Tepfer. Lee Konitz is one of the more distinctive alto saxophonists in jazz since Charlie Parker (and one of the few that did not outright copy Parker's style), pairing his individual style and voice with a strong sense of innovation. Dan Tepfer has collaborated with Lee Konitz recording Duos with Lee on Sunnyside Records in 2009. Hear the Lee Konitz & Dan Tepfer Duo perform at Constellation on Friday, February 20th with sets at 7:30 ($20-$25) and 9:30 ($15-$25). 

Born to an Austrian father and a Russian mother in Chicago, Konitz as a youth studied clarinet, then alto saxophone with various teachers. In the early 1940s, Konitz met noted pianist Lennie Tristano, under whose influence and tutelage Konitz's mature style in jazz began to emerge. His recordings with Tristano include the 1949 releases "Intuition" and "Digression" -- precursors to the "free jazz" movement of the 1960s.

In 1947, Konitz played with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra, meeting Gil Evans, who was then arranging for Thornhill. Evans brought Konitz along to participate in Miles Davis' nonet performances and recordings (Birth of the Cool, 1948-50), considered the beginning point for what came to be called "cool jazz." Konitz went on to play with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker's influential band and worked from 1952-53 in Stan Kenton's big band. From then on, he mainly led his own small groups, occasionally touring abroad.

In the early 1960s, as opportunities for performances declined, Konitz withdrew from the music business and took on day work. He continued to develop his unique sound, however, occasionally working with such musicians as Paul Bley, Martial Solal, Charlie Haden, and Brad Mehldau. He also worked as a private teacher, conducting lessons by tape with students worldwide. Konitz joined with Warne Marsh, his fellow sideman from early Tristano sessions, to tour Europe and record in 1975-76; he also founded his own nonet and performed regularly during the 1980s. In 1992, Konitz won the prestigious Danish JAZZPAR Prize.

With his insatiable musical curiosity, Konitz records in a variety of different settings. His later albums include French impressionist music with a string quartet (Lee Konitz & The Axis String Quartet Play French Impressionist Music from the 20th Century), work with the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos (Portology), and an album with the big band Mark Masters Ensemble (One Day with Lee). Konitz divides his time between residences in the United States and Germany and continues to travel and perform around the globe.

Born in Paris to American parents, “tremendously gifted” (LA Times) pianist-composer Dan Tepfer has translated his bi-cultural identity into an exploration of music that ignores stylistic bounds. His 2011 Goldberg Variations / Variations, which pairs his performance of Bach’s work with improvised variations of his own, has received broad praise as a “riveting, inspired, fresh musical exploration” (New York Times). He has worked with the leading lights in jazz, including extensively with saxophone luminary Lee Konitz, while releasing seven albums as a leader. As a composer, he is a recipient of the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for works including Concerto for Piano and Winds, premiered in the Prague Castle with himself on piano, and Solo Blues for Violin and Piano, premiered at Carnegie Hall. Bringing together his undergraduate studies in astrophysics with his passion for music, he is currently working on integrating computer-driven algorithms into his improvisational approach. Awards include first prize and audience prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition, first prize at the East Coast Jazz Festival Competition, and the Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association. His recent soundtrack for the independent feature Movement and Location was voted Best Original Score at the 2014 Brooklyn Film Festival. 

Tepfer’s newest release is Small Constructions — an album of duets with multi-reed player and Kneebody co-founder Ben Wendel, released on Sunnyside Records in March 2013. A set of songs without words, Small Constructions is a multi-tracked, multi-layered production featuring Tepfer and Wendel playing multiple instruments in multiple styles, extending from fresh versions of Monk tunes to pieces based on Handel and Messiaen motifs, from a standard given an artful makeover to originals that underscore the duo’s melodic flair. 

Constellation is located at 3111 N Western Ave on Chicago’s northwest side, Tickets are $15-$25 and available at