Writings about Music
Exemplars From Konitz and Tristano By Way of India
Michael Robinson and Lee Konitz
After the fact, I found the sinuous and daedelean nature of Kamavardhani having connections with my teacher, Lee Konitz, and his teacher, Lennie Tristano, their music arguing that abstract and enigmatic qualities are virtues. Of course, I'm the percussionist here too, in addition to being the pianist.
As stated in the original liner notes for Kamavardhani: "For myself, there is nothing in music more basic and challenging than presenting pure melody and rhythm in such a transparent manner."
My composition based on Bhairavi adds wisps of Latin percussion ostinati to the through-composed lilas of melody and rhythm swimming over tanpura drones.
During a conversation with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy about jazz, I was surprised and pleased to learn that his favorite jazz artist of all time is Lee Konitz. This preference of Nazir supports my belief that Konitz is the jazz artist closest in musical personality to Indian classical music, despite the fact that he seldom if ever engages in modal improvisation. The connection has much to do with the complexly shaped melodic lines he improvises, and an abstract, mysterious expressive nature. When I shared my insight with Lee, including using the words varna and vakra, Sanskrit terms describing melodic movement in ragas (amusingly, there is an street named Varna Avenue adjacent to the home where Nazir lived), with vakra denoting multi-directional or crooked characteristics, Konitz, without missing a beat, retorted with a friendly smirk while ironically using a double entendre as smoothly as he famously employs enharmonic tones: "That's right; I'm very crooked."
Lennie Tristano recorded some of the first, if not the first, examples of multi-tracking, anticipating later technological instruments such as the meruvina. His pianistic aesthetic suggests such future developments as well, in addition to leading the first free jazz recording session. Tristano's preference for sometimes playing with only his right hand relates to Indian harmonium practice, this being my personal attraction when turning to keyboard timbres, especially well kurta'd for my music.
Lennie Tristano (Gottlieb)
A Musical Hypothesis includes the stunning realization that two pianistic giants with exact opposite aesthetic outlooks were Italian-Americans born the same year of 1919. Both Lennie Tristano and Liberace were perfectionistic musical geniuses whose innovative contributions remain mostly overlooked.
- Michael Robinson, May 2017, Los Angeles
© 2017 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).