VIP Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz (October 13, 1927 - April 15, 2020)

Saxophonist and composer Lee Konitz was part of the cool jazz movement of the 1940s and 1950s, playing with many of the greats, including on Miles Davis's Birth of the Cool sessions. Davis wrote in his autobiography, “A lot of black musicians came down on my case about their not having work, and here I was hiring white guys in my band. So I just told them that if a guy could play as good as Lee Konitz could play – that’s who they were mad about most, because there were a lot of black alto players around — I would hire him every time, and I wouldn’t give a damn if he was green with red breath.”

Konitz told author Andy Hamilton in the book Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art: “I must make the point that that stuff works—marijuana, I’m talking about, I never did anything else. Marijuana puts everybody on a delicate balance, somehow—for me it was like turning the volume up….There’s an intense physical and emotional awareness that can happen with pot smoking—I was hearing more acutely, touching the keys felt special, and so on. When I decided to stop doing it, I was very pleased to realize that I could still enjoy playing. But that ‘ecstasy’ is not there without the drug, usually, for me."

Hamilton asked, “Does being high accentuate the state you’re in?”

Konitz responded, “I think, for me, all the senses are amplified, for positive or negative. I did tend to play mechanically in the early days, and I continually work on that problem—smoking pot was the way I tried to avoid that terrible tendency. But since it’s better to make the a strong effort to relax and just play, I stopped the smoking dependency years ago. I still have fond memories of ecstatic moments, but I like consistency and responsibility more.”

Hamilton then says he’s never smoked pot, “but isn’t it like alcohol in deadening your sensibilities?”

Konitz replies, “Being interested in jazz as you are, you’ve never tried? You ought to try it once to get that insight—you might become a viper! Pot is not at all like alcohol for me. Alcohol is stultifying—it just makes me heavy and insensitive. Pot makes me supersensitive.”

Hamilton: But isn’t that an illusion?

Konitz: It’s true for the moment. It’s been described as a magnifier of your feelings—everything is more intense. I’ve felt clearer, in many respects, with the pot. It was said that if you played great on the night before with a smoke, and it was recorded, the next day you had to have a smoke to listen back!

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