Review: NEA Jazz Master Lee Konitz’s Birthday Celebration at The Kennedy Center

Nonagenarian jazz–what is it?

It’s Lee Konitz leading a quartet that includes George Schuller on drums, Jeremy Stratton on bass, and Dan Tepfer on piano.

And in his Kennedy Center’s Birthday Celebration, Konitz couldn’t have been any more expressive, or ready for flight.

Lee Konitz. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Nuanced, graceful, unhurried, and sublime are but a few of the descriptors that come to mind as I reflect on this exquisite evening of jazz and community.

The evening began with a rendition of “I’ll Remember April.” Jazz Master Konitz began the piece with a solo, which he interrupted with pauses and exclamation in reference to his musical endurance, and his 90-year-old breath.

This evening’s jazz would not be the feisty, ecstatic festival of the urban pulse; rather, it would be the easy-going inspiration and creativity of a man who can’t stop playing, exploring, performing even as he steps another decade closer to one hundred.

Pianist Tepfer had several highlights. His solo during the evening’s second piece, a dissociative, emotional purging of all easy answers, discordantly performed but done so with grace and fortitude, and without hysterics, was most memorable.

Later in the evening, Tepfer’s unassuming self joined Konitz centerstage for a bit of scat singing, as they improvised off one another in playful abandon.

One of the most memorable pieces was “Kary’s Trance,” which started with a single note, initiated by sax but then intoned by audience throughout much of the composition. That audience participation and the syncopated vibration it created, reverberated indeed like a trance throughout the auditorium.

Drummer Schuller finally took us out of that “Trance” with an assortment of discrete percussives, like patterns on taut skin that titillate to nothing.

Bassist Stratton’s solo also demonstrated the nuanced jazz that this evening embodied: we listened to each note and watched each of his fingers pluck and slide.

If nonagenarian jazz lifts the soul like this, let’s have more of it.

I’m sure Lee Konitz and his quartet will lovingly oblige.

The quartet appeared at The Kennedy Center as part of its ongoing celebration of jazz.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

NEA Jazz Master Lee’s Konitz’s Birthday Celebration performed twice on October 14, 2017, at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For the full season at the Jazz Club go online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


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