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Cool jazz group Lee Konitz Quartet to bring its chemistry to Wexner Center for the Arts

The Lee Konitz Quartet is set to perform Dec. 5 at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Credit: Courtesy of Lee Konitz Quartet

The Lee Konitz Quartet is set to perform Dec. 5 at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Credit: Courtesy of Lee Konitz Quartet

Echoes of a golden era of jazz are set to resonate with renewed vigor in an upcoming performance at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

The Lee Konitz Quartet — a jazz group made up of saxophonist Lee Konitz, pianist Dan Tepfer, bassist Jeremy Stratton and drummer George Schuller — is scheduled to take the stage at the Wexner Center’s performance space on Friday at 8 p.m.

The performance is the last jazz show of the Wexner Center’s 2014 performing arts season.

“For our jazz program, not only do we like to shine a light on up-and-coming jazz stars, we also like to pay heed to the legends of the form,” said Wexner Center spokesman Erik Pepple. “When we have a chance to bring in someone as well-known, respected and influential as Lee, it is a no-brainer.”

Konitz began playing the clarinet at the age 8, but later switched to the alto saxophone. Throughout his career, he has played with noted jazz musicians like pianist Lennie Tristano and trumpeter Miles Davis.

Under the direction of these musicians, Konitz began to develop a signature sound on the saxophone, which solidified his reputation as a prominent figure in the “cool jazz” movement, a style of jazz featuring relaxed tempos and lighter tones that emerged in the 1940s.

Now 87, Konitz and his quartet bring jazz standards to life with innovative musical improvisations written over classic tunes like Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” and Tristano’s “317 East 32nd Street.”

“I use standard tunes to write an improvisation over them,” Konitz said of his composing process. “Overall, I enjoy playing mostly the so-called ‘long-lived standards.’”

Schuller said that although the songs the quartet plays are based on classics, they are reinvented each time they are played, and no two performances are exactly alike.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

“Lee doesn’t venture that far from the particular tunes that he likes to play, but within those … we are going to make a new tune almost every time we play it,” he said. “Every time we play (a song), there is always something different that we do with it. It is going to come out as a new tune.”

A strong camaraderie and trust in each others’ musical talents allow the quartet to constantly reinvent material and experiment as musicians, Schuller said.

“I think it is just the trust that we have in each other and knowing which corners to turn when they come along, or which doorways to open up to go into further exploration of what we are doing,” he said. “This group has a chemistry that is really outstanding.”

Konitz said communication between the quartet’s musicians is paramount to creating music that speaks to the audience.

“What we are playing is a result of what each one of us is playing. It is being duplicated by the others. It is really a lovely experience,” he said. “When we are all communicating and listening to each other, that is the magic that you hear about when the music is working.”

Schuller said he has been performing as a jazz drummer for 35 years, and has been playing “on and off” with Konitz since the early ‘90s. He said he thinks it is Konitz who sets this group apart from similar jazz ensembles.

“I think what makes it unique is just Lee himself and the interplay that we have with Lee. We provide a nice backdrop to what Lee likes to do,” Schuller said. “With Lee, who is such a special player and has such a special sound and certainly backs it up with the history of all that he has done, we tend to think that we give a new outlook on this kind of music that we present.”

Pepple said he thinks the atmosphere of the Wexner Center’s performance space is a fitting venue for the quartet’s musical style.

“(In the performance space, you) are up close and personal. You are right next to the stage. The sound is pristine and it is just a great opportunity for folks who not only enjoy jazz or the history of jazz, but also just want to experience sheer wonderful musical talent up close and personal,” he said. “It is designed to really replicate a true jazz club experience — something that you would experience in New York or other great hotbeds of jazz.”

Although the songs included in Konitz’s repertoire draw extensively from classic jazz standards, Pepple said he thinks the show will appeal to both jazz aficionados and relative newcomers to the musical genre.

“There is a little bit of something there for everyone,” he said. “I think with Lee, his work is so broad-ranging. That makes this a really accessible entry point for someone who might be on the fence about seeing a jazz show, or feeling like there is not anything for them in the world of jazz.”

Schuller said he hopes audience members will be able to connect with the music the quartet plays, and will appreciate the smaller details that are incorporated into each song.

“I would think that whoever comes would hopefully grasp onto the sonic pleasure that we are trying to put out there and hear the melody and hear the interplay and hear the intricacies,” he said. “We just hope that people will know that there is effort up there and that there is love for what we do. Hopefully it catches on.”

Tickets are $13 for OSU students, $16 for members and $18 for the general public.

They can be purchased from the Wexner Center’s website or front desk.

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