Lennie Tristano / March 19, 1919 - Nov 18, 1978

The underrated composer & avant-jazz pioneer Lennie Tristano may not get as much respect as he deserves, but the guy helped bridge bop to free jazz in the late '40's(!). A gifted pianist, the young Tristano, totally blind by age 9, did his first "pro" gigs at 11, playing clarinet in a Chicago whorehouse. He played saxophone and piano in "rumba" bands in the early '40s and was a teacher to future professional collaborators Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

He went to NYC in '46 and started hangin' and playin' with Bird. In '49 his group recorded the first free improvisation tunes ("Intuition" and "Digression", as well as two others that were lost). They played free improvisation around Northeast US venues in '49 and '50 but proved to be too far ahead of the audiences. In '51 he started a school for jazz musicians, as well as his own label, Jazz, utilizing overdubbing for the first time in improv jazz. The distribution was just not there for the label so he decided to rent his studio to Charles Mingus & Max Roach for their similarly-inspired artist-run label, Debut.

In '53 he recorded perhaps the first atonal solo piano improvisation ("Descent Into The Maelstrom") that made it to disk. Folks, we're talking about a truly innovative guy here! His group played the Newport Festival in '54 and signed with Atlantic. After a tour of Europe in the mid-'60s things started to slow down and Tristano rarely played in concert after that. He continued to be an educator until his death. Among his students: Charles Mingus, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Phil Woods and others.

"Intuition", 1949:

And "Digression":

"Descent Into The Maelstrom", from 1953:

Tagged: avant-garde, Celebrate Icons, jazz, Lennie Tristano, out-jazz, piano

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