Leon Konitz (October 13, 1927 – April 15, 2020) was an American composer and alto saxophonist.
He performed successfully in a wide range of jazz styles, including bebop, cool jazz, and avant-garde jazz. Konitz’s association with the cool jazz movement of the 1940s and 1950s includes participation in Miles Davis‘s Birth of the Cool sessions and his work with pianist Lennie Tristano. He was one of relatively few alto saxophonists of this era to retain a distinctive style, when Charlie Parker exerted a massive influence. Like other students of Tristano, Konitz improvised long, melodic lines with the rhythmic interest coming from odd accents, or odd note groupings suggestive of the imposition of one time signature over another. Other saxophonists were strongly influenced by Konitz, such as Paul Desmond and Art Pepper.
Leon Konitz was born on October 13, 1927, in Chicago. He was the youngest of three sons of Jewish immigrant parents. His Austrian father, Abraham, operated a laundry business in the back of which the family lived. His mother, Anna, had emigrated from Russia. The family spoke Yiddish at home and were not religiously observant. Neither of his parents were musical but were supportive of Konitz’s interest in music.
At the age of eleven, inspired by Benny Goodman, Konitz received his first clarinet. He received classical training from Lou Honig who also taught Johnny Griffin and Eddie Harris. A year later, his admiration for Lester Young led him to drop the instrument in favour of the tenor saxophone. He eventually moved from tenor to alto. He received instruction on the saxophone from Santy Runyon. Konitz’s early influences were big band horn players such as Johnny Hodges, Roy Eldridge, Willie Smith and Scoops Carry. He also greatly admired Louis Armstrong and credited the influence Benny Carter’s solo on ‘I Can’t Believe that You’re in Love with Me’ had on him.