Writings about Music

A Momentous 'Round Midnight

Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz and Michel Petrucciani, a momentous 'Round Midnight; my personal choice for the greatest jazz ballad recording ever, Lee exhibiting awesome substance by way of spontaneity, originality, development, and rasa. This is an especially notable achievement given how 'Round Midnight might well qualify as the Darbari Kanada or Malkauns of jazz. Some of my other favorite jazz ballad recordings are Invitation and Weaver of Dreams by John Coltrane; A Time For Love (solo) and 'Round Midnight (three pianos) by Bill Evans; Stars Fell On Alabama by Cannonball Adderley; Lover Man, from 1951, by Charlie Parker (not the 1946 version on Dial); and The Summer Knows by Phil Woods.

Michel, 19 at the time, inspired Lee, who was 54, with an unusually roaming harmonic approach to the song, synergizing fluidly with the alto saxophonist's deeply felt and subtle melismas. Konitz is part of a quartet of Jewish American jazz woodwind geniuses, including Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Stan Getz, who shaped jazz evolution and history in profound ways.



Michael Petrucciani and Lee Konitz


Lee told me this 'Round Midnight went on for so long because, he later learned, Michel had misplaced his glasses, and couldn't see the alto saxophonist signaling to end, fortunate for everyone involved given the masterpiece that resulted. 'Round Midnight is from the album, Toot Sweet, recorded on May 25, 1982, at the Bösendorfer Showroom in Paris, with Michel playing a Bösendorfer, of course. Lee was trying out a new metal mouthpiece for the first time that day, talk about spontaneity! As far as I know, the cat pictured above was not a reincarnation of Lennie Tristano.

On one occasion, driving with Lee in my car around 1998 in Los Angeles, I surprised him by playing this 'Round Midnight, which he hadn't heard since around the time of the original album release. We both listened intently for the full 16 minutes in complete silence, the music ending, by chance, as we arrived at our destination. Konitz was so overcome with emotion by the music he didn't say a word until later. Observing him listening out of the corner of my eye while driving, it seemed as if Lee was feeling imposing competition with an earlier incarnation of himself, a most formidable doppelganger. There was also a sense Konitz was recalling memories from his private life at that time informing the music. This 'Round Midnight captures Lee embodying profound musical intimacy learned from his favorite jazz vocalist, a prime source of inspiration, Frank Sinatra.

- Michael Robinson, April 2020, Los Angeles


© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist)