Writings about Music

Counting Konitz Letters

From one of six handwritter letters and one postcard Lee Konitz mailed to Michael Robinson. This one referenced the 1995 Hamoa album.


Counted my handwritten letters from Lee Konitz. There are six of these plus an amazing postcard with a supercool photo of him.

Lee once told me in person, responding to albums of mine he had enjoyed listening to: “I think the definition of genius is when someone tries to do what the current leaders in music are doing, finds that impossible, and then develops something new out of necessity.”

Funny, but it really doesn't feel like he's gone. He was so incredibly intelligent. Lee didn't attend high school or college, instead becoming a professional musician forever at that tender age. Told me Charlie Parker was BY FAR the most intelligent person he ever met. And all we have of Bird speaking is a short radio interview by Paul Desmond pretty much. What a colossal failure by the media! There are some other even shorter interviews that barely get off the ground.

My dear friend, Charlie Colin, was a major brass music and jazz publisher, in addition to being a renowned trumpet teacher and trumpet artist. He knew Bird, Dizzy, and Miles well, including publishing music by Parker and Davis, and giving Gillespie lessons. Charlie enjoyed relating a bunch of intriguing stories about these monumental artists to me. We met when I had a part-time gig playing a white Yamaha baby grand piano for a fancy Kapalua clothing boutique. He wandered in shortly before closing one happy day. I really must get around to writing about Charlie and his equally dear wife, Irene, sometime. Charlie, who enthusiastically attended concerts of mine in Manhattan and Maui, once told me that he believed future composers would be influenced by my innovations.

Charlie & Irene Colin and Michael Robinson at the Bob Longhi residence in Lahaina, Maui.


Stan Getz was once smoking pot with Shorty Rogers in their Manhattan building on West 53rd Street off Eighth Avenue where Charlie sold his music publications and rented out rehearsal space, and Irene asked him to stop. (My initial lessons with Lee Konitz were at the Charles Colin Studios, later moving our lessons to his 86th Street apartment between Columbus and Amsterdam where there was no time restriction, often going one or two hours past the standard one hour time.) Stan objected with some profanity - not a good strategy. Irene, the sweetest person imaginable, banned him from the building forever!

Speaking of pot, I sometimes regret not accepting Lee's invitation to light up while listening to music in his apartment in 1994. I don't handle the stuff well, and don't really need it to feel good or high. However, looking back, it probably would have been fun or at least interesting to have done so. Conversely, a friend gave me some pot in 2001, and thinking who it might be fun to smoke with, I asked Ray Manzarek, but he said it had become much too potent in the years since he smoked while with The Doors, once even ending up on the floor, and declined. I ended up throwing it out.

Composing music and creating performances inspired by Indian ragas is truly an incarnation of the ancient Soma Ritual on its own with the only substances required being food and water.

The letter above referenced my Hamoa album of 1995. This was a watershed moment, reflecting my studies of Indian classical music with Harihar Rao, senior disciple of Ravi Shankar, commencing in late 1994. It was also the first album using a new version of what I later named the meruvina. Keyboard, Journal SEAMUS, and composer Carl Stone expressed enthusiasm for the album, Carl inviting me to present Hamoa on his KPFA radio show. Even notoriously conservative radio station, KUSC, played selections from Hamoa on shows hosted by Martin Perlich and Titus Levi. Levi's weekend night show did focus on world and avant-garde music, while Perlich's daytime, weekday program played European masters of the past almost exclusively. For likely unrelated reasons, after voicing extreme enthusiasm while playing music from my Chinese Legend album of 1997, Perlich left KUSC shortly after doing so, moving to KCSN where he interviewed me several times in subsequent years.  

- Michael Robinson, May 2020, Los Angeles


© 2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


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