Lee Konitz, Jazz Saxophone Great and Miles Davis Collaborator, Dies of Coronavirus Complications at 92

Erika Goldring/Getty Images
Lee Konitz performs during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

He enjoyed stints with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, worked with pianist Lennie Tristano, Stan Kenton, Warne Marsh, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Bill Evans and played on the 'Birth of the Cool' recordings, a landmark in post-bebop jazz.

Lee Konitz, the celebrated jazz saxophonist and last surviving performer on Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool sessions, has died. He was 92.

Konitz’s son Josh confirmed to NPR that the cause of his father's death was pneumonia related to COVID-19. 

Born in 1927 in Chicago, Konitz studied clarinet early on, then switched to alto sax, an instrument he mastered like no other.

Konitz enjoyed stints with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra and Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, and worked with pianist Lennie Tristano, Stan Kenton, Warne Marsh, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell and Bill Evans. He also played with Davis’ nonet on their Birth of the Cool recordings on Capitol, a landmark in post-bebop jazz.

The “cool-toned” artist, reads his Blue Note biog, “always had a strong musical curiosity that has led him to consistently take chances and stretch himself, usually quite successfully.”

During his seven-decade career, Konitz recorded for such labels as Atlantic, Prestige, Polydor and Verve. According to his official biography, he was one of the last active musicians to have played all three Birdland clubs in New York City.

The jazz great almost turned his back on music in the early 1960s, but returned with a hunger to push the boundaries. Konitz's recordings were as prolific as they were varied, ranging in styles from an early unaccompanied saxophone solo album, to post-bop, free improvisations and a string of innovative duets. In 1989, his solo album Lee Konitz in Rio went to No. 22 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

Among the many trophies he received for his talents, Konitz snagged the NEA Jazz Masters Award in 2009; was named "Alto Saxophonist of the Year" by the Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll in 2010; and in 2013 was awarded the "German Jazz Prize."

Konitz also was the subject of a biography, written by Andy Hamilton and published in 2007.

The story first appeared on Billboard.com