Born: March 19, 1919 | Died: 1978 Primary Instrument: Piano
A pianist of exceptional co-ordination and skill, for whom playing in different metres with each hand held no terrors, Lennie Tristano overcame blindness to become one of the leading teachers in jazz. While he was studying for his music degree in Chicago in the early 1940s, he had already begun playing and working with a circle of musicians who became his pupils - including saxophonist Lee Konitz and guitarist Billy Bauer.
Tristano mastered the bebop style, playing both intricate runs and sustained chordal passages, and by the late 1940s was working in New York, where he made some significant discs with the musicians who had developed bebop - notably Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. But his own musical direction involved exploring ideas of both freedom and abstraction, together with a 'cool' atmosphere.
He formed a sextet, that included some of his former pupils and tenorist Warne Marsh, and their work paralleled much of the experimentation of Gil Evans and Miles Davis. In the early 1950s, Tristano opened his own jazz school, and for the rest of his life he focussed on teaching rather than playing.
His pupils included many significant figures in jazz, all of whom benefited from his rigorous analysis of classic jazz performances, and the scalar and harmonic exercises he developed. He appeared in public from time to time in the 1960s but his best playing on record dates from the late 1940s, when his blend of innovation and technical perfection was at its height.
Tristano maintained a teaching regimen in the early ‘60’s, yet his performances were very few, he did a tour of Europe in 1965, and his last US appearance was 1968. He continued with his teaching until his death in 1978.
Lennie Tristano is an enigma in jazz, though he is not for every listener, his pioneering efforts in the forefront of the free jazz movement speak for themselves. Maybe because of his isolated sense of cerebral perception, he has not received his proper recognition, nonetheless, an innovative jazz pianist.
Source: Alyn Shipton