There is an old truth and a new truth that struck me as I watched and listened to this amazing clip of pianist Lennie Tristano: the old truth is that reality is not described solely by what is best known or most popular … and the new truth is that there are many hidden gems to be uncovered on YouTube.
Lennie Tristano is one of those artists that too few folks know about, and he even gets left out in mentions of ‘deep cuts’ innovators. Everyone knows Miles and Bird and Satchmo and Trane and Duke … some know Mingus and Lester and Diz and Ornette – but from there it gets sketchy. I have always loved Lennie Tristano since first hearing a record of his stuff (Crosscurrents) more than 30 years ago. The sad thing is – he recorded very little, most of his stuff is out of print, and his live work was poorly documented in general. That makes this video even MORE of a gem.
Here is a bit of context:
On the evening of October 31, 1965, pianist Lennie Tristano performed solo at the Tivoli Gardens Concert Hall in Copenhagen. The event was captured for Danish television using multiple camera angles. Several additional Tristano concert performances were recorded on the same tour of Scandinavia and Europe. And that was it. In 1968 Tristano performed publicly for the last time and spent the next 10 years of his life teaching.
As writer Ted Gioia has noted, Tristano, who was blind since birth, did not have a manager in 1965 and told an interviewer during this tour that playing jazz was only possible if one were “making a living some other way.” A bebop protagonist and cool jazz pioneer, Tristano’s modern-classical approach to jazz was overlooked by labels in the ’50s. By mid-decade, with the launch of the 12-inch LP, most record companies wanted brighter, more easily understood jazz for an ever-expanding at-home market.
Tristano was always an acquired taste—particularly in 1965. While most ears yearned for melody, Tristano preferred masking standards with a brutish, deconstructivist approach that left show tunes platforms for his intricate chord-driven explorations.