Lee Konitz & Richie Kamuca: Tickle Toe

Lee Konitz and Richie Kamuca both sat in the sax section of the Stan Kenton Orchestra from 1953 to '54, but in the ensuring decade recorded together only once, on Kenny Burrell's 1965 Guitar Forms. Still, it's no surprise to find them playing "Tickle Toe" on a record where Konitz engages various duet partners in a broad repertoire ranging from a Louis Armstrong song to an abstract improvisation with Jim Hall. The reason it's no surprise is Kamuca's and Konitz's shared love for Lester Young. This even brings Konitz to leave his usual alto sax in order to play the tenor (for the first time on record!), as did his idol.

Two tenors blowing on a Count Basie warhorse from the good ole times when Prez and Hershel Evans or Buddy Tate were neighbors and rivals on the tenor bench? Surely this smells of chase or tenor battle. But not at all: these two heirs are like brothers, first exposing the theme in unison before indulging in a swift counterpoint. Konitz, in the right channel, has a perfectly recognizable phrasing that doesn't change much from his usual one on alto, and tends to favor high notes. Kamuca's tone is typically harsher and virile, descending more often into the low register. They intertwine their lines in a delightful, easygoing way. To make this homage complete, their parallel melodic lines meet again in a unison when they tackle, note for note, the very chorus that Prez played on "Tickle Toe" in its historic 1940 version with the Basie Band, and that Lambert, Hendricks & Ross sang in 1958, with Basie and his band again, using words penned by Jon Hendricks. Konitz and Kamuca give us a truly Prezidential tribute on their toe-tickling instrument of choice.

February 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Count Basie: Tickle Toe – as heard in Woody Allen's <i>Stardust Memories</i> (1980)

Lester Young grew up in a carnival, where he played in his dad's band and learned from the geeks it was okay to be different. Coming of age, Lester departed from the tenor sax's prevailing masculinity. With his lighter, cooler tone, he hovered angelically above the Swing Era's insistent rhythms with gliding, melodious solos that left him and his listeners poised, observes musicologist Scott DeVeaux, “to savor the pleasant ambiguities of the moment.” This track—half corny big-band clichés, half serpentine forays anticipating bop—is a fascinating glimpse of 1930s jazz dipping a toe in the ticklish uncertainties of modernism.

November 02, 2007 · 0 comments


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