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2020 Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame Inductees


Freddie Green, Lee Konitz, John Lewis, and Teddy Wilson, the 2020 Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame Inductees.

News | May, 5th 2020

This year's inductees into the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame, nominated by a panel of jazz experts and voted in by members of the public, are Freddie Green, Lee Konitz, John Lewis, and Teddy Wilson! We are delighted and honored to welcome these figures into the Hall of Fame and look forward to celebrating their lives and music with performances at Dizzy's Club in early 2021.

We've created a playlist (on Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer) to highlight each of these extraordinary artists, and we invite you to check it out, with commentary below!

Teddy Wilson (1912–1986)

The nonpareil master pianist of the swing era style, Teddy Wilson forged a sound indelibly his own by distilling the rhapsodic romanticism of Earl Hines and the orchestral sounds of stride piano into an intensely melodic, rhythmically charged, yet smoothly elegant style of playing. From his earliest recordings, Teddy Wilson’s trademark melodic work and brilliant interplay of his hands were on full display; check out his playing on "Blue Interlude" in the playlist, or on "Body and Soul" and "Runnin' Wild." Indeed, Wilson's contributions to the Benny Goodman Trio and the Benny Goodman Quartet rank among some of the greatest musical moments in jazz history. His importance within that group goes further than music, too, as Teddy Wilson's performing in the trio in 1936 marked the first instance of a publicly integrated jazz band.

Wilson's contributions in the 1930s also helped forged the swing song style of jazz. Through his collaborations with Billie Holiday for Columbia Records, Wilson provided not only extraordinary pianist support, but he also helped shape the band and arrangements for each session, bringing structure and consistency to an extraordinary range of material.

In his own work, Wilson led a big band briefly but primarily focused his work as a bandleader in trio and small group settings. His solo performance of "Liza" and "I Know That You Know" are unquestionably high-water marks of his playing during the swing era, while "Moonlight on the Ganges," "Little Girl Blue," and "Fools Rush In" show how his gorgeously elegant style continued to refine and develop well into Wilson's career.

John Lewis (1920–2001)

A pianist, composer, and musical visionary with few equals, John Lewis initially came of age in the midst of the bebop revolution. Rapidly demonstrating his prowess both as a pianist and as a composer, Lewis made his mark early in ensembles like the Charlie Parker All Stars ("Parker's Mood") and the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra ("Two Bass Hit," which Lewis composed). In the Gillespie Orchestra, Lewis would also meet Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, and Kenny Clarke, and this rhythm section would serve as the birth of what would ultimately become the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The 1940s also demonstrated Lewis' incredible musical mind and willingness to stretch into new territories. Alongside fellow luminaries like Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and Lee Konitz (a fellow 2020 inductee), Lewis wrote for, arranged for, and performed in the iconic nonet whose 1949 sessions—later dubbed the Birth of the Cool sessions—would help to outline a new path for post-bebop sounds. Lewis' "Rouge" stands as a highlight of a series of pieces already lined with masterpieces. 

By the 1950s the Modern Jazz Quartet was born, and it would operate consistently for nearly half a century under the personnel of Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Percy Heath, and Connie Kay. With each member holding a leadership role in the collective ensemble, Lewis' role as the leading composer and arranger for the group enabled him to embark on an incredible exploration and development of styles. From earlier works like the iconic "Django," Lewis would develop increasingly detailed and nuanced arrangements for the quartet, as can be heard on later material like "Spanish Steps" or "For Ellington." While associated with the third stream movement and its classical influences (as can be heard on "A Day in Dubrovnik"), the Modern Jazz Quartet also swung hard and played with passion and fire, which one can hear in"The Golden Striker" from the group's 1974 farewell concert (which kicked off a short sabbatical for the group).

While Lewis' history and the Modern Jazz Quartet's history are intensely interwoven, his work outside of the group is no less extraordinary. A driving figure and force behind the 1950s third stream movement, Lewis' larger ensemble compositions during that period easily rank him as one of jazz's greatest composers, as heard on "Three Little Feelings." Additionally, comparing his piano work on earlier performances like "Harlequin" against later recordings like "Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West" from Evolution show a talent that continued to evolve and develop throughout his career.  

Lee Konitz (1927–2020)

Lee Konitz was an artist dedicated to creating new performances and improvisations that always uncovered new melodic ideas of expression in every song, without ever falling back on clichés or melodrama. A nearly impossible task for any artist, the level to which Konitz achieved this goal is nothing short of astonishing. The fact that throughout this quest he also outlined a path for alto saxophone playing that offered an alternative to Charlie Parker's also ranks Konitz as one of the most influential performers in the instrument's history.

From his earliest recordings, the hallmark sound of Konitz was already apparent. His solo on "Donna Lee" in the highly influential Claude Thornhill Orchestra reveals an artist who had absorbed the bebop idiom, but had also developed its ideas into a new approach to rhythmic and melodic lines. By 1949 Konitz's innovative approach is on full display through his solos in the iconic Birth of the Cool sessions (his solo on "Move" is particularly lovely) as well as on "Subconscious-Lee," which features Konitz performing alongside his teacher and mentor, pianist Lennie Tristano.

Many of the 1940s influences and ideas would continue to feature in Konitz's 1950s work. Indeed, Konitz's work in another iconic big band—the Stan Kenton Orchestra—provided an incredible outlet for his talents (as can be heard in his solo on “Improvisation"), while his work on his mentor Lennie Tristano's self-titled album finds Konitz in incredible form. This period also found him working and recording alongside saxophonist Warne Marsh, another disciple of Tristano's. Together they delivered incredible and breathtaking unison work; as can be heard on "Background Music," the two horn players inspired one another to new heights.

Though associated with the cool jazz aesthetic, Lee Konitz's playing could be fiery and dazzling.On a track like "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" from 1961's Motion, Konitz goes toe-to-toe with the explosive drumming of Elvin Jones, while on 1975's "Satori," Konitz's work shines alongside luminaries like Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette.

Above all, Konitz never stopped learning and refining his sound, and he refused to retread old ideas in his playing. Comparing a 1991 performance of "Lullaby of Birdland" against a 2009 performance of the same piece finds him constantly searching and stretching towards pure improvisation.

Freddie Green (1911–1987)

While Count Basie may have been the head of the Count Basie Orchestra, Freddie Green was its heart. A rhythm guitarist who rarely soloed, Green nevertheless became the gold standard for rhythm guitar playing in jazz. Refining his guitar work to even one-or-two-note chords, Green's distinctive comping style helped ensure that the Basie Orchestra remained one of the most eminently swinging bands in history. Not only that, Green also was the rare figure to perform in the multiple iterations of the Basie Orchestra, notably its Old Testament and New Testament incarnations, ensuring that his highly distinctive approach to rhythm guitar inspired generations of musicians across decades of playing.

Early on, Green's work in the All-American Rhythm Section (along with Basie on piano, Walter Page on bass, and Papa Jo Jones on drums) was the template that rhythm guitarists aspired to match. His comping on "One O'Clock Jump," particularly audible at the beginning, aligns so perfectly with the rest of the band as to set up the ensemble's performance with a sense of swing that is both light and driving. Even in later incarnations of the band, when the arranging textures got heavier, Green's rhythm guitar ensured the band kept its distinct feel: from the rousing blues of "Roll 'Em Pete," to the swagger of "Fly Me to the Moon," to the majestic take on "Satin Doll," Green's comping helped perfectly shape the sound. Small ensemble recordings like the Kansas City 8's take on "Ode to Pres" gave Green more visibility in his work, while his small ensemble work with HerbEllis on Rhythm Willie is a career highlight in an already legendary career (Rhythm Willie is not on streaming platforms, but the title track is available here while the excellent "Orange, Brown, and Green" is available here). While not known as a prolific composer, Green nevertheless was an excellent one, as his memorable work "Corner Pocket" can attest.

Freddie Green played rhythm guitar until the end, and his excellent performance with Diane Schuur in 1987 of "Travelin' Light" was recorded a week prior to his passing. Even to the end, he remained the greatest, most influential rhythm guitarist of all time.

(Special thanks to Alfred Green, Freddie's son and the author of Green's biography, Rhythm Is My Beat, who selected the Freddie Green tracks on this playlist.)

***Photo credit: Lee Konitz, by Frank Stewart; John Lewis, by Frank Stewart; Teddy Wilson, courtesy of the Library of Congress; Freddie Green, by K. Abe.***


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