Lennie Tristano: The Complete Look Up And Live

Lennie Tristano was born in Chicago on this day in 1919. At birth, influenza ruined his vision. By his 10th birthday he was blind. Formally trained at a music conservatory, he played piano and, as a 12-year-old clarinetist, led a Tristano smilingtraditional band. When he moved to New York in1946, Tristano had begun deepening the harmonic possibilities in modern jazz and by the end of the decade was a guru to forward looking musicians including saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh guitarist Billy Bauer, and a few adventurous veterans like tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman. His piano playing and harmonic innovations were examples to Bill Evans, CTristano Half Notelare Fischer and many other pianists, composers and arrangers of the post-bebop generation.

Tristano’s teaching had a significant impact on jazz but, despite his influence, his public performances were few. That helps account for the importance of his June, 1964, engagement at the Half Note in New York and for the importance of showing you film made during his quintet’s run there that summer. The CBS television program Look Up And Live sent the theologian William Hamilton and a crew to the Half Note to make a segment of the program; more about Hamilton after we see the video.

The picture quality may have been fine originally, but it appears to have been through several generations of dubs. No matter; the sound is reasonably good. Through the murk you get a tour of the beloved Half Note in the days when folks dressed to go out in the evening. Those strips of cloth you will see on the mens’ shirtfronts were called neckties.

The bartender we glimpse now and then is Mike Canterino. He and his brother Sonny manned theHalf Note bar. Their father may have had a formal name but his family and the customers called him Pop. You will get a glimpse of Pop and Sonny greeting Hamilton as he comes in. Pop and Mamma took care of the kitchen. The word pasta never crossed Pop’s lips; it was spaghetti. The uncomplicated menu gave jazz club food a good name, a major accomplishment. Mike’s wife Judi and Sonny’s wife Tita helped out. Judi became a singer after James Moody recruited her one night to sing the Blossom Dearie bridge on “Moody’s Mood For Love.” Al the waiter completed the staff.

In its original incarnation, the Half Note was among the warehouses and garages of lower Manhattan. In the seventies, the club moved uptown, lost its soul and died. Years ago on Rifftides, we embedded a 10-minute segment from the Look Up And Live show. Now, we can bring you the entire half hour, thanks to YouTube. The band is Tristano, Konitz, Marsh, Sonny Dallas on bass and Nick Stabulas on drums. They play Konitz’s “Subconscious Lee,” Tristano’s “317 East 32nd Street” and Marsh’s “Background Music.” As “Background Music” begins, Dr. Hamilton speaks his essay, or sermon, but be sure to stay around for the strength and intensity of Tristano’s solo on that final piece.

Those Tristano performances are included in this CD. William Hamilton, the host of the Half Note Tristano film, was a doctor of theology who in the 1960s became a leader in the radical Christian faction questioning the existence of God. He appeared in several Look Up And Live segments. For more about Hamilton and the Death Of God movement, go here.

For a lovely remembrance of the Half Note by Dave Frishberg, who often played there, go here. Dave paints splendid pictures of Al the waiter and of Mr. George, a dedicated customer for whom Al Cohn named a tune.

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    • Terence Smith says

      Dave Frank,

      I think your Master Classes will benefit anyone
      who wants to feel more love of the magic of music.

      On your link you use and enjoy ( and describe/demonstrate)
      the Tristano elements so beautifully. It’s infectious, and
      I think will add much to Tristano appreciation, even
      among the already-converted.

      I hope all Rifftides-ers hear your “Yesterdays” dedication to Lennie,
      and stick around to hear the joy of your commentary on
      Tristano’s “Becoming.”

  1. says

    I visited the Half Note a few times in 1971-2, when Ruby Braff would appear there, with (among others) Sam Margolis, Don Friedman, George Mraz, Jimmy Rushing (!), Jake Hanna, Bill Pemberton, Dill Jones, Victor Sproles. Now that location is a deli across from a parking lot, but all hope is not lost, because down Spring Street there is The Ear Inn, home of the EarRegulars . . . memorable Sunday night jazz there, too. At the very least, there should be a plaque marking the Half Note: the Canterinos did so much to spread the good sounds.

  2. Don Conner says

    I feel like I’ve died and gone to jazz club heaven. That club on the corner of Spring and Hudson was something I never thought I’d see again. The video, flaws and all, was very entertaining; I’d forgotten what a fine drummer Nick Stabulas was. Thanks for this valuable posting.

  3. Donna Shore says

    Thanks for Dave Frishberg’s piece. I love they way Dave writes, we are old friends and I cherish the letters he has sent to me. I hope he continues to write words on his website.

  4. David says

    Christian atheism? Now I’ve heard everything! However, the notorious occultist, Aleister Crowley, may have been looking through the opposite end of the same telescope when he described Samadhi as the conscious communion with God on the part of an atheist.

  5. Terence Smith says

    Tristano is awe inspiring, and Konitz and Marsh with him is sublime. Too bad there aren’t more recorded live examples like this and the legendary 1955 recorded evening of Tristano, Konitz, Gene Ramey, and Art Taylor at the Sing Song Room of the Confucius restaurant .

    And there’s another recorded evening at the Half Note in which Tristano was a muse whose spirit seemed present throughout: February 24, 1959, in the midst of a 3-week Tristano Quintet gig. But with Bill Evans chosen to sit in on Tuesday nights so that Tristano could keep his weekly teaching commitments going. Released later by Verve Discoveries as
    Lee Konitz Live at the Half Note (Konitz, Warne Marsh, Bill Evans, Jimmy Garrison, Paul Motian). Konitz is quoted in the notes as saying “we asked Bill if he knew the tunes and he knew them all.”

    I think Bill is particularly great on “How About You?” And they all get so far into those standards and their contrafacts that you can just live there like they do. Hear it if you can.

    From Bob Blumenthal’s notes to the CD, a 1994 quote from Lee Konitz:
    “Tristano believed that through the repeated use of standard chord sequences, a soloist could internalize harmonic progressions to the point he or she could stop calculating the impact of each chord change as it arrived …and simply let the ideas flow from the momentum of the entire chorus.”

  6. Frank Roellinger says

    Thanks, Doug, I didn’t know the whole show was on YT. Believe it or not, I was there… not this night (which was probably Friday or Saturday), but mid-week when there were maybe 20 customers in the place. I was too young and lived too far away to get to NY often, but my father made a business trip there in September, 1964, which just happened to coincide with this engagement, and took me along.

    I stayed for two sets, completely in awe of what I was seeing and hearing, wishing that I could hear live music like this every night. I had one of the spaghetti dinners, too. What a great time it was. As it turned out, I think the last time that Lennie, Lee, and Warne ever performed together in public.

    How great that we have even this technically crude and all too short record. And I hadn’t known anything about William Hamilton, so searched and found this quote of his which I like, regarding best-selling writers who attack religion in general or Christianity in particular:

    “There is a self-righteousness, a glibness in their writing. They are too sure of themselves. They’ve backed themselves into a fundamentalist mode.”

    Thanks for the post.

  7. says

    So good to see Lenny & Co @ Half Note.

    Little geographical factoid :

    The 1/2 Note was located on corner of Spring & Hudson. Remember catching Zoot & Al there back in the day.

    Early Oughts I did publicity for The Jazz Gallery right across the street from original Half Note (btw, the Jazz Gallery was trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s living loft for a period of time. They also possess Paul Desmond’s piano that was used at Bradley’s and Carmen McRae’s baby grand) and later a not-for-profit performance space run by Dale Fitzgerald. They had great photo of the Half Note hanging in the gallery. There’s a deli there now. I used to think about all the music that happened there every time I went in to buy a coffee.