Covid-19 – What if?


The cartoon above is from the Economist May 9th, 2020


J. Joseph Watson is a writer and former journalist, who has worked for daily newspapers in Ohio, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, California and Oregon. He is a graduate of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern  California. He wrote an article in THE DAILY GOOD titled “America’s sinking COVID-19 reality is hauntingly similar to our relationship with gun violence”

He opened the article with “Just when things seemed to be turning a corner into a slightly more optimistic future, The New York Times broke the news that “private forecasts provided by the Centers for Disease Control to the White House show a startling, distressing road ahead: 200,000 new COVID-19 infections a day in the U.S. by June 1, and 3,000 daily deaths.”  He goes on to say “America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic does have a disturbing precedent: gun violence. “Seems easy to prevent!” Times opinion columnist Charlie Warzel wrote in a series of Tweets, correctly noting that “others have!” But the strange evolution of our uniquely American notion of liberty insists that certain, select “freedoms” be allowed, unchecked and unencumbered even by common sense.The result? “I imagine that we’ll just … get used to a certain number of deaths happening as we do w/gun violence/school shootings,” Warzel wrote. Calls for stricter gun-control laws have been met with swift, vocal, often angry opposition……. Now comes COVID-19, and swift, vocal, often angry opposition that has led to shockingly large rallies to force the government to “reopen” the country despite the recommendations of doctors, scientists, public-health experts – even the White House’s own guidelines.”

(Based on current numbers and the 3,000 daily death predictions then the total death toll in the USA by June 1, 2020 could be over 150,000)

So, does this mean the USA is setting itself up for infection rates and deaths that will continue to grow virtually unchecked and what are some possible outcomes of that notion? For instance, will the Canada/US border remain closed indefinitely? On Global News today (2020/05/11) one commentator suggested that the border would remain closed for the rest of the year. The BC and Ontario Governments are on record apposing any relaxing of border controls. Will the US government pressure the Canadian government to relax the border controls and if the Canadians refuse to comply what will be the outcome? To follow that through at an international level, what if American citizens are refused entry to other countries while the pandemic rages on in the USA? After all, the USA has already set the precedent with entry refusals for non-US travelers coming from nations with covid-19 infections.

The closed border essentially kills international travel and that could last for up to two years. Some of the cruise industry companies are planning to start up in August this year. Is that realistic? Because they are committed to the life style I think “cruisers” will still book trips but will there be destination ports willing to accept ships potentially loaded with infected clients? When the pandemic hit  back in March numerous ports and national administrations were unwilling to take on the burden and the risk of more corvid-19 infections landing in their ports. Even today there are still cruise ships out on the high seas with crews waiting for permission to dock.

The impact of the closed border could mean severe restrictions on the Canadian film industry. Many participants in the industry travel back and forth across the border and are they going to be quarantined every time they cross the border? Probably not. Will the Canadian government declare them essential workers and monitor them very closely? We will have to wait and see on that one.

How will the NHL deal with an indefinite closure of the border? At the moment the season has shut down and despite some hints that a solution may be in the works I can’t see how that can work. Maybe an interim plan to have a Canadian season and American season with no border crossing is a possibility. There is still a ban on mass gatherings so will they be playing in empty arenas? I can’t see that generating much fan enthusiasm. Maybe it’s time to bow to reality and cancel this season and try planning for the next season. Of course there is every possibility that the situation will not change over the next six months and there will be no 2020/21 season. The BC government is talking to the NHL about some sort of plan to get hockey in some form or other back on track but is that realistic or just wishful thinking.

So that is only one big “If” of the current status of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are many, many more to be considered. This may seem overly pessimistic but without a vaccine the reality is that the virus is going to be with us for years. The “new normal” is not going to look anything like the “old normal”. It will be different and if we can make the required adjustments it could also mean that when we hit the final “reset” the world may even be a better place.




“WE LEARNT A LOT OF LESSONS IN (the fight against) SMALLPOX. BUT ONE OF THEM IS THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF COALITIONS” –   William “Bill” Foege  A leader of the 21 year campaign to eradicate the deadly scourge, accomplished 40 years ago today. Foege says the lengthy campaign holds lessons to the current international race for covid-19 vaccine.




Is this the end of American Exceptionalism?

There was time when the United States always seemed to occupy the moral high  ground. This was despite numerous historical blunders. Nobody remembers the Spanish- American War in the early 1900s and the bad outcomes in the Philippines and Cuba; Or the numerous fiascos in Central America; The ongoing isolation of Cuba; The overthrow of the democratically elected government in  Iran and,  the biggest one of all, the war in Vietnam. Well, everybody still remembers Vietnam and, in a forgiving mood,  lists it as “an unfortunate mistake” for which the US paid dearly. More recently, the debacles in the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria) have some what tarnished that notion of the moral high ground but despite all of these questionable adventures there was the underlying notion that the Americans were the exception, they were always the “good guys”. America’s participation in World War II, The Marshall Plan and championing of the United Nations are all good memories of America’s benevolent actions and intentions. The Donald Trump presidency has all but demolished that notion. In the administration’s mad rush to blame everybody or anybody for their own short comings the USA is coming across as petty, vindictive and maybe even evil; Here are a couple of very recent magazine articles underscoring that the USA is no longer perceived as the “good guy” or as even exceptional anymore.


The Rest of the World Is Laughing at Trump

The president created a leadership vacuum. China intends to fill it.

Anne Applebaum – Staff writer at The Atlantic  

It looks, at first, like one of a zillion unfunny video clips that now circulate on the internet: “Once Upon a Virus” features cheap animation, cheesy music, and sarcastic dialogue between China—represented by a Lego terra-cotta warrior with a low, masculine voice—and the United States, represented by a Lego Statue of Liberty with a high, squeaky voice. They “speak” in short sentences:

“We discovered a new virus,” says the warrior. “So what?” says the Statue of Liberty.

“It’s dangerous,” says the warrior. “It’s only a flu,” says the Statue of Liberty.

“Wear a mask,” says the warrior. “Don’t wear a mask,” says the Statue of Liberty.

“Stay at home,” says the warrior. “It’s violating human rights,” says the Statue of Liberty

The dialogue goes on like that—“It will go away in April,” the Statue of Liberty says at one point—until it ends, finally, with the statue on an intravenous drip making wild and contradictory statements while the warrior jeers at her.

Although this looks like an I’m-bored-at-home amateur production, it is not: The video was published on April 30 by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. It has since been promoted by Chinese diplomats and watched, as of yesterday afternoon, by more than 1.6 million people around the world.

It has also been mocked and denounced as crude propaganda—which, of course, it is. Crude propaganda is what China’s leaders do, both at home and abroad, and since the pandemic began they have stepped up their efforts. But even those who are mocking should beware: Anybody who knows any history will be aware that propaganda—even the most obvious, most shameless propaganda—sometimes works. And it works not because people necessarily believe that all of it is true, but because they respect the capabilities or fear the power of the people who produced it.

Propaganda also works best in a vacuum, when there are no competing messages, or when the available alternative messengers inspire no trust. Since mid-March, China has been sending messages out into precisely this kind of vacuum: a world that has been profoundly changed not just by the virus, but by the American president’s simultaneously catastrophic and ridiculous failure to cope with it.

The tone of news headlines ranges from straight-faced in Kompas, a major Indonesian news outlet—Trump Usulkan Suntik Disinfektan dan Sinar UV untuk Obati Covid-19, or “Trump Proposes Disinfectant Injection and UV Rays to Treat COVID-19”—to snide, from Le Monde in France—Les élucubrations du « docteur » Trump, or “The Rantings of ‘Doctor’ Trump.” The incredulous first paragraph of an article Sowetan, from South Africa, declares that “US President Donald Trump has again left people stunned and confused with his bizarre suggestion that disinfectant and ultraviolet light could possibly be used to treat Covid-19.” El Comercio, a distinguished Peruvian newspaper, treated its readers to photographs of Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus-response coordinator, grimacing as the president asked her whether the injection of disinfectant might be a cure.

Quotations from the president’s astonishing April 23 press conference have appeared on every continent, via countless television channels, radio stations, magazines, and websites, in hundreds of thousands of variations and dozens of languages—often accompanied by warnings, in case someone was fooled, not to drink disinfectant or bleach. In years past, many of these outlets presumably published articles critical of this or that aspect of U.S. foreign policy, blaming one U.S. president or another. But the kind of coverage we see now is something new. This time, people are not attacking the president of the United States. They are laughing at him. Beppe Severgnini, one of Italy’s best-known columnists, told me that while Italians feel enormous empathy for Americans who have suffered as they have, they feel differently about Trump: “In this time of darkness and depression, he keeps us entertained.”

But if Trump is ridiculous, his administration is invisible. Carl Bildt—a Swedish prime minister in the 1990s, a United Nations envoy during the Bosnian wars, and a foreign minister for many years after that—told me that, looking back on his 30-year career, he cannot remember a single international crisis in which the United States had no global presence at all. “Normally, when something happens”—a war, an earthquake—“everybody waits to see what the Americans are doing, for better or for worse, and then they calibrate their own response based on that.”

This time, Americans are doing … nothing. Or to be more specific, because plenty of American governors, mayors, doctors, scientists, and tech companies are doing things, the White House is doing nothing. There is no presidential leadership inside the United States; there is no American leadership in the world. Members of the G7—the U.S. and its six closest allies—did meet to write a joint statement. But even that tepid project ended in ludicrous rancor when the American secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, insisted on using the expression “Wuhan virus” and the others gave up in disgust. Not only is the president talking nonsense, not only is America absent, but the nation’s top diplomat is a caricature of a tough guy—someone who throws around insults in the absence of any capacity to influence events.

Others are drawing even more radical conclusions, and with remarkable speed. The “disinfectant” comments—and the laughter that followed—mark not so much a turning point as an acceleration point, the moment when a transformation that began much earlier suddenly started to seem unstoppable. Although we are still only weeks into this pandemic, although the true scale of the health crisis and the economic catastrophe is still unknown, the outline of a very different, post-American, post-coronavirus world is already taking shape. It’s a world in which American opinions will count less, while the opinions of America’s rivals will count more. And that will change political dynamics in ways that Americans haven’t yet understood.

Look beyond the Lego video at China’s more serious public-relations campaign: the stunts at airports around the world, from Pakistan to Italy to Israel, designed to mark the arrival of Chinese aid—masks, surgical gowns, diagnostic tests, and sometimes doctors. These events all have a similar script: The plane lands; the receiving nation’s dignitaries go out to meet it; the Chinese experts emerge, looking competent in their hazmat gear; and everyone utters words of gratitude and relief. Of course some of this, too, is propaganda.

In reality, some of the equipment billed as aid has been purchased, not donated. Some of it, especially the diagnostic tests, has turned out to be defective. Some of those who receive these goods also know perfectly well that they are designed to silence questions about where the virus came from, why knowledge of it was initially suppressed, and why it was allowed to spread around the world. If, in these circumstances, the propaganda “works,” that’s because those who receive it have made a calculation: Pretending to believe it is a way of acknowledging and accepting Chinese power—and, perhaps, a way of expressing interest in Chinese investment.

In the Western world, this dynamic has played itself out with striking success in Italy. Flattened by the virus and depressed by the lock down, Italians are deeply divided by years of conspiratorial social-media campaigns, some with Russian backing, that have attacked Italy’s traditional alliances, NATO as well as the European Union. China has added its own unsubtle social-media campaign. Bots have been promoting Chinese-Italian-friendship hashtags (#forzaCinaeItalia) and thank-you-China hashtags (#grazieCina). But there is another, less visible layer of activity, too.

A year ago, Italy became the core European member of the Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese trade-and-infrastructure project designed to create deeper links across Eurasia and to provide an alternative to the transatlantic and Pacific trade pacts quashed by Trump. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, until recently the leader of Italy’s anti-EU Five Star Movement, has cultivated links to China too. Chinese investment has gained importance. Already, a Chinese oligarch has bought the Inter Milan soccer club; Chinese banks already own big stakes in Italian companies like Eni and Fiat.

Thanks to the economic havoc created by the coronavirus, China’s efforts in Rome may now bear fruit. Maurizio Molinari, the editor of La Repubblica, told me that Chinese businessmen are right now building on their contacts, looking for companies and properties to buy, scouting out factories that are suddenly bankrupt and entrepreneurs who want to sell out. I asked him what the source of China’s appeal was right now: “Money,” he replied. By contrast, the most conspicuous gesture that the U.S. administration has made in Italy’s direction since the pandemic began was Trump’s abrupt decision to ban flights. Apart from a modest and belated aid package, little in the way of friendship came from the United States.

Chinese propaganda may find unexpectedly fertile ground elsewhere too. Chinese aid has also been delivered to Japan and South Korea, two U.S. allies who have sought close relationships with Trump and have received, in exchange, demands that they pay more for American bases. As close neighbors and former foes, both countries have many reasons to be wary of China. But now that Trump is a laughingstock, now that America is absent from the game, some in both Tokyo and Seoul may conclude that they should start hedging bets. China has also offered major assistance to Iran, a country that had already been given a major role as a Belt and Road hub. Iranian leaders now have extra reasons to hope they can outlast sanctions if the American president calling for them need not be treated as a serious person.

China’s relationships with the Arab world have also deepened during the pandemic. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait sent aid to Wuhan during the earlier part of the crisis; later, China reciprocated. The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates has described China as the role model to follow in this crisis. On March 8, Chinese medical workers arrived in Baghdad—an advance team, perhaps, poised to take advantage of the inevitable American retreat. In each one of these places, America is absent, distracted, stumbling—and laughable.

To be absolutely crystal clear: I am not praising China’s efforts. I am simply calling attention to the fact that, in a world where people laugh at the American president, they might succeed. Inside the bubble of officials who surround Pompeo, it may well seem very brave and cutting-edge to use the expression “Wuhan virus” or to call for bigger and bolder rhetorical attacks on China. But out there in the real world—out there in the world where Pompeo’s boss is perceived as a sinister clown, and Pompeo himself as just the sinister clown’s lackey—not very many people are listening. Once again: A vacuum has opened up, and the Chinese regime is leading the race to fill it.

Judging from their own recent statements, Trump-administration officials do not yet understand the significance of the chaos they have created in place of what used to be American foreign policy. Pompeo has spent time in recent days trying to organize sanctions on Iran, as if Russia and China or even European allies were still willing to follow his lead. Philip Reeker, assistant secretary of state for Europe (or rather, acting assistant secretary of state for Europe, because the Trump administration is in constant chaos) was recently asked by French journalists  whether the coronavirus crisis could repair the poor state of transatlantic relations. His pompous response made him sound like a member of the Soviet nomenklatura at the end of the 1980s: “I don’t agree with the premise of your question,” Reeker said, before claiming that transatlantic engagement, and particularly Franco-American cooperation, is “remarkable.” Yes, it’s remarkable—remarkably invisible.

Even the more learned analyses of U.S.-China relations suddenly look out of sync with reality. It’s all very well for think-piece authors or former Trump-administration officials to suggest that a post-pandemic America must change its relationships with China, rally its allies to defy China, and rewrite the rules of commerce to exclude China. But when Trump seeks to lead the world against China, who will follow? Italy might refuse outright. The European Union could demur. America’s close friends in Asia might feel nervous, and delay making decisions. Africans who are furious about racism in China—African students have been the focus of heavy discrimination in the city of Guangzhou—might well do a quick calculation and seek good relations with both sides.

I wish I could say for certain that a President Joe Biden could turn this all around, but by next year it may be too late. The memories of the prime minister at the airport, welcoming Chinese doctors, will remain. The bleach jokes and memes will still cause the occasional chuckle. Whoever replaces Pompeo will have only four short years to repair the damage, and that might not be enough.

And if Trump wins a second term? Any nation can make a mistake once, elect a bad leader once. But if Americans choose Trump again, that will send a clear message: We are no longer a serious nation. We are as ignorant as our thoughtless, narcissistic, ignorant president. Don’t be surprised if the rest of the world takes note of that, too.


Trump and the Yellow Peril

By Gwynne Dyer. Dated: 5/5/2020 12:13:25 AM

An accidental leak from a BSL4 lab would be a rare and very serious mistake, but that’s probably not what happened in Wuhan, and in any case it’s clear that no hostile intent was involved. The US national intelligence director’s office has determined that Covid-19 “was not man made or genetically modified.”

It was completely predictable that Donald Trump would try to blame China for the fact that at least 30 million Americans are unemployed and that 70,000 Americans have already died of Covid-19. His polling numbers are down and the election is only seven months away. What else was he going to do? Blame himself?
That’s why we’re now getting the good old ‘Yellow Peril’ defence, fresh from the late 19th century. As a memo sent out by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to Republican candidates put it: “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban – attack China.”
The Coronavirus now spreading death across the world certainly originated in China. The Chinese government itself said so, before it started prevaricating after Donald Trump began using China as a scapegoat. There was at least a week’s delay in late December when officials in Wuhan didn’t report the outbreak to Beijing, fearing they would be blamed for alarmism, or simply for letting it happen. That’s when Dr. Li Wenliang wrote in a private WeChat group: “7 confirmed cases of SARS were reported [to hospital] from Huanan Seafood Market.” It wasn’t really Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It was a new Coronavirus closely related to SARS, which had caused a much smaller but lethal epidemic in 2002. But Wuhan officials didn’t want to believe it, and on 3 January Li got a warning from the local police to stop “making false comments on the Internet”.
Six days later the first person in Wuhan died of what we now call Covid-19. On the same day, 9 January, the World Health Organisation (which Trump now vilifies as ‘China’s public relations agency”) announced that China had reported the emergence of a new Coronavirus like those that caused the SARS and MERS epidemics.
So there was at least a week when Chinese officials at the local or national level had the information and hesitated to publish it, partly because they weren’t sure yet themselves. But only two days later Chinese scientists published the full genetic sequence of Covid-19 so that researchers everywhere could start working on potential treatments and vaccines.
Other East Asian countries that had experience of SARS understood the seriousness of the WHO warning and promptly began diligent testing, tracing and isolation of infected persons. As a result, they never had to go into lockdown (South Korea has had 250 deaths; Taiwan had 6). China did a partial lockdown, but is now up and running again.
But then the real delay happened, and it had nothing to do with when China reported the disease. The point is that Western countries did nothing serious about the pandemic for an astonishing TWO MONTHS after that.
Trump boasts that he banned travel from China to the United States early, but in fact the United States was the 41st country to declare such a ban, on 2 February. And it was a very leaky ban, affecting only non-US citizens. Another 40,000 US citizens and permanent residents flew in from China during the next two months, many not being checked for Coronavirus at all.
Italy started locking down some municipalities in the country’s badly hit north in late February, but no European country went into national lockdown until 9 March. The United Kingdom waited a further two weeks after that, until 24 March. The United States never did a national lock down, but most states had social distancing policies in place by early April.
Those even longer delays explain why the UK and the US are on track to be the two countries with the highest Covid-19 death rates, but why did they all wait so long. Why weren’t they at least setting up comprehensive testing, tracing and contacting systems and making more ventilators and protective clothing back in January? Did they think they were exempt?
That’s probably what they did think, and their people are now being punished for their governments’ arrogance. But Donald Trump’s attempt to shift the blame for a huge US death toll and a looming economic disaster onto China is utterly cynical and false. The problem wasn’t a week’s delay in China; it was a couple of months’ delay in America.
If it should turn out that the first human infections with Covid-19 were due to a leak from the Bio-safety level 4 Wuhan Institute of Virology, not at the Huanan Seafood Market in the same city, it changes nothing. BSL4 labs (there are around twenty in the world) routinely work with dangerous viruses, because otherwise we’d never develop defences against them.
An accidental leak from a BSL4 lab would be a rare and very serious mistake, but that’s probably not what happened in Wuhan, and in any case it’s clear that no hostile intent was involved. The US national intelligence director’s office has determined that Covid-19 “was not man made or genetically modified.”
That will not stop Donald Trump from scapegoating China, even at the risk of causing a new Cold War. Never mind the fate of the world. It’s the fate of Trump’s presidency that’s at stake here.
*(Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)’.


In times gone by Americans believed implicitly in the “Manifest Destiny Doctrine”. It was  a phrase coined in 1845, that encapsulated the idea that the United States is destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent. By extension, adherents of the policy believed that the American people and institutions possessed special virtues that fitted them for their expanding role, first in North America then though out the world. The United States had a mission to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America. Manifest Destiny may no longer be officially on the foreign policy table but every action of the USA on the international stage seems to bear fragments of that original doctrine. Most Americans might not think in terms of Manifest Destiny but there is no doubt the notion of “American Exceptionalism” still has a grip on the American imagination. The Covid-19 pandemic has given a severe blow to that notion. Despite massive wealth and resources the United States has been dealt a massive blow to its self image of “Exceptionalism”. Americans too can die in massive numbers from a pandemic. American ingenuity, organizational, political skills and system of government have not been up to the challenge posed by the pandemic. America has stumbled in its response to the disease and there has been no “Exceptional” plan or response to the pandemic. Americans can die and are dying in massive numbers from the pandemic.


Lee Konitz (October 13, 1927 – April 15, 2020)

Every generation has its “Classic Jazz Era” with its distinctive style of performance and musicians. In the 1920s it was the original “Jazz Age” with master musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Oliver, Edie Lang, etc. In the 1930s it was a transition into the “Swing Era” with the Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie Orchestras and the emergence of the Saxophone as a major solo instrument. In the 1940s it was “The Swing Era” with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and of course Duke Ellington and Count Basie. By the 1950s Jazz as a popular musical form had faded but the ” The Bebop Era” was probably the most vibrant musical style to ever grace the Jazz scene. It still has a major impact on the way Jazz is being played today. Charlie Parker on Alto Saxophone was the major Bebop innovator and a giant influence on all jazz performers of that era and all jazz performers since. In the 1960s the musical jazz styles of what could be called the “Blue Note Years” became diversified across a number of styles that included Cool Jazz, Hard Bop and Soul and featured the likes of Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck and of course Miles Davis and  Lee Konitz.

In the years since then Jazz has continued to evolve into a plethora of styles and a number of musicians who came to fame in Blue Note years have continued to perform well into their sunset years with major contributions to the art form. This obituary in the New York Times, April 16, 2020 by

Lee Konitz, Jazz Saxophonist Who Blazed His Own Trail, Dies at 92

He was a pioneer of the cool school, but he resisted pigeonholing and focused on “making a personal statement.” He died of complications of the coronavirus.

Lee Konitz, a prolific and idiosyncratic saxophonist who was one of the earliest and most admired exponents of the style known as cool jazz, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 92.His niece Linda Konitz said the cause was complications of the coronavirus. She said he also had pneumonia.

Mr. Konitz initially attracted attention as much for the way he didn’t play as for the way he did. Like most of his jazz contemporaries, he adopted the expanded harmonic vocabulary of his fellow alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, the leading figure in modern jazz. But his approach departed from Parker’s in significant ways, and he quickly emerged as a role model for musicians seeking an alternative to Parker’s pervasive influence.

Where modern jazz in the Parker mold, better known as bebop, tended to be passionate and virtuosic, Mr. Konitz’s improvisations were measured and understated, more thoughtful than heated. “I knew and loved Charlie Parker and copied his bebop solos like everyone else,” Mr. Konitz told the Wall Street Journal in 2013. “But I didn’t want to sound like him. So I used almost no vibrato and played mostly in the higher register. That’s the heart of my sound.”

Although some musicians and critics dismissed Mr. Konitz’s style as overly cerebral and lacking in emotion, it proved influential in the development of the so-called cool school. But while cool jazz, essentially a less heated variation on bebop, was popular for several years — and some of its exponents, notably the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and the trumpeter and singer Chet Baker, both of whom he sometimes worked with, became stars — Mr. Konitz for most of his career was a musician’s musician, admired by his peers and jazz aficionados but little known to the general public.

This was in part because of his personality: An introvert by nature, he was never entirely comfortable in the spotlight. And it was in part because of his musical philosophy, which valued spontaneity above all else and often led him to pursue daring improvisational tangents that could leave his less adventurous listeners feeling a little lost. (His way of preparing for a performance, he once said, was “to not be prepared.”)  “My playing was about making a personal statement — getting audiences to pay attention to what I was saying musically rather than giving them what they wanted to hear, which is entertainment,” he said in the 2013 interview, referring to his early struggles to find an audience. “I wanted to play original music.” His willingness to take chances was admired by advocates of so-called free jazz, which, beginning in the late 1950s, defied established rules of harmony and rhythm. But ultimately no label, not even “cool,” really fit Mr. Konitz; he was best characterized as sui generis. Reviewing a performance in 2000 for The New York Times, Ben Ratliff called Mr Konitz “as original a player as there is in jazz” and praised the “boiled-down wisdom” of his playing, noting that “even when he is in the heat of improvisation, it sounds like someone whistling a tune he has known all his life.”

Leon Konitz was born in Chicago on Oct. 13, 1927, the youngest of three sons of Jewish immigrants. His father, Abraham, who owned a laundry, was from Austria; his mother, Anna (Getlin) Konitz, was from Russia.Inspired by Benny Goodman, he persuaded his parents to buy him a clarinet when he was 11. He later switched to saxophone, and in 1945, with the ranks of the nation’s dance bands depleted by the draft and opportunities for young musicians plentiful, he began his professional career with the Chicago-based band of Jerry Wald. His first big break came in 1947 when he joined The Claude Thornhill Orchestra, whose soft sound and pastel colors meshed well with his playing style. A subsequent stint with the more dynamic and aggressive Stan Kenton ensemble proved an uneasy musical mix but helped spread his name in the jazz world. The recordings that did the most to establish Mr. Konitz’s reputation were made in the late 1940s and early ’50s, after he had moved to New York, under the leadership of two of the most distinctive artists in modern jazz: the pianist and composer Lennie Tristano, with whom he studied for several years and whose unorthodox approach to improvisation helped shape his own; and the trumpeter Miles Davis, whose short-lived but influential nine-piece band sought to adapt the ethereal Thornhill sound to a bebop context.Those recordings, and others Mr. Konitz made as a leader in the 1950s, were widely admired by other musicians. But that admiration did not translate into work, and he struggled to find bookings; for a brief period in the ’60s he stopped performing altogether. He did not find steady employment as a musician again until the mid-’70s, when New York City experienced a small jazz renaissance. He attracted a loyal audience for his work both with small groups and with a nonet that, despite its ambitious repertoire and arrangements, ultimately did not last much longer than the Miles Davis ensemble on which it was partly modeled. He had a bigger following in Europe, where for the last several decades of his life he spent much of his time and did most of his recording. His European discography ranged in style and format from “Lone-Lee” (1974), on which he played unaccompanied, to “Saxophone Dreams” (1997), on which he was supported by a 61-piece orchestra. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2009.

While Mr. Konitz rarely maintained a working group for more than a few months, he performed and recorded as both leader and sideman with an impressive array of top-rank musicians, ranging from the pianist Dave Brubeck (on Mr. Brubeck’s 1976 album “All the Things We Are”, which also featured the avant-garde saxophonist Anthony Braxton and the drummer Elvin Jones (on Mr. Konitz’s influential 1961 album “Motion” an experiment in spontaneity recorded without planning or rehearsal) to, in more recent years, the pianist Brad Mehldau and the guitarist Bill Frisell. In 2003, in a rare foray outside the jazz world, he played on Elvis Costello’s album “North”. Despite health problems, Mr. Konitz continued to perform into his 90s. In recent years he would often stop playing in mid-solo and continue improvising vocally.

Mr. Konitz was married three times. He is survived by two sons, Josh and Paul; three daughters, Rebecca Pita, Stephanie Stonefifer and Karen Kaley; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

Like many jazz musicians, Mr. Konitz often found himself plying his trade in bars and nightclubs where the audiences were less than completely attentive. He professed not to mind.“Wherever I’m at, I’m happy to have a chance to play,” he told the British jazz writer Les Tompkins in 1976. “People come in and say, ‘How can you work in this noisy little joint?’ I say: ‘Very easy. I take the horn out of the bag, and I put it in my mouth.’ I appreciate the opportunity.”

I came to the music of Lee Konitz by a round about route. My all time favorite Alto Sax player is Paul Desmond. Konitz and Desmond had the same light airy sound. Paul Desmond’s  contrapuntal improvisations with The Dave Brubeck Quartet led me to the Mosaic box set of “The Complete Recordings of the Paul Desmond Quartet with Jim Hall” (MDV-120). This set featured a number of delightful Bossa Nova explorations so when I stumbled on a Danish recording of Bossa Nova music featuring Lee Konitz it was a natural route to follow in exploring the music of a musician who did not have a large presence in my Jazz collection. That led me on to other Lee Konitz recordings, including the classic “Birth of the Cool” sessions with Gil Evans, Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan and the Mosaic Box Set “The Complete Atlantic Recordings of Lennie Tristano, Lee Konitz and Wayne Marsh” (MDV-174).

In a musical career spanning around 70 years Lee has recorded masses of material that is just waiting to be explored by anybody who is interested. On YouTube alone there are heaps of his video performances.



Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art (Jazz Perspectives) Kindle Edition

The preeminent altoist associated with the “cool” school of jazz, Lee Konitz was one of the few saxophonists of his generation to forge a unique sound independent of the influence of Charlie Parker. In the late 1940s, Konitz began his career with the Claude Thornhill band, during which time he came into contact with Miles Davis, with whom he would later work on the legendary Birth of the Cool sessions. Konitz is perhaps best known through his association with Lennie Tristano, under whose influence much of his sound evolved, and for his work with Stan Kenton and Warne Marsh. His recordings have ranged from cool bop to experimental improvisation and have appeared on such labels as Prestige, Atlantic, Verve, and Polydor.

This book is available from Amazon and the sample I have read is interesting. However at this particular time the cost, for me is just too high. Even the Kindle version is around $40. Here are some comments on the book…….

“Meticulously researched, detailed and documented, this long awaited overview justly establishes Konitz as one of the most consistently brilliant, adventurous and original improvisers in the jazz tradition—a genius as rare as Bird himself.” —John Zorn (a major saxophonist in his own right).

“Hamilton’s work may well mark the inception of a format new to writing on Western music, one which avoids both the self-aggrandizing of autobiography and the stylized subjectification of biography.” —The Wire

“An extraordinary approach to a biography, with the man himself speaking for extended sessions. The main vibration I felt from Lee’s words was total honesty, almost to a fault. Konitz shows himself to be an acute observer of the scene, full of wisdom and deep musical insights, relevant to any historical period regardless of style. The asides by noted musicians are beautifully woven throughout the pages. I couldn’t put the book down—it is the definition of a living history.” — David Liebman (another major saxophonist)


Out of Nowhere: The Musical Life of Warne Marsh Kindle Edition

To study the life, times and music of Lee Konitz then one has to pay attention to Lee’s connections to music of Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano. This book is a way into that world. The writing style is a little odd, almost a literary jazz solo on the subject matter, but worth the effort. The jazz world of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s was a very different musical environment .