Anyone seeking a solid introduction to the music of Lennie Tristano should make a beeline for Proper Box 64, appropriately titled Intuition. This reasonably priced four-CD set is also sure to please even the most seasoned Tristano enthusiasts, for as one of the finest Tristano collections in existence, it rates with the juiciest entries in the Proper catalog. A brilliant musical innovator who was greatly admired by Charlie Parker, Tristano acted as a sort of modern jazz professor, philosopher, and mentor to aspiring young improvisers. In many ways, his music sounds better and makes more sense today than ever before. Prior to the appearance of this set in 2003, the records he cut in May 1945 with a sextet led by tenor saxophonist Emmett Carls had only been reissued on Tristano's portion of the exhaustively complete chronological Masters of Jazz series in 1999. In an unfortunate replication of a discographical error which has cropped up elsewhere, Proper's session data incorrectly names Shorty Rogers as the trumpeter on this date. Rogers had entered the armed forces in 1943 and wouldn't return to the scene until September of 1945. The individual heard with Carls was Irwin "Markie" Markowitz, a member of Boyd Raeburn's orchestra who would cross over to Woody Herman's Herd in 1946.
Proper's overview of Tristano's first seven years of recording activity is positively exhilarating. In addition to various early piano solos, it contains his complete 1946 - 1947 Keynote recordings, along with a sampling of records he cut in 1947 for Savoy and Baronet with small groups that included guitarist Billy Bauer and John La Porta, a reed player who would collaborate with Charles Mingus in the mid-'50s. The year 1949 was an important one for Tristano and is well represented by material from seven different sessions. These include the long take of "Victory Ball" as played by the Metronome All-Stars, selections from a Prestige date with Lee Konitz, a Birdland gig featuring Warne Marsh, and two segments of a Carnegie Hall engagement involving both saxophonists. Seven dazzlingly creative sides cut for Capitol during the spring of 1949 with Marsh and Konitz constitute milestones of modernity, complete with authentic instances of intuitively coordinated group improvisation. Apparently, the recording engineers at Capitol were so intolerant and closed-minded that they made faces, gestured impatiently, and even erased two of the tracks. Small wonder then that Tristano soon established his own Jazz Records label. By October of 1951, he would be exercising his artistic autonomy by overdubbing the piano on recordings he made with a trio that included drummer Roy Haynes. This wonderful set closes with six extended jams from a concert at the UGPO Hall in Toronto on July 17, 1952, sponsored by the New Jazz Society of Toronto and the Canadian Ministry of Culture.
When traditionalist tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman first heard Tristano's "Out on a Limb," he sought him out and asked to be tutored in jazz theory and harmony. This was an uncommonly progressive move for a long-standing cohort of Eddie Condon's, and prefigures Pee Wee Russell's later excursions into modern jazz. "I never knew how much freer I would feel getting down to the basic principles," remembered Freeman. "I thought it would be instructive to study with a great musician like Lennie; I didn't know it would be so much fun." An excellent companion to this set would be Gambit's unparalleled double-CD Live at the Confucius Restaurant, along with a copy of Eunmi Shim's informative and insightful biography, Lennie Tristano: His Life in Music, which was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2007.