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Making It Up As He Goes Along
Jazzman Bert Konowitz, who retired from TC last winter after 50 years of part-time teaching, has fashioned a career and a life from the power of improvisation
By Joe Levine
Some years ago, when Bert Konowitz (Ed.D., ’69) was teaching at Manhattanville College, he invited John Cage, the dean of American avant garde composers, to perform at the college’s improvisation festival. Cage not only came, but also offered advice that Konowitz, an award-winning jazz pianist, composer and teacher, draws on to this day.
“I told him that sometimes I feel blocked, and he said, ‘Think of two things that will never come together – say, a refrigerator and a vase of flowers – and think about how in some way you’ll relate them to each other,’” recalls Konowitz, who retired from TC’s faculty this past winter after 50 years of part-time teaching. Lean, with wire-rimmed glasses and long, shaggy reddish hair, he still conveys, in his early 80s, a gently bohemian air. “He said, ‘The energy you use will be the psychic, creative energy for a new direction.’ And he was right. It always works.”
SPIRIT Improv: Tribute to Bert Konowitz