The composer Michael Robinson has a striking revelation:
Watching the exhilarating documentary, The Making of West Side Story, featuring the composer himself rehearsing and recording this penultimate twentieth century masterpiece, I am reminded of some startling information the legendary alto saxophonist, Lee Konitz, once casually shared with me while conversing during one of the many nature walks we took together. Somehow the subject of Leonard Bernstein came up, and Lee related how the two had lived in the same Manhattan building for a period of time, that Bernstein was an excellent pianist, and … Leonard told him that the song “Cool” from West Side story was directly inspired by his music!
Sure enough, if one examines the song, the inverted cross-pentangle, Kandinsky-like melodic shapes and syncopations of Lee’s inspired and swinging improvisations navigating harmonic contours are apparent, especially in the instrumental elaborations of the score, which are, arguably, the most musically thrilling portions of West Side Story. But even the monumental opening moments of Bernstein’s masterwork – almost as famous as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – are infused with jazz, but not the jazz of Charlie Parker or Dave Brubeck. Rather, the jazz of Lee Konitz, who was inspired by Lennie Tristano, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Lester Young. This grandly complex musical influence suffuses the atmospheric crosscurrents of West Side Story….
Read on here.