When Attila Zoller, wrapping his instrument up after a concert in 1950 in Vienna, was
asked by his band-mate Hans Salomon whether he had heard of sax-player Lee Konitz, the
Hungarian only shook his head. The Austrian gave it another try, inquiring about pianist
Lennie Tristano, but the answer was the same. The same night the Hungarian guitarist was
exposed to the records of both players, an experience that changed his life.
Forty-seven years later Zoller belongs to the same ranks as his former peers, is close
friends with almost every survivor of the cool jazz scene, and has left a lasting mark on
the history of post-war jazz. His influence is far reaching, Pat Metheny, for instance,
expressed his feelings about Zoller, "his first serious guitar teacher" at a
camp in 1968, by praising the latest Zoller solo record: "Attila is able to channel
the beauty and warmth of his spirit into a singular and unique guitar voice that has
rightly earned him the respect and admiration of jazz fans world-wide over an expansive
and rich 40 year career."
Although Lasting Love, recorded this year, is the first solo project of his, it is
certainly preceded by over thirty records as a leader, and at least the same number as a
sideman. Gypsy Cry, and Zo-Ko-Ma with Hans Koller (sax) and Martial Solal (piano) are two
early examples, his "jazz-pedigree" includes many of the truly greatest, such as
clarinettists Benny Goodman and Tony Scott, drummer Kenny Clark, and the unforgettable
Stan Getz. Just last year he did a long European tour with no one else, but - you guessed
- Lee Konitz, premiering their latest release (with pianist Don Friedman) on the Swiss
Unfortunately arrangements for the trios Hungarian gig have not born fruit last
year. The concert he gave in 1991 with a German vibe-player counts as the last time Attila
was here. But you dont have to wait long, a lot of effort has been put into the concert
of his (with well-known Hungarian jazzers) this Saturday. Even the Cultural Ministry
mobilised secret reserves upon being told that Attila is diagnosed with a very serious
illness, making him wish to play in his home town of Visegrád, and the capitol.
Zoller was born in 1927, to a family that traced its ancestors back to Austria six
generations before. After classical music studies, he left the country in the year when
political changes forced by the communists had turned radical, and started playing jazz in
Vienna. On the sidelines, add the note that in these years he even played in one band with
keyboard-wizard Joe Zawinul at a festival, under the banner German All Stars... He met
idol Lee Konitz in 1956 in Köln, and leaving the intermediate residence of his,
Frankfurt, he finally moved to New York in 1959, where he has lived ever since. His many
awards and prizes for his guitar playing include Hungarian ones and one by the State of
Vermont, where he had established the Vermont Jazz Centre. He has also been influential as
a teacher, his study-book is a classic till today, and the pick-up he has patented is
still popular with modern players.
Budapest Week, 1997 december 4-10.