I learned yesterday that it was the 100th anniversary of Lester Young’s birth. I hope you know who he is. Just in case you don’t, I’ll take a second out to urge you in the strongest possible terms to learn more and listen to his music. He is one of the true giants of so much of the Twentieth Century’s music, and whether you listen to jazz or not (the musical form he is most associated with), you probably will have felt his influence.
He took the tenor saxophone to a new level, and the rest of the music rose to new heights as a result as well. He refined and extended what a soloist does in jazz improvisation, composing, on the spot, wonderfully lyrical extended solos with a clear and compelling logical structure, of such beauty, and in such a distinct and lovely tone as to sometimes bring you to tears. I’m a big fan of his work, and I especially (like others) enjoy hearing and seeing him playing alongside Billie Holiday, whom he called Lady Day. I’ve discussed this classic recording before, while talking about Holiday, but now I can revisit it to point out Young (or the Prez as he was often known) in dialogue with her (he takes the second solo), and in concert with a range of other giants of the solo, some on tenor but not exclusively so. I say more after the music. Enjoy:
He’s also known for wearing one of my favourites hat shapes – the pork pie hat it is sometimes called (do check out the Mingus piece “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” which was a tribute to him) – and is aparently responsible for a host of terms that emerged from the African American culture of the time to join the larger culture. You can learn about that aspect and several other things, including hearing a rare recording of him talking, by listening to this NPR story (by Tom Vitale) from yesterday.