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Encyclopedia > Lester Young
Lester Young
Lester Young

Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909March 15, 1959), nicknamed "Prez", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He is remembered as one of the finest of the players on his instrument and for much of the hipster ethos which came to be associated with jazz. Image File history File links LesterYoung. ... Image File history File links LesterYoung. ... August 27 is the 239th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (240th in leap years), with 126 days remaining. ... 1909 (MCMIX) was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... March 15 is the 74th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (75th in Leap years). ... 1959 (MCMLIX) was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Jazz is an original American musical art form that originated around the start of the 20th century in New Orleans, rooted in African American musical styles blended with Western music technique and theory. ... A saxophonist is a musician who plays the saxophone. ... A clarinetist (sometimes also spelled clarinettist) is a musician who plays the clarinet. ... A hipster is a person who is strongly associated with a subculture that considers itself hip. ...

Contents

Early life and career

Lester Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi and grew up in a musical family. Young's father, Willis Handy Young, was a respected teacher, his brother Lee Young was a drummer, and several other relatives played music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when Lester was an infant and later to Minneapolis. His father taught him to play trumpet, violin, and drums in addition to the saxophone. He played in his family's band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. He left the family band in 1927 because he refused to tour in the US South, where the Jim Crow Laws were in effect. Woodville is a town located in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. ... Lee Young (born 7 March 1917) is a jazz drummer and singer. ... Nickname: The Crescent City, The Big Easy, The City That Care Forgot, NOLA (acronym for New Orleans, LA) Location in the State of Louisiana and the United States Coordinates: Country United States State Louisiana Parish Orleans Founded 1718 Mayor Ray Nagin (D) Area    - City 350. ... This article is about the city in Minnesota. ... Trumpeter redirects to here. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... For other kinds of drums, see drum (disambiguation). ... Saxophones of different sizes play in different registers. ... Vaudeville is a style of multi-act theatre which flourished in North America from the 1880s through the 1920s. ... The U.S. Southern states or The South, known during the American Civil War era as Dixie, is a distinctive region of the United States with its own unique historical perspective, customs, musical styles, and cuisine. ... Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and in force between 1876 and 1964 that required racial segregation, especially of African-Americans, in all public facilities. ...


In 1933 he settled in Kansas City after brief membership of several bands. He rose to prominence in the Count Basie band by playing in a relaxed style which contrasted sharply with the aggressive approach of Coleman Hawkins, the dominant tenor player of the day. 1933 (MCMXXXIII) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will take you to calendar). ... Nickname: City of Fountains or Heart of America Location in Jackson, Clay, Platte, and Cass Counties in the state of Missouri. ... William Count Basie (August 21, 1904 – April 26, 1984) was an American jazz pianist, organist, and bandleader. ... Coleman Hawkins Coleman Randolph Hawkins, nicknamed Hawk and sometimes Bean, (November 21, 1901 or 1904 - May 19, 1969) was a prominent jazz tenor saxophone musician. ...


Young left the Basie band to replace Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson's band, but he received intense criticism and pressure to play like Hawkins. He soon left to play with the Andy Kirk band (for six months) and he later returned to star with Basie. His recordings with the Basie band during the pre-World War II period of 1936 to 1940 were nothing short of revolutionary -- rather than being bound by the "time" of the band, his solos "floated" above it and defined the time his own way. A true improvisor, his solos on alternate takes often differed significantly from one to the next. In fact, many view the time Young spent with the Basie band as the band's zenith. Clarinetist Frank Powers said (around 1960), "man, I haven't listened to Basie since Prez left." Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. ... Andy Kirk (May 28, 1898 - 1992) was a jazz bass saxophonist. ... Combatants Major Allied powers: United Kingdom Soviet Union United States Republic of China and others Major Axis powers: Nazi Germany Italy Japan and others Commanders Winston Churchill Joseph Stalin Franklin Roosevelt Harry Truman Chiang Kai-Shek Adolf Hitler Benito Mussolini Hideki Tojo Casualties Military dead: 17,000,000 Civilian dead... 1936 (MCMXXXVI) was a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will take you to calendar). ... 1940 (MCMXL) was a leap year starting on Monday (the link is to a full 1940 calendar). ...


Prez was also a master of the clarinet, and there too, his style was entirely his own. His clarinet work from 1938-39 is documented on recordings with Basie, Billie Holiday, small groups both under his own leadership and that of Basie, and the obscure organist Glenn Hardman. His clarinet was stolen in 1939, and he abandoned the instrument until about 1957, when Norman Granz gave him one and urged him to play it (with far different results at that stage in Young's life - see below). Norman Granz (Los Angeles, USA, August 6, 1918 - Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2001), was an American jazz music impresario and producer. ...


Eccentric icon

Since Jazz already had a "King of Swing" with Benny Goodman, a "Duke" Ellington, and a "Count" Basie, Lester Young was known as Prez (short for president as in "The President of the Tenor Saxophone"), a name given to him by Billie Holiday (though some sources assert that he had been called "Prez" long before meeting her). He returned the favor by dubbing her "Lady Day." February 22, 1964: Benny Goodman at the Tokyo Okura Hotel, at the start of a Japan tour Benny Goodman, born Benő Guttman, (May 30, 1909 – June 13, 1986) was an American jazz musician of Jewish-Hungarian descent, known as King of Swing, Patriarch of the Clarinet, The Professor, and Swing... Duke Ellington Edward Kennedy Duke Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974), also known simply as Duke (see Jazz royalty), was an American jazz composer, pianist, and bandleader. ... Jazz royalty is a term that reflects the many great jazz musicians who have some sort of royal title in their names or nicknames. ... Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (1861-1865) The majority of this article is about heads of states. ... Billie Holiday photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949 Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), also called Lady Day, was an American singer, generally considered one of the greatest female jazz voices of all time, alongside Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. ...


Young was viewed as an eccentric by those he chose to exclude from his circle (i.e., those he did not trust). He did so by creating his own language that his friends would understand, but those he didn't trust would not. Those on the outside viewed it as a rococo and often inscrutable personal slang, famously referring to a narcotics detective or policeman as a "Bob Crosby," a rehearsal as a "molly trolley," and an instrumentalist's keys or fingers as his "people." He dressed distinctively, especially in his trademark pork pie hat. When he played saxophone, particularly in his younger days, he would sometimes hold the horn off to the right side at a near-horizontal angle, like a flute. Joop Visser believes that it was Lester's residence in the stuffy Reno Club with the Count Basie Band that caused this idiosyncrasy, as by holding it that way it was the only way Lester could keep his tenor sax from knocking into someone else's instrument. He is considered by many to be an early hipster, predating Slim Gaillard and Dizzy Gillespie. A pork pie hat is a felt hat, similer to a Trilby, dating from the middle 19th century, much the same as a fedora, but with a flattened top. ... A hipster is a person who is strongly associated with a subculture that considers itself hip. ... Bulee Slim Gaillard (January 4, 1911 or 1916 - February 26, 1991) was an Cuban jazz singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist, noted for his scat singing and wordplay. ... John Birks Dizzy Gillespie (October 21, 1917 – January 6, 1993) was born in Cheraw, South Carolina. ...


Young left the Basie band in late 1940. He is rumored to have refused to play with the band on Friday, December 13th of that year for superstitious reasons, spurring his dismissal, although the truth of this rumor has been widely disputed. In any event, Lester did leave the band around that time and subsequently led a number of small groups that often included his brother, noted drummer Lee Young, for the next couple of years - some very notable live and broadcast recordings from this period exist. During this period, Young accompanied Billie Holiday on a couple of great studio sessions in 1940 and 1941 and also made a small set of brilliant recordings with Nat "King" Cole (their first of several collaborations) in June 1942. It should be noted that his studio recordings are relatively sparse during the 1942 to 1943 period, largely due to the American Federation of Musicians' recording ban during that period that reflected the war effort. Lee Young (born 7 March 1917) is a jazz drummer and singer. ... For other uses, see King Cole (disambiguation). ...


In December 1943, Young returned to the Basie fold for what ended up being a 10-month stint, cut short by his army induction (see below). Recordings made during this and subsequent periods suggest Young was beginning to make much greater use of a plastic reed, which tended to give his playing a somewhat heavier, breathier tone (although still quite smooth compared to that of many other players). While he certainly never abandoned the wooden reed, he did utilize the plastic reed a significant share of the time from 1943 until the end of his life. Another cause for the thickening of his tone around this time was a change in saxophone mouthpice from a metal Otto Link to an ebonite Brilhart. In August 1944, Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Norman Granz's film short Jammin' the Blues. 1943 (MCMXLIII) was a common year starting on Friday (the link is to a full 1943 calendar). ... 1943 (MCMXLIII) was a common year starting on Friday (the link is to a full 1943 calendar). ... 1944 (MCMXLIV) was a leap year starting on Saturday (the link is to a full 1944 calendar). ... Jo Jones (October 11, 1911—September 3, 1985) (later known as Papa Jo Jones) was an American drummer, one of the most influential in the history of jazz. ... Harry Sweets Edison (October 10, 1915 - July 27, 1999), was born in Columbus, Ohio. ... Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet (October 31, 1922 - July 22, 2004) was a jazz tenor saxophonist most famous for his solo on Flying Home. He is better known simply as Illinois Jacquet. ... Norman Granz (Los Angeles, USA, August 6, 1918 - Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2001), was an American jazz music impresario and producer. ... Jammin the Blues is a 1944 short film in which several prominent jazz musicians got together for a rare filmed jam session. ...


Army induction and its effects

In September 1944, Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glen Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was put in the 'regular army' where he wasn't allowed to play his saxophone. Young was based in Ft. McClelland, Alabama when marijuana and alcohol were found among his possessions. The army also discovered that he was married to a white woman. Racist mistreatment followed and he was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience in the detention barracks inspired his composition "D.B. Blues" (with D.B. standing for detention barracks). 1944 (MCMXLIV) was a leap year starting on Saturday (the link is to a full 1944 calendar). ... Jo Jones (October 11, 1911—September 3, 1985) (later known as Papa Jo Jones) was an American drummer, one of the most influential in the history of jazz. ... Flag Seal Nickname: City of Angels Location Location within Los Angeles County in the state of California Coordinates , Government State County California Los Angeles County Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) Geographical characteristics Area     City 1,290. ... The Army is the branch of the United States armed forces which has primary responsibility for land-based military operations. ... Alton Glenn Miller (March 1, 1904 - December 15, 1944) was an American jazz musician and band leader in the Swing era. ... Artie Shaw Arthur Arshawsky (May 23, 1910 – December 30, 2004), better known as Artie Shaw, was an accomplished jazz clarinetist, composer, bandleader, and writer. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... A court-martial (plural courts-martial) is a military court that determines punishments for members of the military subject to military law. ... The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view. ... 1945 (MCMVL) was a common year starting on Monday (the link is to a full 1945 calendar). ...


Some jazz historians have argued that Young's playing power declined in the years following his traumatic army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. It is a fact, that his playing began to change before he was drafted, as records shows. One objective truth regarding the final 14 years of Young's life is that they proved to be considerably more productive for him (compared to the pre-WWII years) in terms of number of studio recordings, number of live appearances, and level of income per year. In addition, his playing arguably had an increasingly and profoundly emotional slant to it, and this period featured some of his greatest rendering of ballads. He joined Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) troupe in 1946, touring regularly with them over the next 12 years, and made a significant number of studio recordings under Granz's supervision as well. Young also recorded extensively for the Aladdin and Savoy labels in the latter half of the 1940s. Scott Yanow is a jazz commentator who has written for many magazines and websites including: Allmusic, JAZZIZ, CODA and The LA Jazz Scene. ... Norman Granz (Los Angeles, USA, August 6, 1918 - Geneva, Switzerland, November 22, 2001), was an American jazz music impresario and producer. ... Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) was the title of a series of concerts and recordings produced by Norman Granz. ...


While the quality and consistency of his playing arguably ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s and into the early 1950s, he did give some brilliant performances during this stretch. Particularly noteworthy are his performances with JATP in 1946, 1949, and 1950 - his solo on "Lester Leaps In" at the 1949 JATP concert at Carnegie Hall stands as perhaps one of the greatest solos by any jazz musician ever. Carnegie Hall Carnegie Hall is a concert venue in Midtown Manhattan in New York City located at 881 7th Avenue, occupying the east stretch of 7th Avenue between West 56th Street and West 57th Street. ...


Final years

However, beginning around 1951, Young's level of play began to decline more precipitously, as he began to drink more and more heavily. His playing increasingly demonstrated greater reliance on a smaller number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a "repeater pencil" (Young's coined phrase describing the act of repeating one's own past ideas). A comparison of his studio recordings from 1952 and those from 1953-1954 (all available on the Verve label) also demonstrates a declining command of his instrument and sense of timing, possibly due to both mental and physical factors. Young's playing and health went into a tailspin, culminating in a November 1955 hospital stint following a nervous breakdown. Verve Records is an American Jazz record label, founded by Norman Granz in 1956, which absorbed the catalogues of his earlier labels: Norgran Records and Clef Records (founded 1953). ...


He emerged from this treatment considerably improved, as evidenced by his January 1956 recording sessions with Teddy Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Harry Edison and Jo Jones, and 1956 was a relatively good year for him. However, his improvement proved short-lived, and by the late 1950s, his self-destructive habits had finally taken their toll on him. He was eating significantly less, drinking increasingly heavily, and suffering from liver disease and malnutrition. Young's sharply diminished physical strength in the final two years of his life yielded some recordings that manifested a frail tone, shortened phrases, and, on rare occasions, an alarming difficulty in getting any sound to come out of his horn at all. Theodore Shaw Teddy Wilson (born November 24, 1912 in Austin, Texas-died July 31, 1986 in New Britain, Connecticut) was a United States jazz pianist. ... Roy David Eldridge (January 30, 1911 – February 6, 1989) was a jazz trumpet player in the Swing era. ... Harry (Sweets) Edison (1915–1999) was an American jazz trumpeter. ... Jo Jones (October 11, 1911—September 3, 1985) (later known as Papa Jo Jones) was an American drummer, one of the most influential in the history of jazz. ... The 1950s was the decade spanning the years 1950 to 1959. ... The liver is an organ in vertebrates including humans. ... Malnutrition is a general term for the medical condition caused by an improper or insufficient diet. ...


In july 1957 he appeared with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival with old buddies: Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, Illinois Jaquet and Jimmy Rushing. His playing was in better shape than usual at this time, and he even managed to produce some of the old, smooth toned flow of the 1930's. Among other tunes he played a moving "Polkadots and Moonbeams", which was a favorite of his at that time.


On December 8, 1957, he appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special The Sound of Jazz, performing Holiday's tune "Fine and Mellow". It was a reunion with Holiday, with whom he'd fallen out of contact for years, and who was also in decline at the end of her career, and the occasion elicited particularly moving performances from them both. Young's solo was brilliant, considered by many jazz musicians an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion. Young seemed gravely ill, and was the only horn player who was seated (except during his solo) during the performance. Billie Holiday photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949 Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), also called Lady Day, was an American singer, generally considered one of the greatest female jazz voices of all time, alongside Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. ... Coleman Hawkins Coleman Randolph Hawkins, nicknamed Hawk and sometimes Bean, (November 21, 1901 or 1904 - May 19, 1969) was a prominent jazz tenor saxophone musician. ... Benjamin Francis Webster (March 27, 1909–September 20, 1973) was an influential American jazz tenor saxophonist. ... Roy David Eldridge (January 30, 1911 – February 6, 1989) was a jazz trumpet player in the Swing era. ... Gerald Joseph Gerry Mulligan (April 6, 1927 – January 20, 1996) was an American jazz musician, composer and arranger best known for his baritone saxophone playing. ... CBS (an abbreviation for Columbia Broadcasting System, its former legal name) is one of the largest television networks, and formerly one of the largest radio networks, in the United States. ... A landmark television program that was part of CBSs Seven Lively Arts series. ...


Lester Young made his final studio recordings and live performances in Paris in March 1959, at the tail end of an abbreviated European tour during which he ate next to nothing and virtually drank himself to death. He died in the early morning hours of March 15, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York, at the age of 49. Perhaps not a complete coincidence, his long-time close friend Billie Holiday died only four months later at the age of 44. According to renowned jazz critic Leonard Feather, who rode with Holiday in a taxi to Young's funeral, she told Feather on the ride over, "I'll be the next one to go". Billie Holiday photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949 Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), also called Lady Day, was an American singer, generally considered one of the greatest female jazz voices of all time, alongside Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. ...


Posthumous dedications and influence

Charles Mingus composed an elegant elegy, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", for Young only a few months after his death. Wayne Shorter, then of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, composed a tribute, called "Lester Left Town." Charles Mingus (April 22, 1922 – January 5, 1979), also known as Charlie Mingus, was an American jazz bassist, composer, bandleader, and occasional pianist. ... Elegy was originally used for a type of poetic metre (Elegiac metre), but is also used for a poem of mourning, from the Greek elegos, a reflection on the death of someone or on a sorrow generally. ... Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter in the 1960s quintet Wayne Shorter (born August 25, 1933) is an American jazz composer and saxophonist. ... Arthur (Art) Blakey, also known as Abdullah Ibn Buhaina, (October 11, 1919 – October 16, 1990) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. ...


Young's playing style influenced many other tenor saxophonists. Perhaps the most famous and successful of these were Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, but he also influenced many in the cool movement such as Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Gerry Mulligan. Paul Quinichette modelled his style so closely on Young's that he was sometimes referred to as the 'Vice Prez'. Sonny Stitt began to incorporate elements from Lester Young's approach when he made the transition to tenor saxophone. Lester Young also had a direct influence on young Charlie Parker ("Bird"), and thus the entire be-bop movement. Indeed, recordings of Prez on alto are similar to Parker's style. Stan Getz Stanley Getz, better known as Stan Getz (February 2, 1927 – June 6, 1991) was an American jazz musician. ... Dexter Gordon Dexter Gordon (February 27, 1923 - April 25, 1990) was an American tenor saxophone musician. ... The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view. ... John Haley Zoot Sims was an American jazz musician. ... Al Cohn (November 24, 1925–February 15, 1988) was an American jazz saxophonist and jazz arranger/composer. ... Gerald Joseph Gerry Mulligan (April 6, 1927 – January 20, 1996) was an American jazz musician, composer and arranger best known for his baritone saxophone playing. ... Paul Quinichette (17 May 1916 - 25 May 1983) was a jazz tenor saxophone musician. ... Sonny Stitt, a quintessential bop saxophonist. ... A Yanagisawa tenor sax. ... Charlie Parker Charles Bird Parker, Jr. ... Bebop or bop is a form of jazz which uses a fast tempo and complex improvisational techniques. ...


Don Byron recorded the album Ivey-Divey in gratitude of what he learned from studying Lester Young's work, modeled after a '56 Trio date with Buddy Rich and Nat King Cole. Ivey-Divey was one of Lester Young's common eccentric phrases. Tuskegee Experiments, 1992 Don Byron (born November 8, 1958 in New York City) is a composer and jazz clarinet player. ... Bernard Buddy Rich (September 30, 1917 – April 2, 1987) was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. ... For other uses, see King Cole (disambiguation). ...


Young is a major character in English writer Geoff Dyer's 1991 fictional book about jazz, But Beautiful. The English are an ethnic group or nation primarily associated with England and the English language. ... Geoff Dyer (born June 5, 1958) is an author. ... 1991 (MCMXCI) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Jazz is an original American musical art form that originated around the start of the 20th century in New Orleans, rooted in African American musical styles blended with Western music technique and theory. ... But Beautiful is a book about jazz and jazz musicians by Geoff Dyer. ...


In the 1986 film 'Round Midnight, the fictional main character Dale Turner, played by Dexter Gordon, was partly based on Young - incorporating flashback references to his Army experiences, and loosely depicting his time in Paris and his return to New York just before his death. Round Midnight is a 1986 film which tells the story of a tenor saxophone player in Paris in the 1950s who befriends a poor Frenchman who idolizes the musician and tries to help him to get out of his life of alcohol abuse. ...


External links

  • The African American Registry - Lester Young
  • Lester Young - Studio Scenes (video)

Samples

  • Download sample of "She's Funny That Way"

 
 

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