Tuesday 1 September 2009

Lester Young Centennial


Lester Young was born 100 years ago today (aug 27). He died just over 50 years ago, in March 1959.

Young is the most important link in the chain between early jazz and modern jazz.  He sounded good playing with both New Orleans-style musicians and beboppers. If he were around now he could probably go to Smalls tonight and sit in with whoever was on the bandstand without any problem.

While few other jazz musicians from the pre-1950 era continuously invented new phrases, serious Young lovers get every record he???s ever made because they know that there???s always the possibility that he will play something they haven???t heard before. In addition, Young had one of the most swinging beats in the history of the music.  And though he could deliver a honking, stomping tenor, even his most frantic outbursts sound curiously relaxed.  He never tried too hard or worked for the impossible.  He just was:  Cool.  

In fact, he may have literally invented the word ???cool??? and given it to the English language, for his verbal jousting and pre-beatnik beatnik behavior gave him a iconic mystique almost inseparable from the sounds coming out of his horn. The improvisation, the beat, the cool, and the mystique has made him one of the most well-loved musicians of the 20th century. These posts document my attempt to learn from Lester Young in the 21st.  

I ask the forbearance of dedicated Young fans and scholars. They are sure to find errors and incorrect assumptions in my work.  If I ever to decide to officially publish I promise to clean up all errata and double-check all suppositions. For now, this is just a private journey made public.  

  1. 18 with Lee K.
  2. Oh, Lady!
  3. Calling the Masters
  4. The Power of Vulnerability
  5. Miles Davis and Lester Young
  6. A Beginner???s Guide to the Master Takes
  7. The End and the Future
  8. Top and Bottom
  9. Footnotes
  10. Further Reading

posted Aug 27th, Ethan Iverson's tour of Prez is brilliant, thoughtful and thorough, a veritable complete education in the full spectrum of jazz encapsulated in the life of this one most amazing player. Sorry for including the whole clip, but I just didn't have the heart to snip it down.