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The Safari Explores the Music of Lester Young – better late than never!


Lester Young died when I was 7 years old. His last performance was in Paris, at the tail end of an abbreviated European Tour in March of 1959 with drummer Kenny Clarke. During that tour, Young ate next to nothing and virtually drank himself to death. He died on March 15th, only hours after arriving back in New York. He was 49 years old!!. Yesterday, Lester’s name came up, as I surfed the web looking for music. When I saw the name, I said you know I really don’t know much about Lester other than he played the saxophone.When I went to Wikipedia here’s what I found.

Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959),[1] nicknamed “Pres” or “Prez”, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and occasional clarinetist.

Coming to prominence while a member of Count Basie’s orchestra, Young was one of the most influential players on his instrumentt. In contrast to many of his hard-driving peers, Young played with a relaxed, cool tone and used sophisticated harmonies, using “a free-floating style, wheeling and diving like a gull, banking with low, funky riffs that pleased dancers and listeners alike”.[2]

Famous for his hip, introverted style,[3] he invented or popularized much of the hipster jargon which came to be associated with the music.

Continuing on and reading about Young’s influence I read

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 modeled his style so closely on Young’s that he was sometimes referred to as the “Vice Prez” (sic).[12] 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 Parker on tenor sax are similar in style to that of Young. Lesser-known saxophonists, such as Warnen Marsh, were strongly influenced by Young.

Ok so I ask the question, why is it that Lester influenced so many musicians, (the ones I know are in bold) and yet I’ve never heard that much about his music Is it that his peak may have been before the war??. I read that…..

From around 1951, Young’s level of playing declined more precipitously, as he began to drink more and more heavily. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas). A comparison of his studio recordings from 1952, such as the session with pianist Oscar Peterson, 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.[citation needed] Young’s playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a November 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown. Complete biography

And while he came out of treatment, and played again, within four years he would be dead from his alcoholism. Maybe it’s like so many musicians and me there’s just too much music and you can’t know everybody, especially, if you dabble in so many genres, or maybe it’s just because he died when I was seven. Anyway,yesterday I did listen to and enjoyed some of Lester’s cool Jazz from the album Ultimate Lester Young. From Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s review at AllMusic:

Ultimate Lester Young is a solid collection of 12 highlights from the saxophonist’s Verve recordings as selected by Wayne Shorter. For the curious neophyte, the disc offers a good overview of Young’s time at the label, featuring the saxophonist in a variety of different settings, including combos with Harry “Sweets” Edison, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, Nat “King” Cole, Roy Eldridge and Count Basie Read More

See, I picked out a good album for a nephyte like me. oh look Harry “Sweets” Edison, hum I didn’t know him either. So maybe it’s just me and for the rest of the jazz world Lester’s bigger than most of the artists I know! But if you are like me, check him out, and next time I need some “cool” jazz to calm me down I’ll turn to Lester!!


PBS:Ken Burns Jazz: Lester Young
NPR Music: Lester Young
AllMusic: Lester Young

I guess it is just me!! Anyway, here’s Lester Young and the Oscar Peterson Trio playing “Ad-Lib Blues”