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August 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to Our First Black President!

By: Bernard Chazelle

A few hours ago, 100 years back, Lester Young was born. I am sorry I don't have time to write about someone who's one of my absolute jazz heroes. "Prez," the nickname he got from Billie Holiday, is one of the most underrated geniuses in jazz. He not only influenced everyone who came after him but his playing is so subtle and sophisticated it's easy to miss how unbelievably great he was. (So great in fact that he didn't make the army jazz band when he was drafted -- who needs Lester Young when you've got Glenn Miller!) Like Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus for that matter, Lester Young did it his own way. He invented his own style, which every great, from Bird to Gordon to Getz, tried to learn from.

YouTube doesn't have a whole lot. (Maybe I should blog about Britney Spears.) But all I wanted to say was "Happy Birthday Prez!"

PS: Pay no attention to Barney Kessel. I don't. For every time I do, I wonder why I even bother putting my clumsy fingers on a guitar...

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at August 28, 2009 12:15 AM


Posted by: Mike Meyer at August 28, 2009 12:54 AM

Pork Pie Hat Lives!

If you want to be ashamed of your fingers, listen
to Johnny Guarnieri on Exercise in Swing:
No way he had just 5 on each hand.

Posted by: Dave Seaman at August 28, 2009 12:37 PM

Lester is indeed the Prez. Not only didn't he make the Army's band, but, the military hounded and attempted to destroy him - listen to " DB Blues".
Is that Illinois Jacquet also on tenor?

Posted by: Bob Della Valle at August 28, 2009 01:21 PM

Prof Chazelle, you must have read my mind as I was looking forward to a 'music' post after watching a wonderful documentary "Harlem in Montmartre", a couple of days ago. Lester Young's music is so gentle and soft and sweet ( below I am posting a couple of links )! Many thanks for posting this and introducing his music to me!

Dave Seaman, thanks for the link. That music is fabulous ( I found some other takes of 'Exercise in Swing' online... great music). Thanks to Bob Della Valle too for your link.
Thanks again Prof Chazelle. I have found some great music today.
Billie Holiday
With Lester Young & Teddy Wilson
Lester Young - Indiana

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 28, 2009 03:41 PM

I’ve been told that his best solos were never recorded though I heard the same regarding Bird but this is a particularly good solo. His lines are smooth and connected with a smoother swing feel than his contemporaries. In this regard I have always thought of Lester Young as the first really modern jazz saxophonist. Happy Birthday to Prez indeed.

Posted by: Rob Payne at August 28, 2009 11:03 PM

When I'm down, "D.B. Blues" picks me up.

Posted by: ChrisR at August 28, 2009 11:13 PM

These music posts are very enjoyable part of coming to this blog.Don't stop.

I once read an interview with BB King where he said his sliding of notes came from him trying to imitate his cousin ,Bukka White, on slide guitar, but his vibrato is all from Lester Young.

Posted by: John Fremont at August 29, 2009 04:03 PM