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Lester Young

Lester Young was one of the true jazz giants, a tenor saxophonist who came up with a completely different conception in which to play his horn, floating over bar lines with a light tone rather than adopting Coleman Hawkins' then-dominant forceful approach. A non-conformist, Young (nicknamed "Pres" by Billie Holiday) had the ironic experience in the 1950s of hearing many young tenors try to sound exactly like him.

Although he spent his earliest days near New Orleans, Lester Young lived in Minneapolis by 1920, playing in a legendary family band. He studied violin, trumpet, and drums, starting on alto at age 13. Because he refused to tour in the South, Young left home in 1927 and instead toured with Art Bronson's Bostonians, switching to tenor. He was back with the family band in 1929 and then freelanced for a few years, playing with Walter Page's Blue Devils (1930), Eddie Barefield in 1931, back with the Blue Devils during 1932-1933, and Bennie Moten and King Oliver (both 1933). He was with Count Basie for the first time in 1934 but left to replace Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson. Unfortunately, it was expected that Young would try to emulate Hawk, and his laid-back sound angered Henderson's sidemen, resulting in Pres not lasting long. After a tour with Andy Kirk and a few brief jobs, Lester Young was back with Basie in 1936, just in time to star with the band as they headed East. Young made history during his years with Basie, not only participating on Count's record dates but starring with Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson on a series of classic small-group sessions. In addition, on his rare recordings on clarinet with Basie and the Kansas City Six, Young displayed a very original cool sound that almost sounded like altoist Paul Desmond in the 1950s. After leaving Count in 1940, Young's career became a bit aimless, not capitalizing on his fame in the jazz world. He co-led a low-profile band with his brother, drummer Lee Young, in Los Angeles until re-joining Basie in December 1943. Young had a happy nine months back with the band, recorded a memorable quartet session with bassist Slam Stewart, and starred in the short film Jammin' the Blues before he was drafted. His experiences dealing with racism in the military were horrifying, affecting his mental state of mind for the remainder of his life.

Although many critics have written that Lester Young never sounded as good after getting out of the military, despite erratic health he actually was at his prime in the mid- to late-'40s. He toured (and was well paid by Norman Granz) with Jazz at the Philharmonic on and off through the '40s and '50s, made a wonderful series of recordings for Aladdin, and worked steadily as a single. Young also adopted his style well to bebop (which he had helped pave the way for in the 1930s). But mentally he was suffering, building a wall between himself and the outside world, and inventing his own colorful vocabulary. Although many of his recordings in the 1950s were excellent (showing a greater emotional depth than in his earlier days), Young was bothered by the fact that some of his white imitators were making much more money than he was. He drank huge amounts of liquor and nearly stopped eating, with predictable results. 1956's Jazz Giants album found him in peak form as did a well documented engagement in Washington, D.C., with a quartet and a last reunion with Count Basie at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. But, for the 1957 telecast The Sound of Jazz, Young mostly played sitting down (although he stole the show with an emotional one-chorus blues solo played to Billie Holiday). After becoming ill in Paris in early 1959, Lester Young came home and essentially drank himself to death. Many decades after his death, Pres is still considered (along with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane) one of the three most important tenor saxophonists of all time. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions On Verve

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
Disc 5
Disc 6
Disc 7
Disc 8

Comments

Atv90 years old imam still trying to play like Lester young
Jim Depalo
Glad I am old so I was able to se and hear all these greats live.
The Great One.
clogan7536
Like water running out of a tap---it doesn't get better
mm makes me want to take out my horn!
I hear the same heartache in his playing that I hear in Billie Holliday's voice. There is something deeply touching in the music both of them made. I can see why they admired each other.
Great!
To me, Lester's greatest era was with Sid Catlett, Johnny Guineri, & Slam Stewart.
George Hampton
speakerstudi o
Lester was such an inspiration to so many sax players and jazz fans alike. he certainly got me started on tenor. John Regan
AMAZING!!!!! ! ! !
What can you say....._Som e of the Best recordings Ever put down..._Arti s t i c Genius.....!
PREZ for PREZ!!!!!!! It doesn't get better!!!!!! !
Oh, my GOD! That sax feels like ...
PREZ!!!!!!! 'nuff said.
Lester Young is how know there is a God.
The bio writer failed to mention the reason behind the nickname Prez: Billie Holiday named him that because she felt he was President of the tenor saxophone. This is obvious to jazz buffs but not to novices.
@Rabbi Stanley HOWARD Schwartz - nope, I'm not Eli from C. Christi, from SF/Bay Area but thanks for the props! Actually, thanks to Prez, the Hawk, Ben, and Stan!
i'm not a muscian-i'm a fan-so maybe i don't know what i'm talking about but i loved how his horn would fade away-yea,it could be the production but who wants to remaster the hell out of everything-w h y doesn't remaster me.i'm a street outreach worker-good at what i do-can't play the horn and the prez couldn't do what i do-so if it sounds good-it is-muscians are so arragant.
E Escobar said it exactly. Getz, Webster, and Hawkins. I wonder if it was my friend Eli Escobar of Corpus Christi, TX?
His lyrical style touches me deeply to this day. I've listened to Young since I was a kid at my uncle's home in Florida on old 78 reocrds, then on 33s, but he is a joy to hear on Pandora. Everyone should.
You knew who was blowing after just a few notes. He was so distinctive especially with the fake notes. I love Sometimes I'm Happy.
"These Foolish Things" is one of my 'faves' and if you dig into the history you'll find a young Quincy Jones arranged charts that Prez performed on. Oh there were a couple of singers up front...what were their names? Oh...Sarah Vaughn and Billie Eckstein baby!
zimnee
PREZ ALWAYS STOOD OUT WITH HIS UMIQE STYLE ABD BILLY STUCK THAT OB HIM IN MY VIEW THOSE TWO HAD SOMETHING IN HIS LAST DAYS REPORTS ARE HE HAD A ROOM ACROSS BL AND HE JUST KIND OF DIMININISHED AWAY IF TRUE HOW SAD LIKT TO SEE A BIO PIC ON HIM A TRUE ICON OF THAT WORLD OF SO CALLED JAZZ
this my kinda music i like this
pattygrigs
When I was six or seven years old that would be about 1947 Lester use to vist
a girlfriend in Minneapolis Me and my friends were struck by the funny Hat He
wore straw top hat. His girlfriend lived in the northside projects that were built by the W.P.A when F.D.R was president one half was black the other white
My father was a jazz buff He told me who He was.
pattygrigs
Mr.Smooth influenced alot of west coast artist
Prez - seriously. BF.
jdavis5775
At his best with Teddy Wilson on piano.
juanr1
I thought this was Count Basie's orchestra?
Tone to die for. Only Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, and Stan Getz had tone to compare. Just beautiful... b e a u t i f u l
tomthefox
Yep, just trim her hair a bit, and slap a mustache on her, and they could be brother and sister! Hahahaha! Seriously, I love them both. Two of the greatest ever!
penwoman65
lester sure looks a lot like billy holiday.
As one who loves jazz and a saxophonist myself it truely gets no better unless there was a bird, yardbird i mean.
Highly familar with this artist, great lover of his sound!
the PREZ,AS HE WAS CALLED BY BILLIE HOLIDAY AND MANY OTHERS. of course I was there..... In Spirit....
Thank you Lester !
Could yall please play some of the early Billie Holliday with Lester weaving
in & out(from the 30's & 40's),such as "Me,Myself & I ".That's some of the most affecting stuff ever recorded.
Thank you, David Mikell
neilruth2468
Lester still rules.!!

How about his Commodore album? He plays clarinet on three songs.
Sounds like Monk!
What a great track this is!!

Tom Gleason

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