‘Blue And Sentimental’: it’s Herschel, not Pres!

May 3, 2013 at 6:02 pm (BBC, jazz, music, protest, wireless)

From Just Jazz magazine:

 Three tenors: Herschel Evans (left), Eddie Miller (centre), Lester Young (right) in 1941 (the clarinetist on the far-right is Matty Matlock)

Lester Young? Surely not!

By James Hogg

You wouldn’t think anyone could mistake Herschel Evans for Lester Young, but BBC Radio 4 managed it in a recent ‘Archive on Four’ programme on the history of the saxophone. I understand that amongst those who spluttered into their Horlicks on hearing the howler was Wally Fawkes, who should be protected from such shocks.

The irony was that the presenter, Soweto Kinch, had reached a point in the programme where he wasa discussing with Courtney Pine the particular qualities that made Lester unique. And up comes the somewhat different sound of Herschel doing his featured number Blue And Sentimental. Producer’s clanger, definitely! The guilt of the two speakers has to remain ‘unproven’ because we don’t know whether they heard their words juxtaposed with the wrong recording or not.

The BBC has form in misidentifying Lester Young – incredibly for one of the most distinctive voices in all of jazz. Dave Green recalls a similar instance: “the ‘Archive on 4’ fiasco reminds me of a story that Humph once told me about Steve Race. Apparently Race played Humph a pre-transmission tape of a programme he had just done on Lester Young using one particular tune as an example of Lester’s Style – it may even have been Blue and Sentimental. Humph pointed out about half way through that it was a very good analysis, but the only problem was that it wasn’t Lester playing, it was Herschel Evans. Race’s response was: ‘Oh, it’s too late to do anything about it now, it’ll have to go out as it is’ – and it did.”

I suggest that in expiation Radio 4 should broadcast a whole programme on Lester Young entitled ‘Lester Leaps In – At Last.’

Fat chance.

JD adds: The great irony of this repeated misattribution of the tenor playing on Blue and Sentimental to Pres is that he and Herschel Evans were great rivals and competitors when they sat alongside each other in the sax section of the Basie band. Indeed, they were considered to represent polar opposites in tenor playing: Pres with his light, airy almost delicate sound, and Evans with a big, heavy, ‘muscular’ tone. Billie Holiday described the relationship between the two, thus: “Pres and Herschel Evans were forever thinking up ways of cutting the other one. You’d find them in the band room hacking away at reeds, trying out all kinds of new ones, anything to get ahead of the other one. Once Herschel asked Lester, ‘Why don’t you play alto man? You got an alto tone.’ Lester tapped his head, ‘There’s things going on up there, man,’ he told Herschel. ‘Some of you guys are all belly.'”

Compare and contrast Herschel’s playing on Blue and Sentimental (above, recorded 1938) with Pres playing Ghost of a Chance (below, recorded 1944):

2 Comments

  1. Martin Simon said,

    The BBC seems to be renowned for using producers and presenters who have neither love n’or knowledge of their subjects.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Thanks for reminding me of this, Martin: as a result I have now updated this post.

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