The lovely, gentle, sad but joyous jazz star: Lester Young

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, love, song, The blues, tragedy)


Above: Pres bursts into jazz immortality in 1936

Pres, or Prez (“The President of all Saxophone Players”, so named by Billie Holiday), died in New York on 15 March 1959. He was born in Woodville Mississippi on 27 August 1909, so perhaps that happier anniversary should be Lester Young Day.

“Lester was a dancer, a dreamer, a master of time and its secrets. Foremost among them: equilibrium. He never stumbles on the tightrope of swing, of tension and relaxation held in perfect ying-yang balance. He is a juggler, a high-wire artist without a net, a diver, a gambler, a gamboler.

The discoveries, the clear profundities of late Lester have been little understood. Some of his languor, no doubt, was the result of the need for conservation of energy. But what he made of this necessity! He was indeed a mother of invention….

“Long live gentle Lester, who loved life despite what it had done to him, and who never stopped reaching out, gifts in hand. To hell with those who call your strength weakness because you turned the pain inward, upon yourself rather than others, and offer simplistic explanations for your singular fate. Perhaps they envy you your immortality” – Dan Morgenstern, in ‘A Lester Young Reader’, edited by Lewis Porter, pub: Smithsonian, 1991.

I’ve posted this clip of Lester’s final encounter with his platonic love, Billie Holiday, several times before. But there may still be people who haven’t seen it. Watch Billie’s face as Pres (the second soloist, following Ben Webster) struggles through his slightly strained, but beautifully-constructed solo: it’s pure love in its most refined and intense manifestation; a couple of years after this 1957 TV show (on which Lester was not booked to appear, but turned up nevertheless) both Billie and Lester would be dead:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: