Happy 100th, Lester Young | Bleader

Happy 100th, Lester Young


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Lester Young
  • Lester Young
Today is the 100th anniversary of Lester Young's birth. I'm not going to take up your time telling you who he was or why you should care—chances are you already know and already do, or else there's no persuading you. What I am going to tell you to do is look at this exhaustive and engrossing tribute to Young by Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson. If there is even one bone in your body that loves jazz, you owe it to yourself to get through at least the first chapter, where Iverson is listening to some of Pres's classic pre-1941 solos with Lee Konitz—the solos are transcribed too, so you can marvel at their construction even after the notes are done sashaying past.

Do you know why they called Young "Pres"? Because his nickname was the President. That's just how he rolled. Charles Mingus wrote "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" as a eulogy for Lester Young. How badass do you have to be to get a tribute from Mingus? And not just a tribute, but a tribute in the form of what would turn out to be one his most immortal songs?

I mean, seriously, if you have some time, try to follow along in those transcriptions. Find the one that has the bass part written out too—it's the canonical "Lady Be Good" solo, on page two of the article, with Walter Page on bass.

I know you know that in jazz there's this little thing called "improvisation," but every so often you just have to stop and remind yourself: My God, these guys were making it up as they went! And it sounds so elegant, controlled, graceful, and thought out. I am surprising myself by digging it so much, since I got my introduction to the genre the same way lots of ex-punk rockers did—through post-"New Thing" destructo jazz like Mats Gustafsson and Peter Brotzmann.

Anyway. This concludes today's exhortation. Thank you and good afternoon.

(Photo nicked from the Bad Plus blog)

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