Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester
Douglas Henry Daniels
Once again the life of one of our music's most beautiful, unique voices is chronicled, this time in a historical biography. In Daniels' work you won't find detailed analyses of Young's performances or compositions, nor is the focus on juicy gossip. What you get is an incredibly comprehensive treatment of Young's life from before the cradle to beyond the grave. This book's greatest strength is Daniels' use of interviews conducted in the 1980's with Lester's fellow musicians, including Buck Clayton, John Collins, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Buster Smith and Connie Kay. Talk about timing!
Part of Daniels' mission here was setting the record straight. No, jazz didn't take a direct route from New Orleans north (much information on the "territories"); Lester wasn't just a Kansas City musician (rural Louisiana, the Midwest, Southwest and Minneapolis were among the places key to his musical and social development); Young's post-war career was not necessarily one of musical decline. Huge numbers of fans kept avidly following his career. He had his greatest financial success in this period. Many musicians felt that his musical development and significant contributions continued. Daniels places Lester Young's development, style and contributions squarely in African-American culture.
At times Daniels paints the picture of an almost saintly figure, yet includes ample testimony from those critical of Young's personal life as well as his music and is very forthright in detailing Pres' alcoholism. Daniels' last chapter, "Legacy", is particularly satisfying, recounting tributes, examples of Lester's influence on musicians and writers, and treatments of his life in other media.
Daniels' exhaustive reporting of historical documents (e.g. city directories) can be dull at times. Skim as needed. But even the more than one hundred pages of footnotes contain many gems. Overall Lester Leaps In is fascinating reading.