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Lester Leaps In... To His 100th Birthday

David Amram By

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Now it was time to play something for Lester in the same place where all the jazz clubs had once stood side-by-side, creating a little village of musical delights like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where you could walk and listen outside each club if you were too young to get in and buy a drink or couldn't afford to go in. And standing there on the sidewalk, you could hear all the groups and even meet the musicians and hang out with them when they took their breaks and went out on the same sidewalk. I was standing on now, as they relaxed after playing their set, to get some air, have a smoke and rap with passersby and other musicians.

I closed my eyes and played "Happy Birthday," "Amazing Grace," and some blues for Prez, as a thank you to honor this amazing musician.

Through the surrounding din of the trucks grinding their gears, car horns honking, subways rumbling and people rapping as they walked by, all of which served as a New York rush hour rhythm section and back up band, I had a moment where I felt something of Lester's presence out there in that spirit world as I was playing for him. Just like you sometimes feel Mozart looking over your shoulder on the rare occasions that you are doing his music justice.

I told Henry that the next hundred years would be even BETTER for Prez and for all of us. Now a whole new younger generation can bypass decades of bad taste and neglect by a music industry that is being replaced by access to the Internet where you can see and hear masters of all the sincere forms of music built to last, and relate the musical masters from Lester's place of birth in Mississippi and study how he incorporated all this into his life's journey in the work he created. And that discovering Lester was a gateway to seeing and hearing all the other artists he influenced and continues to influence.

It is really important that this film is being made. Ferrini is a unique filmmaker. He spent years creating the documentary Lowell Blues, the best, by far, ever made about Jack Kerouac, and one of my favorite films of all time, with a great score by Lee Konitz.

Henry Ferrini, who plays sax himself, did a beautiful documentary film about poet Charles Olson, which is also a gem. I am honored to be in the Lester Young tribute film. And I know it will be memorable, no matter how long it takes Henry to finish it and get it released.

I think as I approach the BIG 80 that part of my gig in life is to honor all those no longer here whom I was lucky enough to know.

This film will help to remind people how proud we should all be to have had someone like Prez to enrich our lives.


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