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Lester Young

Lester “Prez” Young was one of the giants of the tenor saxophone. He was the greatest improviser between Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong of the 1920s and Charlie Parker in the 1940s. From the beginning, he set out to be different: He had his own lingo; In the Forties, he grew his hair out. The other tenor players held their saxophones upright in front of them, so Young held his out to the side, kind of like a flute (see picture above). Then, there was the way he played: Hawkins played around harmonic runs. He played flurries of notes and had a HUGE tone that the other tenor players of the day emulated. Young used a softer tone that resulted In a soft, light sound (if you didn't know better, you would think the two were playing different instruments). Young used less notes and slurred notes together, creating more melodic solos. He played the ordinary in an extraordinary way, using a lot of subtleties to produce music that Billie Holiday said flips you out of your seat with surprise.

Young moved to Kansas City in the 1930s, the hotbed of jazz during that time, and played in various groups, including King Oliver, Benny Moten, and the traveling Fletcher Henderson orchestra. One of the great jazz myths says that Hawkins, who was the star player of Henderson's orchestra missed a show. Young filled in for him and played so wonderfully, that Hawkins went looking for Young, with sax in hand, to teach the young whippersnapper a lesson. They dueled all night and into the next morning. Hawkins left for Europe and Young took over in Henderson's orchestra. However, the ending wasn't happy — Young was hired to play like Hawkins, and that wasn't Young's thing—he could replace Hawkins, but he wasn't going to impersonate him—so he moved back to Kansas City and in 1936, he joined the Count Basie Orchestra and stayed there until 1949. While he recorded some his finest material with Basie, he didn't record all of his finest recordings with Count. He recorded a fine series of records with Billie Holiday. Within 4 years, he had played in top-rated big band AND small group settings! Some sources say that he gave her the nickname “Lady Day” and she gave him the nickname “Prez” (others say he became the new Prez-ident when he defeated Hawkins).

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Tags

Brent Jensen
saxophone, alto
Jim Gailloreto
saxophone, tenor
David Bond
saxophone
Michael Adkins
saxophone
Bill Gati
saxophone
Marlina Teich
guitar and vocals
Harry Skoler
clarinet
Jackie McLean
saxophone, alto
Charlie Parker
saxophone, alto
Sharel Cassity
saxophone
Ori Dagan
voice / vocals
Chris Gale
saxophone
Matthias Broede
harmonica
Fred Spek
saxophone, tenor
John Purcell
saxophone, alto
Wesley Crispus
saxophone
Sue Lynch
saxophone, tenor
Milo Lombardi
saxophone
Cheryl Richards
voice / vocals
Richie Love
saxophone
The Jazz Bastards
band/orchestra
Patricia López
saxophone
Andres Hayes
saxophone, tenor
Willie D
saxophone, tenor
Jacob Chung
saxophone, tenor

Photos

Albums

Classic 1936-1947...

Mosaic Records
2016

buy

Boston 1950

Uptown Records
2013

buy

The Pres

Jazz Anthology
2010

buy

100 Years - Forever...

Storyville Records
2010

buy

Centennial...

Original Jazz Classics
2009

buy

Pres And Teddy

Jazz Anthology
2008

buy

Videos

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