Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Pres

On this day 110 years ago, a certain Lester Young was born.

Not the most familiar of names, it's true - but, as an integral part of Count Basie's orchestra in the 30s and 40s, and as the accompanist of choice for such luminaries as Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole, he was responsible for securing the central role of the saxophone in the "sound" of modern Jazz and Blues, and was an inspiration for generations of sax players to come.

He was, to coin a hoary old phrase, simply a musical genius.

Here's a sublime sample of his talents - Jammin' the Blues:

So utterly cool. So modern!

Facts about Mr Young:
  • Allegedly he was (appropriately) the first to popularise the use of the term "cool" to mean something fashionable.
  • Miss Holiday nicknamed him "Pres", short for President.
  • Constantly struggling with his addictions, he was dishonourably discharged from the army for possession of alcohol and marijuana.
  • He died far too young, at just 49, of alcohol-related causes - just four months before Billie Holiday, who went the same way.
  • Among the many revered musicians who cited Lester as an influence were Charles Mingus (who wrote a song in his honour when he died), Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Charlie Parker, Al Cohn and Dexter Gordon.
Lester Willis Young (27th August 1909 – 15th March 1959)

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