Prez Day: Lester Young Clips

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Here in the U.S. today, the country is celebrating President's Day, a national holiday set up in the 1880s to cover both George Washington (22nd) and Abraham Lincoln's (12th) February birthdays. At JazzWax, we celebrate Lester Young, whom Billie Holiday nicknamed the President or Prez of the tenor saxophone. Whether or not you're familiar with Prez and his music, below are eight of my favorite clips that splendidly illustrate his art over time.

In short, Prrez revolutionized the sound of the tenor saxophone starting in the 1940s. Instead of the gruff and tough approach, his was cool, dry and more relaxed but no less inventive when improvising, as you'll hear below...

Here's the original Vocalion 78 recording in 1939 of Lester Leaps In, featuring Count Basie's Kansas City Seven: Count Basie (p), Buck Clayton (tp), Dicky Wells (tb), Lester Young (ts), Freddie Green (g), Walter Page (b), Jo Jones (ds)...



Here's Prez in 1943 playing Sometimes I'm Happy, with Johnny Guarnieri (p) Slam Stewart (b) and Big Sid Catlett (d)...



Here's Prez in 1950, lip-syncing along with the rest of the quintet to their brilliant rendition of How About You recorded earlier for a film. The quintet features Lester Young (ts), Bill Harris (tb), Hank Jones (p), Ray Brown (b) and Buddy Rich (d)...



Here's Prez in 1954 playing I Can't Get Started with the Oscar Peterson Trio, featuring Lester Young (ts), Oscar Peterson (p), Barney Kessel (g), Ray Brown (b) and J.C. Heard (d)...



Here's Prez in 1956 playing I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan, with Lester Young (ts), Roy Eldridge (tp), Vic Dickenson (tb), Gene Ramey (b), Teddy Wilson (p) and Jo Jones (d)...



Here's 40 minutes of the Birdland All Stars in Hamburg, Germany, in 1956, featuring Miles Davis, Lester Young and Bud Powell...



Here's Prez in 1958 playing Mean to Me on Art Ford's Jazz Party, a TV series in New York...



And finally, here's Prez in 1959, the year he died, playing Louise, with Teddy Wilson (p), Gene Ramey (b) and Jo Jones (d)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved.

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