Prez Day: Lester Young

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Today in the U.S. we are celebrating a national holiday honoring Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Originally conceived in the 1880s as a day of tribute to George Washington on his birthday, February 22, the holiday was moved to the month's third Monday in 1968 when Congress shifted most holidays to Mondays and decided to use this one to honor two presidents instead of one.

Here at JazzWax, President's Day has a different purpose. On this day, we celebrate Lester “Prez" Young, arguably the most significant transformative tenor saxophonist of the post-war era up until his death in 1959. At that point, John Coltrane influenced a new generation of players as he began to break new boundaries on the instrument.

Here are video and audio clips of Lester Young, whose relaxed, seamless improvisational style launched an entire school of players (Stan Getz, Bob Cooper, Dave Pell, Bill Perkins, Richie Kamuca, Phil Urso, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Brew Moore and many others) and greatly influenced the West Coast jazz sound of the 1950s:

Here's Gjon Mili's Jammin' the Blues in 1944...



Here's Prez in 1950 with Bill Harris (tb), Hank Jones (p), Ray Brown (b) and Buddy Rich (d)...



Here's Prez on TV's Art Ford's Jazz Party in 1958...



Here's Count Basie and One O'clock Jump featuring Lester Young at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957...



Here's Side A of Pres and Teddy in 1959...



And here's Side B...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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