Monday, February 20, 2023

Presidents' Day Music

Presidents' Day here means jazz and swing.

That means an all-music post specifically paying tribute to the recording artist and Count Basie Orchestra star known as The President, Lester Young.

Fellow saxophonist Sonny Rollins elaborates:

As the accomplishments of JFK, FDR and Honest Abe a.k.a. Hot Rod Lincoln are all targeted by obnoxious "this channel has no content" YouTube trolls in 2023, might as well spend Presidents' Day listening to the innovative tenor saxophonist and clarinetist.

Lester Young a.k.a. Pres or Prez was a virtuoso among virtuosos at a time when the likes of Mary Lou Williams, Art Tatum, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt, Chick Webb and Charlie Christian were all still living and at the top of their game.

Here's Pres and an all-star swing ensemble in one of the greatest films about music ever filmed, Life magazine photographer Gjon Mili's Jammin' The Blues (1944).

He's among the many music luminaries who appeared on the 1957 CBS-TV special The Sound Of Jazz part of the The Seven Lively Arts series.

While few films of Lester Young exist, here's footage shot in October 1950 of what appears to be a Jazz At The Philharmonic (JATP) ensemble: Lester Young (tenor saxophone), Bill Harris (trombone), Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Buddy Rich (drums).

In a longer excerpt from this JATP film, the group is joined by Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. As was often the case, Granz assembled quite a powerhouse lineup.

Raising that, from the superlative YouTube channel of music historian, teacher and saxophonist Loren Schoenberg, here's one of the rare interviews with Lester Young.

And also from Loren Schoenberg, who penned an eloquent article about Pres on the Mosaic Records website, here are several renditions of Three Little Words.

After an upbringing playing in the Young family band and other ensembles, Pres became a prominent player on the music scene in the 1930's as part of the dynamic Count Basie Orchestra.

Gotta love Basie, a bandleader with an eye for talent, seen in this shot from the Library Of Congress collection, snapped at NYC's Aquarium Club by gifted photographer William P. Gottlieb.

The power, expressiveness, creativity and eloquence of Lester Young's playing deepened as his career progressed from the early swing era through the 1950's.

Pres' last records, on the Verve label, remain some of his very best.

In closing, the gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, realizing that a mere month for Black History during any year is way insufficient, extends a tip of the porkpie hat to the Lester Willis Young.

Pres was a one of a kind artist who could express love, pain, sorrow, wonder and the expansiveness of the universe with one note.


  1. On the subject of "Hot Rod Lincoln", I'm partial to this version by Commander Cody frontman Bill Kirchen:


  2. Thank you, MMM - that is fantastic! Bill Kirchen merits a prominent place on the list of Fender Telecaster Masters.