Today isn't Lester Young's birthday. Today isn't the day he died. It's President's Day, which is a good enough day as any to say a few words about Lester Young and provide you with a list of 10 terrific Lester Young tracks as well as a link to my favorite Lester Young video clip.
For those new to jazz, Billie Holiday in the late 1930s gave Young his famous nickname—"President," as in president of the tenor sax, a moniker that quickly was shortened to "Prez." Young named her "Lady Day." If you listen to their recordings together from this period, you'll hear two artists in the exact same place at the same time at the highest possible artistic level. They both specialized in baring their creative souls without shame or sugar-coating. In the parlance of today's musicians, they knew how to give it up.
So pull out some Lester Young CDs and give them a spin—and happy Prez-ident's Day.
JazzWax tracks: Here are 10 fabulous Lester Young recordings (along with the name of each CD, label and recording date). You probably own them all. If not, they're at iTunes.
- Shorty George (Count Basie: Complete Decca Recordings/1938)
- Laughing at Life (Billie Holiday and Lester Young: A Musical Romance/Columbia/1940)
- These Foolish Things Remind Me of You (Complete Savoy Recordings/1944)
- Jumpin' With Symphony Sid (Complete Aladdin Recordings/1946)
- One O'Clock Jump (Complete Aladdin Recordings/1947)
- East of the Sun (Complete Aladdin Recordings/1947)
- Pennies from Heaven (Complete Savoy Recordings/1950)
- Indiana (Complete Verve/1952)
- Louise (Pres and Teddy/Verve/1956)
- There Will Never Be Another You (Complete Verve/1959)
JazzWax video clip: To see one of the great Lester Young video clips, from Jammin' the Blues, go here.