Lester Young Centennial

(Reprinted from old DTM, originally posted on August 27, 2009.)

Lester Young was born 100 years ago today.  He died just over 50 years ago in March 1959.

Young is the most important link in the chain between early jazz and modern jazz.  He sounded good playing with the New Orleans-style musicians grew up with; if he were around now he could sit in at Smalls tonight.


Pre-1950, few jazz musicians continuously invented new phrases, but serious Young fans chase down every obscure bootleg because he might have played something brand new.  He had one of the most swinging beats in the history of the music.   And though he could deliver a honking, stomping tenor, even his most frantic outbursts sound curiously relaxed.   He never tried too hard.   He just was: Cool.

In fact, he may have literally invented the word “cool” and given it to the English language, for his verbal jousting and pre-beatnik beatnik behavior gave him a iconic mystique almost inseparable from the sounds coming out of his horn.

The improvisation, the beat, and the mystique made Lester Young one of the most well-loved musicians of the 20th century.  I'm trying to learn from him in the 21st.

1) 18 with Lee K.

2) Oh, Lady!

3) Calling the Masters

4) The Power of Vulnerability

5) Miles Davis and Lester Young

6) A Beginner’s Guide to the Master Takes

7) The End and the Future

8) Top and Bottom

9) Footnotes

10) Further Reading