Thursday, August 27, 2009

Happy 100th, Prez!

No, we won't be a dolt, and leave you hanging, sitting there, reading this, thinking "Okay, what President would have been 100-years-old today?"

This guy was never elected.

Check that.

He was, perhaps, unanimously acclaimed as the coolest cat on the planet.

The original hipster.

The Prez we speak of, and herald today, is Jazz giant Lester Young.

Many of my friends know, one of my biggest laments in life is that I don’t wake up in the morning with the ability to play the tenor saxophone like Lester Young (if I could play it at all, that is).

Man, Prez just beat it to death ... A monster player, paid his dues in the Basie Band, and swung with the best of them.

From All About Jazz;

Lester “Prez” Young was one of the giants of the tenor saxophone. He was the greatest improviser between Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong of the 1920s and Charlie Parker in the 1940s. From the beginning, he set out to be different: He had his own lingo; In the Forties, he grew his hair out. The other tenor players held their saxophones upright in front of them, so Young held his out to the side, kind of like a flute (see picture above). Then, there was the way he played: Hawkins played around harmonic runs. He played flurries of notes and had a HUGE tone that the other tenor players of the day emulated. Young used a softer tone that resulted In a soft, light sound (if you didn't know better, you would think the two were playing different instruments). Young used less notes and slurred notes together, creating more melodic solos. He played the ordinary in an extraordinary way, using a lot of subtleties to produce music that Billie Holiday said flips you out of your seat with surprise.

And, lest you think that it is only our opinion about Lester Young being the "coolest cat on the planet";

From Jamie Katz, in 'Smithsonian Magazine';
Like many of Young’s phrases—musical and verbal—the comment was both deft and shrouded. He was known for speaking a private language, some of which has entered the American lexicon. The expression “that’s cool” was probably coined by him, as were “bread” (for money), “You dig?” and such colorful sayings as “I feel a draft”—code for prejudice and hostility in the air. He also wore sunglasses in nightclubs, sported a crushed black porkpie hat and tilted his saxophone at a high angle “like a canoeist about to plunge his paddle into the water,” as the New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett put it. Rolling Stone later pronounced Prez “quite likely the hippest dude that ever lived.”
And, Wikipedia;
Young was viewed as an eccentric by those he chose to exclude from his circle (those he did not trust). He did so by creating his own language that his friends could understand, that might baffle outsiders. Those on the outside viewed it as a rococo and often inscrutable personal slang, famously referring to a narcotics detective or policeman as a "Bob Crosby" (referring to Bob and Bing Crosby if multiple police officers were present), a rehearsal as a "molly trolley", and an instrumentalist's keys or fingers as his "people". He dressed distinctively, especially in his trademark pork pie hat. When he played saxophone, particularly in his younger days, he would sometimes hold the horn off to the right side at a near-horizontal angle, like a flute. Joop Visser believes that it was Lester's residence in the stuffy Reno Club with the Count Basie Band that caused this idiosyncrasy, as by holding it that way it was the only way Lester could keep his tenor sax from knocking into someone else's instrument. He is considered by many to be an early hipster, predating Slim Gaillard and Dizzy Gillespie.

This here isn't the rendition we were looking for, but it is one of our favorites.

Billie Holiday / Lester Young - This Year's Kisses

It was Billie Holliday who dubbed Lester Young "Prez";
Since the days of Joe "King" Oliver, jazz has bestowed lofty titles upon its ace practitioners. Bessie Smith graduated from "Queen of the Blues" to "Empress of the Blues," Benny Goodman was proclaimed "King of Swing", there was a "Duke" Ellington, a "Count" Basie, and Lester Young was dubbed Prez (short for president, a title given to him by Billie Holiday). "We called my mother 'the Duchess,'" Holiday said in a 1959 interview, "so he [Lester Young] named me 'Lady Day' and I called him 'Prez'--we were the royal family."[3] It has been suggested that Young was called "Prez" long before meeting her, but there is no evidence of that.

If I had a time machine, probably, the first place I would go back to, is the era of Lester Young.

What a gas it would have been to be around him.

Go now, and dig his music.

Happy B'Day Prez!

Lester Young - Lester Leaps In

Lester Young - Jitterbug Jam

Lester Young & Teddy Wilson - All of Me

Almost Like Being In Love - Lester Young With the Oscar Peterson Trio

Bonus Bonus

The Pork Pie Hat.

Charles Mingus (speaking of Jazz giants), wrote this tune for Lester Young.

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat-Charles Mingus

(And, Joni Mitchell - Yes, that Joni Mitchell - wrote lyrics for it, that you can check out HERE)

No comments: