Happy birthday Lester Young!

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Lester Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) was an American musician. He is most remembered as a tenor saxophonist, though he played other instruments. He played with Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and many other influential figures in American Jazz.

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Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi. His father, Willis Handy Young, was a musician himself, as well as a teacher. Willis Handy Young taught the young Lester Young to play trumpet, drums, violin, and the saxophone. By his teen years, Young was performing on the vaudeville circuit the family band, called the Young Family Band. Young left the band when he was 18 because he refused to tour in the racially segregated South.

Young played all over the country, bouncing between groups on the tenor saxophone. Young played with Art Bronson's Bostonians, Walter Page's Blue Devils, and Eddie Barefield. By 1933, when the Blue Devils disbanded, Young decided to settle in Kansas City. It wasn't long before he met pianist and bandleader Count Basie.

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Count Basie, Ray Bauduc, Bob Haggart, Harry Edison, Herschel Evans, Eddie Miller, Lester Young, Matty Matlock, June Richmond, and Bob Crosby, Howard Theater, Washington, D.C., ca. 1941 (source)

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Ray Bauduc, Herschel Evans, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Lester Young, Matty Matlock, Howard theatre, Washington D.C., ca. 1939. (source)

Young's stint with the Basie band marked his rise to national prominence. He left the group for a period to play with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, but his style clashed with theirs and he soon returned to Basie. During this period, Young appeared on The Kansas City Sessions, a recording on Commodore Records that featured Basie, Young, Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson, and Jo Jones. Young continued to play with Basie until 1940. During this period, he appeared on the recording The Complete Decca Recordings (1937–39) and others.

Following his departure from the Basie Orchestra, Young led several small groups, making records including Lester Leaps In (1939), and went on to record with Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole.

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Billie Holiday with Lester Young  (source)

Young returned to play with Count Basie's band in 1943, and was honored with first place in the Down Beat poll for tenor saxophonists. But it wasn't long before he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army in World War II. After being found with alcohol and marijuana in his possessions, he was dishonorably discharged in 1945.

After he left the Army, Young joined Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) troupe. He toured with them for 12 years and recorded prolifically. Some notable recordings came during this period, including Prez in Europe (1956). He also spent 1956 touring Europe with Miles Davis. However, many believe the quality of his musicianship decreased significantly by this point in his life, partly as a result of alcohol abuse.

 

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In 1957, Young appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special The Sound of Jazz.

 

 

Young made his final performances and recordings in Paris with drummer Kenny Clarke. Upon returning home to New York in March of 1959, he died as a result of alcohol abuse.

 

 

 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 27 August 2014
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