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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
In the thread started by Blue Note about the greats I really liked the things said by people about the importance of Lester Young (who just happens to be my favorite saxophone player) and how many sax players and jazz fans in general today do not know about him. Why is this? The man was an influence on so many great jazz players and was one of the major innovators of the saxophone, so why is Pres known by so few compared to the rest of them? I know one of the reasons is that all but Hawk came after him (as far as major innovators on the saxophone), and even Hawk is seemingly more well known than Pres. Some of the other greats that came before him, like Johnny Hodges, also seem to be more well known than he is. A man who was as influential as Pres should be much more well known than he is today. I often find it hilarious that people who are huge Billie Holiday fans have no idea who Pres is, even though their recordings together are some of the most famous in the history of jazz! I'm even more baffled by the fact that they claim to have read biographies of Billie and still seem to be drawing a blank when they hear Lester's name. Considering they were best friends/soul mates and the fact that Lester is the one who gave Billie her famous nickname "Lady Day" you would think that he would be talked about in a biography of her. Anyway, what do the rest of you think?
 

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If it wasn't for Basie, Pres would not have gotten so popular so quick.

I rarely hear Basie's name being mentioned on this board. His band is what got me hooked on Pres! His band jumpstarted a lot of other players' carrers, like Clark Terry, Frank Foster, etc.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
No doubt Basie helped Pres get the exposure he needed, while at the same time having Pres in there made Basie's band that much stronger. It was a mutual relationship. I think the reason you don't hear Basie's name on this site very often has to do more with this being a saxophone site and therefore the general focus being on sax players. If this were strictly a jazz site with no main focus on any certain instrument, I think you would definitely hear the Count's name a lot more.
 

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I think you hear Lester's playing in so many of the great players. Mulligan, Desmond, Sims, and Getz all were very influenced by him. I think too many players got sidetracked with the Coltrane vibe and forgot how to improvise on a melody. There was also a feeling that swing was old hat and passe. A lot of the gods of technique loved Lester Young. They just choose their own path.

I highly recommend Lester Young in D.C.
 

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Hurling Frootmig said:
I think you hear Lester's playing in so many of the great players. Mulligan, Desmond, Sims, and Getz all were very influenced by him. I think too many players got sidetracked with the Coltrane vibe and forgot how to improvise on a melody. There was also a feeling that swing was old hat and passe. A lot of the gods of technique loved Lester Young. They just choose their own path.

I highly recommend Lester Young in D.C.
It's ironic, that during Pres' lifetime he was plagued with copycats; it really
bothered him that so many were making careers off his style .
 

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Any more Lester Young reccommendations? My grandfather loved Lester Young, so I knew the name as a youth. I have read about his influence on a lot of players, but can't find anything of his that I absolutely fell in love with.

It's been said that his playing after WW2 had declined, do you folks feel this statement is true? If so, then finding recordings of him before '43 would be pretty difficult eh?
 

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Re:pres post-basie/post WWII decline .

With, of course, only recordings to evidence this claim, I would definitely
say.. no.

The writers/critics of that time were suggesting that Pres playing had
lost some of the inventiveness and sparkle that had graced the late-30s
sides he made w/ Basie; recordings that inspired the next generation of
iconic players.

I don't hear that Pres fire and inventiveness changed at all.
The setting arrangements and format that Pres was playing in with Basie
was unique and it might've goosed Pres to play in a certain way, but..

I really think you have to ignore some of the lore of Pres decline and keep
listening to the music.

There has been plenty of commentary focusing on Pres last years, but
that tends to overshadow the reality of how strong he played even into
the mid 1950s.

Re: recordings if you don't already have them locate:

the complete Aladdin Recordings of Lester Young(1942-46)
The Lester Young Trio w/ Nat Cole and Buddy Rich(1946)
Lester Swings(Verve) which has sessions from the 1950,51 period .

As far as Pres being more known, I would hope, that anybody that is doing
as thourough a search as they into the roots and seeds of modern music,
can see Pres indelible stamp on it.

After the new music emerged and became established, Pres was the only
guy still *highly* respected, and still considered modern.

Pres is directly responsible: for Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon,Wardell Gray,
Stan Getz,Brew Moore,Al Cohn,Zoot Sims,Richie Kamuca, Bob Cooper,
Sonny Stitt,Tom Archia,Claude McLin--is a big part of Bird,Newk,James Moody
Johnny Griffin,Hank Mobley,and many others.

As Johnny Griffin pointed out very aptly: Pres IS the trunk of the swing tree.

As far as the average person being aware of him, they are but just don't
know it- his contributions have been here so long that it's simply part of the
landscape.
 

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For Pres, try the Complete Basie Decca recordings, Lester & Billie Holiday - a Fine Romance, (both of these available on Definitive), The Complete Aladdin Recordings (on Blue Note), as recomended elsewhere Pres in Washington (I think there are five volumes on Pablo/OJC), Pres with The Oscar Peterson Trio (on Verve) is worth a listen, also worth looking out for are a 40's session with Nat Cole, Prez's first recordings as 'Smith-Jones Inc, the small band recordings with Basie that produced 'Lester Leaps In', Oh and I almost forgot - the Kansas City 6 & 7 sides on Commodore (some nice clarinet playing too. Prez certainly changed post war, his tone thickened and became heavier and his conception became less linear with more use of arpeggiated chords, but he was still a force to be reckoned with, although less predictable and consistent as the years passed.
 

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I agree with Tryptykon. I will say this though, again based on recordings because that's all we have to go by (excepting printed interviews of other musicians), that, although he remained able during this period to play at the level he had always played at, perhaps he wasn't as consistent.

Much of the commentary on his "decline" is based on his WWII military experience (if it can be called that); that he was put into the brig and beaten by white MP's. It's not for me to say that he might've reacted more severly than the other guy, but black musicians spending jail time and being beaten was hardly unique and I don't know of any others who have had this experience reported as being so damaging that they never recovered from it. It seems more to me, that this experience was an excuse for certain writers and others to seize events that they could use to underscore their personal social agendas. I makes for a great statement on the evils of Jim Crow for those so inclined.

The fact of the matter, and I have yet to see this in print -anywhere- is that at a time when the best (and worst) of an entire generation and a half of America's and England's men were enduring untold hardhip, fear, death and mutilation trying to keep the world a free place to live and raise their families, Pres chose to sit it out, whining about his status and getting stoned. That he got beaten for it is not right. But it would be refreshing to see this experience put in perspective.

Hell of a player and a funny cat to boot, though.
 

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Gary, your politics are truly mysterious.

It's America. The guy was entitled to his opinions, and what I've read of what he had to say didn't seem like whining.

WWII changed our culture in fundamental ways (so did the Viet Nam War, so is the Iraq War). Music was different before and after the war, and from this distance it's hard to make sense of the discontinuity. People who played swing before the war (like Tiny Bradshaw) had smaller bands after the war and played bounce or jump. Cats like Red Prysock (who didn't play before the war), came back and started making music that was totally different than what was heard in the 30s or early 40s. More to the point, perhaps, you have the whole bebop thing blossoming after the War, with a totally different set of ideas behind the music. Why wouldn't Prez update his sound? His later recordings are different, but certainly not inferior.

Let's face it, how many sax players from the 40s are household names? If you're interested in his work, it's easy to find.
 

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Gary the postmeister said :

"It's not for me to say that he might've reacted more severly than the other guy, but black musicians spending jail time and being beaten was hardly unique and I don't know of any others who have had this experience reported as being so damaging that they never recovered from it."

--
Gary are you familiar with Bud Powell ?

In the 1940s Bud Powell was severely beaten by NYC police and was hospitalized.

Severely beaten with batons about the head.

He never recovered fully from the beating. He was seen as being even more
erratic and so he had a few electro-shock treatments adminstered; which
most likely did even more damage.

I haven't read that Pres was beaten up, but I'm sure being locked up in
a military stockade in the deep south and at the very least being verbally
abused/taunted did not bode well on Pres psyche.

Pres was a sensitive soul as has been repeatedly confirmed by those who
really knew him . God bless him for it, far better to be sensitive than the
alternative.

There's nothing to be gained from trivializing the facts and adopting an
unecessary and, essentially, non-productive posture of cynisim re: the
harrowing issues surrounding Lester Young's all-too short lifespan; the man
was dead, just short of 50 years old.

If you read the 'Lester Young Reader', there is an interesting article that
strongly suggests that he suffered in the last decade of his life from the
complications of being infected and not effectively treated,early on, from
Syphillis, which can lodge itself in the base of the spine.

Lester Young was a very gentle human being, and a luminous presence in
the music, was loved by all who knew him,& touched many lives up to NOW .
 

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I'm afraid the point of my post about Lester's so-called "decline" is being misunderstood. I hope this will shed better light on it.

I am trying to put across the point that he played as well as he ever did and that there was no profound decline. Also to debunk, or at least open for discussion, that the underlying cause for this reported decline was not his unfortunate experiences while in the military from which he reportedly never recovered, and which has been widely given and printed. There can't be a reason for a decline, if there was no decline.

There are no "mysterious politics" at work here, also. I'm not sure what American freedom of speech has to do with this. Going AWOL and getting stoned while ducking your responsibilities in time of war may be an American tradition of freedom of expression if one wants to call it that. When a war is raging and an entire generation is making supreme sacrifices, I would suggest that the things he complained about, putting it in this wartime perspective, were, in comparison, relatively trivial. I think in Pres-mythology he's gotten a free ride on that and have been surprised that I haven't seen any comment on it to date. Again, this is not in context with the normal and natural complaining soldiers have had since time immemorial, but in relation to what might be perhaps, overstatments by biographers and jazz commentators, regarding Pres' dissatisfaction with military life.

Regarding Bud Powell, yes, that's tragic. I overlooked him. My point, again, is that jazz biographers and critics, not Pres, or any other musicians necessarily, have been overstating the case of a decline in Pres' playing because of his alleged harsh treatment at the hands of the US Army.

On a more personal note - Tryptykon, you've been dogin' me lately and I've been trying to ignore them and keep the posts on a higher road. If you've got a problem, please either come out and say what's bothering you, get it off your chest so you can move on, or quit doggin' me. It's not going to make you feel any better (at least I hope it won't) to keep it up and I would certainly rather keep things upbeat, fun as well as interesting. Thanks.
 

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Gary, apologies if you took somehow took offense in my teasing lately.

"Postmeister" ? I was only joking about your thousands of posts; of which
you yourself call yourself SOTW most prolific poster .
Also you mentioned waiting on another thread with "bait on your breath",
so I made a joke about that, and we exchanged witticisms, no big deal.

You joke around alot with people I've noticed.. so what gives ?:?

By the way let's try to remain honest here, not all of your posts seek a higher
plane,IMHO, so try to let go of this defensive posture.


Maybe I should've used some emoticons, to make it seem more obvious I
was just joking with you; that's all.:)

In any case, it seems we agree on some key points re: Pres and not so
much on others; that's to be expected, and the purpose, of course, is to
discuss.

I don't want to get too political and lose what's germane to thread; but
I can't fault Lester Young for NOT wanting to be involved in killing people
for whatever reason; as distasteful as that is to many more nationalistic
types, it was what it was.

Joe Henderson was drafted into the Army, and to quote him didn't want to
be turned into a killing machine, either--luckily he was heard by an officer
in a jam session, and was transferred to a specialized unit that was touring
Europe and Japan, so he had a more natural setting better suited for his
inner urges, to serve his country in.

A lot of musicians did enlist, not all were drafted; and of those that did
see combat, maybe they fared better than ol' Pres; I dunno.

Lester Young was not built for that world.

Not everyone is eager to solve the problems of the day with a bullet or
a bomb despite the imminent danger of world domination from the huns.

Glad the Bud Powell reference made some sense; Bud's life at the hands
of the public servants was forever changed, and led to his early demise,also.

The main purpose of thread is to talk about Lester's music, but if it touches
on other aspects of his life, etc. great, maybe something is learned as well.
 

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Tryptykon said:
"Postmeister" ? I was only joking about your thousands of posts; of which you yourself call yourself SOTW most prolific poster .
Just an FYI - Gary did not name himself that. Only moderators can assign / edit those titles.
 

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JMac, understood. In either case whether selfappointed or knighted, I
was only making a harmless joke on the 'prolific' posting status.

It's not that important, and hopefully, everything is cleared up .
 

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I happen to prefer his playing in his early years with Basie from '36 to around 1940. Others like Dexter Gordon have apparently said his playing in the early days had a boyancy to it. I'd agree with that. Art Pepper went as far as to say that Prez's playing was ruined later on by changing his tone under the influence of player's like Ben Webster. His tone in the early years is described as being airy and light. I've been transcribing him recently, and have been definitely leaning towards his recordings in those early years.

As for recordings, I'd recommend 'The Lester Young Story' which is a 4CD compilation of his playing from the beginning to 1950. It was interesting to read the liner notes in which the author reckoned that the lines that other players took from him were practically all from his playing before WWII, and not much afterwards.

When you listen to that compilation it's not as if his playing suddenly declines after WWII. In fact his first recording session just a few days after being discharged is one of his great recording dates with the Nat King Cole Trio that was mentioned above. To me in general his playing gradually became more solemn over time since he left Basie and experienced life on his own.
 

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It was also after WWII and those early years that Billie split with Pres, which would make any man feel like crap, especially if she was considered his soulmate or one of a kind.

Love hurts... and can obviously have a big impact on one's playing. Just look at Wayne Shorter-- his playing now is much different than in the Art Blakey and even some of the fusion days. His wife and kids died in the horrible plane crash of '96 (forgot the flight #, but it was the big one that went into the Atlantic). Ever since then his playing has been much more mournful, yet incredibly elevating at the same time.
 

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Interesting thoughts Ken.

First of all, I was listening to the the Basie sides earlier.

One thing that is pretty obvious to me is the method of recording and
it's influence on capturing Pres actual tone vs the artifacts that
equipment of that period add .

If you have done any recording, proximity to the microphone greatly
affects the tone,, well, even live this is true .

Listen to what happens on some of those Jazz recordings where the
player will turn off-axis and how the sound changes, the balance from
highs to lows.

also, the type of microphone has an influence, as well as the recording
medium. I wonder if the 30s recordings were direct to acetate vs
the 40s when tape formulations were being used.

Mic technology also improved a bit in the 40s.

Also, Pres played a Chu Berry and by the early 40s played a 10M

I've been playing Conns for a while, and others, here will attest to
the differences, the 10Ms have a darker more resistant character
than a Chu.

What does all that prove ?

Just some more variables to think about.

Remember the interview where Pres is talking about making the
tenor " sound like an alto, like a tenor, like a bass ... "

He said he wasn't done working on his horn; didn't 'want' to repeat
what he had already done.

what an amazing spirit he had
 

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BlueNote said:
It was also after WWII and those early years that Billie split with Pres, which would make any man feel like crap, especially if she was considered his soulmate or one of a kind.

Love hurts... and can obviously have a big impact on one's playing. Just look at Wayne Shorter-- his playing now is much different than in the Art Blakey and even some of the fusion days. His wife and kids died in the horrible plane crash of '96 (forgot the flight #, but it was the big one that went into the Atlantic). Ever since then his playing has been much more mournful, yet incredibly elevating at the same time.
From what I read, even recently they did not have a romantic relationship.

He was like a big brother to Lady Day, and they admired each others
work. She named him The President, and he named her Lady Day.

Pres also called other male musicians 'Lady' ; it was a term of endearment
he used with friends.

That was my understanding, anyway.
 
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