Born on August 27th 1909, Lester Young ( “Prez” )was one of the giants of the tenor saxophone. In the swing era he staked his claim by being refreshingly different from his peers Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. Young’s sound was dancing, light as air and he played mellow ideas that for some were a harbinger of the bebop movement to follow. Young arrived in 1930’s Kansas City, a mecca of Jazz activity and played with various bands including the Benny Moten and Fletcher Henderson orchestras, and in 1936 he joined Count Basie’s ensemble. Young was one of the stars of Basie’s orchestra, and Prez’ solos, in his band, on his own and with Billie Holiday provide plenty of grist for study and transcription. Here are 5 ear grabbing Lester Young solos you should know.
Young’s style was an alternative to those who idolized Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and the approaches which firmly established them in the still blossoming Jazz vocabulary. Tenor players such as Stan Getz, Hank Mobley, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims were direct disciples of Young. Charlie Parker admitted that Young was a huge early influence, and big toned Dexter Gordon frequently liked to incorporate some of Young’s lines in his solos. Paul Quinichette, a most known for his Basie stint was nicknamed “Vice Prez” because his tone and lines uncannily resembled Young’s. A good example of hearing the Lester Young influenced tenor alongside more modern exponents like John Coltrane are the Prestige albums Tenor Conclave (1956) featuring Coltrane, Mobley, Sims and Cohn, in addition to Cattin with Coltrane and Quinichette (1957). Through players of that magnitude, Prez’s legacy lived and continues to burn brightly on.