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lester young

Lester Young

b. Lester Willis Young, 27th August 1909, Woodville, Mississippi, U.S.A.

d. 15th March 1959, New York City, New York State, U.S.A.

Lester Young was a fine tenor saxophonist, who went under the nickname of ‘Pres’.

He was a long time member of Count Basie's orchestra.

Lester was born in Mississippi.

His father, Willis Handy Young, was a teacher and one member of a very musical family.

His family relocated to New Orleans, and later to Minneapolis.

His father taught Lester how to play the trumpet, violin, drums as well as the saxophone.

Lester Young

lester young family band - 1924 (lester - centre front)

He played, initially, in the family band, the Young Family Band, but left the group in 1927.

He didn’t want to perform in the segregated Southern States.

By 1933, Lester had relocated to Kansas City, where he began performing with Count Basie.

He was later to leave the Basie band to join the Fletcher Henderson orchestra.

Lester played for a couple of other bands before returning to Basie.

With Count Basie, he worked on material for the Commodore Records imprint.

Known as ‘The Kansas City Sessions’’, the group performed under the name of the Kansas City Seven.

Kansas City Seven

kansas city seven - circa 1940

The Kansas City Seven comprised of Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Count Basie, Lester Young, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson, and Jo Jones.

Lester played clarinet as well as sax in these sessions.

When his clarinet was stolen in 1939, he stopped utilising the instrument for nearly 20 years.

Lester left the Basie band in 1940, choosing to perform with a number of small groups that included his brother, the drummer Lee Young.

At this time, Lester accompanied Billie Holiday in some studio sessions in 1940 and 1941 (it was Billie who gave him his nickname ‘Pres’, which was short for ‘President’).

He also recorded with Nat 'King' Cole in 1942.

In 1943, Lester rejoined Count Basie fold for while, however, he was drafted into the army during World War II.

Lester Young

Lester was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone.

Whilst in the services, Lester was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions.

He was court-martialled and was convicted, serving one year in a detention barracks.

Lester was dishonourably discharged in 1945, and experience which gave him the inspiration for his song ‘D.B. Blues’ (‘D.B.’ standing for ‘detention barracks’).

Lester Young

lester in 'jammin the blues' - 1944

Previously, in 1944, Lester appeared with drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in the film ‘Jammin' the Blues’.

After World War II, Lester became more active, musically.

Lester joined the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe in 1946, touring with the group for the next 12 years.

He recorded several sides for the Verve Records imprint, including further recordings with Nat King Cole.

Lester recorded, in the late 1940’s, for Aladdin Records and for the Savoy imprint between 1944 and 1950.

Post 1951, Lester developed a drinking habit, which reached crisis point in 1955 when he was admitted into hospital following a nervous breakdown.

By 1956 he was on the mend.

Lester Young

lester in 1956

He recorded sessions with the pianist Teddy Wilson, trumpet player Roy Eldridge, trombonist Vic Dickenson, bassist Gene Ramey, and drummer Jo Jones.

Lester toured Europe with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Lester Young

billie holiday and lester young - circa 1957

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

On the show, Lester appeared very unwell, being seated for most of the show.

His alcoholism had returned and was taking over his life.

Lester Young

Lester was eating less, drinking more, and had developed liver disease along with malnutrition.

Lester’s final studio recordings and live shows were performed in Paris in 1959.

He died in the early hours of the 15th of March 1959, just a few hours after arriving back in New York.

Lester was only 49 years old.

He was laid to rest at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.

Billie Holiday attended Lester’s funeral, and passed away herself four months later at the younger age of 44.

In the 1986 film ‘Round Midnight’, the main character, Dale Turner, (played by Dexter Gordon), was apparently based on Lester.

Lester Young is credited with popularising use of the term ‘cool’, with the meaning relating to something fashionable.

He also coined was the term ‘bread’, relating to money, rather than food.

Real Player


Young Lester Young (Columbia Records 1936)

Lester Young (Time-Life Records 1936)

Tenor Sax: Lester Young, Chu Berry & Ben... (Atlantic Records 1938)

Prez's Hat, Vol. 1 (Philology Records 1939)

The Immortal (Savoy Records 1944)

Master Takes (Savoy Records 1944)

Prez's Hat, Vol. 2 (Philology Records 1944)

Prez's Hat, Vol. 3 (Philology Records 1944)

Prez's Hat, Vol. 4 (Philology Records 1944)

Kansas City Style (Commodore Records 1944)

Jammin' with Lester (Jazz Archives Records 1944)

The Aladdin Sessions (Blue Note Records 1945)

Lester Swings (Verve Records 1945)

Lester Young-Buddy Rich Trio (Verve Records 1946)

Lester Young-Nat King Cole Trio (Score Records 1946)

Carnegie Blues (Verve Records 1946)

Lester Leaps Again ([Le Jazz] Le Jazz Records 1948)

Live at the Royal Roost 1948 [Musidisc] (Jazz Anthology Records 1948)

Pres Lives! (Savoy Records 1950)

The Pres ([Savoy] Savoy Records 1950)

Swings Again (Verve Records 1950)

Pres Is Blue (Verve Records 1950)

Lester Young Quartet and Count Basie Seven (Mercury Records 1950)

Pres ([Verve] Verve Records 1951)

Lester Young ([Savoy] Savoy Records 1951)

Lester Young Collates (Mercury Records 1951)

The Lester Young Trio ([Mercury] Mercury Records 1951)

Live at Birdland (Bandstand Records 1951)

Pres and Teddy and Oscar (Verve Records 1952)

Pres and His Cabinet (Verve Records 1952)

With the Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve Records 1952)

Collates No. 2 (Mercury Records 1953)

Battle of the Saxes (Aladdin Records 1953)

Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio,... (Norgran Records 1954)

Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio,... (Norgran Records 1954)

Mean to Me (Verve Records 1954)

Lester Young: His Tenor Sax (Aladdin Records 1954)

Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio,... (Norgran Records 1954)

Lester Young with the Oscar Peterson Trio,... (Norgran Records 1954)

The President (Norgran Records 1954)

Pres Meets Vice-Pres (EmArcy Records 1955)

Pres and Sweets (Verve Records 1955)

The Jazz Giants '56 (Verve Records 1956)

Pres and Teddy (Verve Records 1956)

Prez in Europe (Onyx Records 1956)

Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956, Vol.... (Pablo/OJC Records 1956)

Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956, Vol.... (Pablo/OJC Records 1956)

Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956, Vol.... (Pablo/OJC Records 1956)

Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956, Vol.... ([live]   Pablo Records 1956)

Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956, Vol.... ([live]   Pablo Records 1956)

Lester's Here   (Norgran Records 1956)

Nat King Cole-Buddy Rich Trio (Norgran Records 1956)

Lester Swings Again (Norgran Records 1956)

Lester Young and His Tenor Sax, Vol. 2 (Aladdin Records 1956)

Tops on Tenor (Jazztone Records 1956)

Blue Lester (Savoy Jazz Records 1956)

The Master's Touch ([Savoy] Savoy Records 1956)

If It Ain't Got That Swing (Verve Records 1957)

Laughin' to Keep from Cryin' (Verve Records 1958)

Giants of Jazz ([American Recording Society] American Records 1958)

Lester Young in Paris (Verve Records 1959)

The Lester Young: Teddy Wilson Quartet (Verve Records 1959)

Going for Myself (Verve Records 1960)

'Pres' (Verve Records 1961)

Lester Young and the Kansas City Five (Commodore Records 1962)

Just You, Just Me (Charlie Parker Records 1963)

The Influence of Five (Mainstream Records 1965)

Town Hall Concert [live] (Mainstream Records 1965)

Chairman of the Board (Mainstream Records 1965)

52nd Street (Mainstream Records 1965)

Prez (Mainstream Records 1965)

Giants 3 (Verve Records 1966)

Coleman Hawkins & Lester Young (Zim Records 1975)

Lester Young, Vol. 1 [AJ] (AJ Records 1976)

Evening of a Basie-Ite (Columbia Records 1980)

Giants of Jazz ([Time Life] Time-Life Records 1981)

Jazz at the Philharmonic (Hartford 1953) [live] (Pablo Records 1985)

The Master's Touch [Savoy] (Savoy Jazz Records 1993)

Live at Birdland, Vol. 2 (Bandstand Records 1994)

I Got Rhythm (Four Star Records 1995)

Lady Be Good (Jazztory Records 1996)

Lester Young in Washington, Vol. 5 [live] (Original Jazz Records 1998)

Live at the Royal Roost 1948 ([Unique Jazz] Unique Jazz Records 2001)

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