Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi and grew up in a musical family. His brother Lee Young was a noted drummer, and several other relatives played music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when Lester was an infant. His father taught him to play trumpet, violin, and drums in addition to the saxophone. He played in his family's band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. He left the family band in 1927 because he refused to tour in the US South, where the Jim Crow Laws were in effect.
By the early 1930s he had settled in Kansas City. He rose to prominence in the Count Basie band by playing in a relaxed style which contrasted sharply with the aggressive approach of Coleman Hawkins, the dominant tenor player of the day. In fact, after he left Basie band to replace Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson's band, his style annoyed Henderson's sidemen so much that he soon left to play with Andy Kirk. He later returned to star with Basie.
Since Jazz already had a "King of Swing" with Benny Goodman, a "Duke" Ellington, and a "Count" Basie, Lester Young was known as Prez (short for "president"), a name given to him by Billie Holiday. He returned the favor by dubbing her "Lady Day."
Young was an eccentric, even by Jazz musician standards. He drank alcohol and smoked marijuana daily. He dressed distinctively, especially his trademark Porkpie Hat. When he played saxophone, he would sometimes hold the horn horizontally, like a flute. He is considered by many to be an early hipster, predating Slim Gaillard and Dizzy Gillespie.
During World War II, Young toured with the Basie Band. In 1944, he and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glen Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was put in the 'regular army' where he was not even allowed to play his saxophone. Young was based in Ft. McClelland, Alabama when marijuana and alcohol were found among his possessions. The army also discovered that he was married to a white woman. Racist mistreatment followed and he was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks and was discharged in 1945.
Young switched to bebop in the 1940s. Although many claim that Young never sounded as good after getting out of the military, others insist that despite erratic health, Young was actually at his prime in the mid- to late '40s. He toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic on and off through the '40s and '50s, made a wonderful series of recordings for Aladdin, and worked steadily as a single. Young also adopted his style well to bebop. But mentally he was suffering, and although many of his recordings in the 1950s were excellent (showing a greater emotional depth than in his earlier days), Young was bothered by the fact that some of his white imitators were making much more money than he was. He drank huge amounts of liquor and nearly stopped eating.
1956's Jazz Giants album found him in peak form as did a well documented engagement in Washington, D.C., with a quartet and a last reunion with Count Basie at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. But, for the 1957 telecast The Sound of Jazz, Young mostly played sitting down (although he stole the show with an emotional one-chorus blues solo played to Billie Holiday). After becoming ill in Paris in early 1959, Lester Young came home and essentially drank himself to death. He died in New York City at age 49. Many decades after his death, Young is still considered (along with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane) one of the three most important tenor saxophonists of all time. Indeed, the song "Tenor Man," played by Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and others pays tribute to Young.
- She's Funny That Way.ogg of "She's Funny That Way"
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