artist profile: Lester Young

Birth: Woodlville, MS, 27 August 1909
Professional Career: The Billy Young Band(1920-27), Art Bronson's Bostonians(1927-29),Walter Page's Blue Devils(1930-31), Bennie Moten's Band(1933), Count Basie Orchestra(1934)Fletcher Henderson Band(1934), Count Basie Orchestra(1936-40), Lester Young Band(1940-2), Count Basie(1943-4), Jazz at the Philharmonic(1946-9), guest appearances with Basie's Band(1952-7)
Selected Recordings: As leader: These Foolish Things(1945), The Lester Young Story(1949-56) As sideman:Basie: Shoe Shine Boy(1936), Lester Leaps in(1939), B. Goodman: Lester's Dream(1940)

Young first studied violin, trumpet, and drums in a family band that was led by his father and toured with carnivals and other shows. By the age of 13, he started playing the alto saxophone. In 1927, he left his father's band over a family dispute and toured with Art Bronson's Bostonians the following year playing the tenor sax. He also played for a brief period with Walter Page's Blue Devils in 1930. In 1931, he settled back in his hometown Minneapolis where he played with Eddie Barefield and other leaders at the Nest Club. He then joined the Thirteen Original Blue Devils in 1932, and while touring Oklahoma City, met Charlie Christian. After the Blue Devils disbanded in 1933, Young made Kansas City his residence and played with the Bennie Moten-George E. Lee Band, Clarence Love, King Oliver, and once with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. In 1934 he joined Count Basie's band and also played with Fletcher Henderson as a temporary replacement for Hawkins. However, this engagement dissolved due to friction between the other musicians because of his approach on the tenor saxophone. While heading back to Kansas City, he joined Andy Kirk, then Boyd Atkins and Rook Ganz in Minnesota before joining again with Count Basie again in 1936. During this time, he made his first recordings under Basie and his solos on Lady be Good and Shoe Shine Boy were highly acclaimed by other musicians. His recordings with Billie Holiday also added to his role as an influential performer. He left Basie's band in 1940 to form his own group that performed at Kelly's Stable, New York, in 1941. Young then moved to Los Angeles to lead a band with his brother Lee which went on to play at New York's Café Society in September 1942. After this group disbanded, he freelanced in New York and joined the USO band before joining Basie again in 1943. By this time, he was well known by the general public and his efforts won him a first place in the Down Beat poll for tenor saxophonists in 1944. His career was on hold for a brief period when he got drafted into the army in September of 1944. He experienced many tribulations including a court-martial for using drugs. After he was released in the end of 1945, he resumed recording and performing and produced These Foolish Things. The following years starting in 1946 were spent playing with the Jazz at the Philharmonic and his own small groups. His style continued to evolve from 1947 to 1949 which stemmed from the presence and influence of bop music. However, his drinking began to affect his career and he was often hospitalized. Nevertheless, he made guest appearances with Basis in 1952-54, produced some if his best concert recordings such as Prez in Europe (1956), and began an engagement at the Blue Note club in Paris until he became severely ill and returned to New York, where he died shortly afterwards.

transcribed from Taxi War Dance

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