Friday, May 16, 2008

Lester Young: “Jammin’ the Blues” (1944)

Lester Willis Young (1909 – 1959) was an America jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He rose to prominence playing with Count Basie during the 1930’s and early 1940’s. He also played with a number of small bands.

He is remembered for playing with a cool tone and sophisticated harmonies. He also became a jazz legend, inventing or establishing much of the hipster ethos which came to be associated with the music. He dressed distinctively, especially in his trademark pork pie hat. When he played saxophone, particularly in his younger days, he would sometimes hold the horn off to the right side at a near-horizontal angle, like a flute.

In August 1944, Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Gjon Mili’s film short Jammin' the Blues seen above.

In September 1944, Young was inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits, Young was put in the 'regular army' where he wasn't 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 dishonorably discharged in late 1945.

Young returned to music but alcohol took its toll over next several years. He died at age 49.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many times Yuong played Richmond. Basie was very popular when he stopped in Jackson Ward.