Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester Pres Young

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9780807071250: Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester Pres Young
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He was jazz's first hipster. He performed in sunglasses and coined and popularized phrases like "that's cool" and "you dig?" He always wore a suit and his trademark porkpie hat. He influenced everyone from B. B. King to Stan Getz to Allen Ginsberg, creating a lyrical style of playing that forever changed the sound of the tenor saxophone.

In this groundbreaking biography of Lester Young (1909-1959), historian Douglas Daniels brings to life the man and his world, and corrects a number of misconceptions. Even though others have identified Young as a Kansas City musician, Daniels traces his roots to the blues of Louisiana and his early years traveling with his father's band and the legendary Oklahoma City Blue Devils. Later we see the jazz culture of New York in the early 1940s, when Young was launched to national and international fame with the Count Basie Orchestra and began to accompany his close friend Billie Holiday. After a year spent in an Army prison on a conviction for marijuana use, Young made changes in his music but never lost his sensitivity or soul.

The first ever to gain access to Young's family and many musicians who performed with him, Daniels reconstructs the world in which Young lived and played: the racism that he and other black musicians faced, the feeling of home and family that they created together on the road, and what his music meant to black audiences. Young emerges as a kind friend, a loving parent, and a gentle and sensitive man who had, in the words of Reginald Scott, "the saddest eyes I ever saw

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About the Author:

Douglas Henry Daniels is professor of black studies and history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The author of Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco, he lives in Santa Barbara.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

The President of the Tenor Saxophone

Lester Pres” (or Prez”) Young (1909 1959) was without question one of the most influential tenor saxophonists of the twentieth century. While Coleman Hawkins is justly recognized as having been the first to popularize the tenor saxophone in jazz, Young revealed an entirely new dimension to the instrument. Then, too, Young was a genuine cultural hero to many fans and other musicians, partly because of his unique musical style, but also because he was a real rebel or individualist, depending upon one’s point of view. His refusal to bow to the dictates of popular opinion regarding his playing, or to the military authorities after he was drafted (eventually leading to his court-martial in early 1945), only enhanced his stature among his fans in an age of patriotism and conformity.
He was, as guitarist Barney Kessel maintained, perhaps the most controversial as well as one of the most gifted of musicians. Besides denying having been influenced by Coleman Hawkins, he was notoriously aloof, at once shy and uncommunicative, relying on his own unique jargon, jazz slang, and witty comments when he did speak. He was described by more than one writer as elusive and, in his later life, suspicious. Even some of his fellow musicians found him strange, with some likening him to an extraterrestrial. The saxophonist was a musical legend, one of those colorful jazz characters of the 1940s, but he also had a serious drinking problem that ultimately robbed him of his health. Only his inner circle and a few hangers-on knew his private side. He was actually gentle, sensitive, and quite chivalrous toward women; he never spoke ill of anyone and was generous to a fault with loans and gifts. And there was yet another dimension to his private life: like Louis Armstrong, he smoked marijuana daily and unashamedly, in the solitude of his hotel rooms.
Despite his controversial character, he was, in the opinion of everyone who played with him, of his family, and of many fans, first and foremost a superior musician. Both his virtuosity as a soloist and his actual compositions were singularly influential among musicians besides saxophonists, and his manner of speech, style of dress, and general demeanor all led the Beat Generation to lionize him. He first came to the notice of the public with the Count Basie band in 1936, and the title by which he became known, Pres,” or Prez” short for President of the Tenor Saxophone” would last long after his passing in 1959. Moreover, acclaim for his musical prowess was the rule for him for over two decades. His popularity among his fans endured despite his poor health toward the end and in spite of the considered opinion of many critics and reviewers that his playing had diminished in quality.
This book deals with the life and significance of this brilliant saxophonist, but it is not the usual type of jazz biography. When I started working on it, no full-length biography of Young had ever been published, but as other such volumes began to appear, I became even more firmly convinced that there was much more to the history of Black folk and to the evolution of jazz than could be found in these or many other books about Black musicians. I had always admired those earlier jazz biographies that were based on interviews with their subjects and that were thus, in a sense, autobiographical, such as Alan Lomax’s Mister Jelly Roll and Larry Gara’s The Baby Dodds Story. But that was a model I could not follow, since I myself never met Young (I was just a teenager when he died), and no one else ever interviewed him at length, as Lomax and Gara did Jelly Roll Morton and Dodds, respectively. The problem was daunting: how does one write the biography of someone who left only a few interviews but hundreds of hours of recorded music, when readers are so accustomed to reading about people who kept diaries, scrapbooks of clippings, and other kinds of written records?
Further complicating matters was the fact that Young himself did not often contribute to the clear presentation of the details of his own life; he not only was careless about dating events but, as his nephew James Tolbert has noted, could be kind of frosty” toward interviewers and people he did not know. Lee Young claimed that the writer Ralph Gleason got close enough to his brother to appreciate his sterling worth, but Gleason was alone among critics in this regard. Nonetheless, the saxophonist did stick to the facts in some areas, notably when it came to his early musical training, and such information, corroborated to the extent that it can be, provides some insights that can be compared to the recollections of other musicians of his ggeneration.
What this work attempts to do is in some ways very simple. My object has been, first, to uncover historical evidence that may ssssshed new light on the details and significance of the saxophonist’s life, utilizing published interviews with him as well as public records, archives, and oral histories; and then, second, to interpret that within the context of what we know about his family, about the careers of other, contemporary musicians, and about Black history and culture. This necessitates taking into account the views of Young’s family members as well as his fellow musicians, an approach that in itself seems reasonable enough, until one considers that often the opinions of Black folk are not taken seriously, both in the United States in general and in jazz scholarship in particular. Only then does it become apparent just how controversial such a strategy might be.
Many writers interview jazz musicians to glean details of their lives, discographical information, and accounts of specific incidents, especially humorous ones, but these writers are usually journalists, not historians. Also of significance is the fact that on those occasions when musicians speak of the philosophy behind their music, such ideas are rarely analyzed or even commented upon by writers. While I have relied to some extent upon evidence and opinions from some critics (some of whom are superb at what they do), the writings of other journalists have more often carried the day because their ideas are in better accord with prevailing beliefs about Black musicians. Where I have made use of the pronouncements and opinions of critics or of relatives and sidemen, for that matter I have been careful not to blithely accept them as the final word on a matter, a failing that is seen in far too many histories, in my estimation.
I wanted, in this work, to place Young and his experiences front and center and within their appropriate historical context, a context that has changed considerably thanks to the efforts of scholars over the past generation. The music culture is far too important to be neglected by those interested in its various manifestations, from songs and dances to slang, dress, and lifestyles. Also, jazz audiences dancers, fans, and other various jazzophiles tend to interact with their” music to a much greater degree than those who favor European classical works. Black music, including jazz, involves significant audience activity; beyond dancing, audience members offer vocal encouragement, and the music itself often serves a backdrop for partying, conversation, and carrying on. As the composer and pianist Thomas Fats” Waller once explained, swing was just a musical phase of our social life.”1 This fact, however, is largely lost on the wider public and on many writers, who remain oblivious to the new scholarship in the field of Black Studies on the complex dynamics of both African and African American history and culture.
I myself have always felt this very strongly. The music (a term I prefer to the word jazz) has been a part of my life since I was in my teens. As a child, I listened to the Hit Parade on the radio in Princeton Park, the Black community on the far South Side of Chicago where I grew up, and memorized songs by whites especially Bill Haley and Hank Williams along with ones by Blacks such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry. My older sisters liked the Platters, Ray Charles, and Johnny Mathis, and thanks to their record collection, I also discovered jazz as it was played by Ahmad Jamal, the Three Sounds, and Ramsey Lewis, all of whom were very popular in Chicago.
As I reflect upon it now, I realize that my passion for music came from my father, who was born in New Orleans but grew up in Chicago’s Black Belt in the 1920s, and who along with his childhood friends saw the former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson when he was a nightclub owner and heard tales of the battles among King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and other trumpet players. The fact that my father could identify Clark Terry’s trumpet playing from just a few notes really impressed me, but I was even more in awe of his ability to mimic singers such as Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, which suggests to me now that he was much closer to the music than I ever realized at the time. During my last years of high school, I felt transformed by my discovery of the music of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. I knew that their music and their lives would be of major importance to me, no matter what I ended up doing.
One other autobiographical note is relevant here. Two years spent teaching primary school in Tanzania, in 1965 and 1966, introduced me to the Kiswahili language, the history, and the peoples of East Africa. I also became acquainted then with the worldviews of Tanzanians and the ethos of a newly independent and Socialist government. During my second year there, the government prohibited foreigners like me from teaching history and geography. The reasoning behind this was that only other Africans could provide African children with the proper perspective, one...

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Book Description Beacon Press. Paperback. Condition: New. 536 pages. Dimensions: 9.3in. x 6.2in. x 1.4in.He was jazzs first hipster. He performed in sunglasses and coined and popularized phrases like thats cool and you dig He always wore a suit and his trademark porkpie hat. He influenced everyone from B. B. King to Stan Getz to Allen Ginsberg, creating a lyrical style of playing that forever changed the sound of the tenor saxophone. In this groundbreaking biography of Lester Young (1909-1959), historian Douglas Daniels brings to life the man and his world, and corrects a number of misconceptions. Even though others have identified Young as a Kansas City musician, Daniels traces his roots to the blues of Louisiana and his early years traveling with his fathers band and the legendary Oklahoma City Blue Devils. Later we see the jazz culture of New York in the early 1940s, when Young was launched to national and international fame with the Count Basie Orchestra and began to accompany his close friend Billie Holiday. After a year spent in an Army prison on a conviction for marijuana use, Young made changes in his music but never lost his sensitivity or soul. The first ever to gain access to Youngs family and many musicians who performed with him, Daniels reconstructs the world in which Young lived and played: the racism that he and other black musicians faced, the feeling of home and family that they created together on the road, and what his music meant to black audiences. Young emerges as a kind friend, a loving parent, and a gentle and sensitive man who had, in the words of Reginald Scott, the saddest eyes I ever saw This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780807071250

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