The Artistry of… Lester Young

Lester Young became famous playing in the Basie Orchestra but was clear about not liking the big-band dynamic. In his own words from a 1959 interview done in Paris: “I don’t like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones. I’m looking for something soft. It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?” There is something so simply cool and direct about the statement. I think it says a lot about the communal nature of the music.

Young had a way with words. He used words that matched jazz, like a jazz language all its own. Call it hipster lingo if you want, but it was more than that — it reflected his own spirit. If he liked something, he said he had big eyes for it. Billie Holiday got the name Lady Day from him. My favourite Lester Young-ism is “How does the bread smell?” in reference to how a gig would be paying. Important stuff. Ask any musician you know why it’s a good idea to get that information before the gig.

There is a full life story that can be told, but to me, his music says it the most and the best.

The Artistry of… airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.