Lester Young was born on August 27, 1909 in Woodville, Mississippi, and spent formative years in Algiers, Lousiana small city right across the Mississippi from New Orleans.
Lester Young, the Grandfather of Cool - On the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of his birth August 27, 2009
Thursday is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lester Young, “the Pres,” a legendary musician and cultural icon. He introduced a relaxed, smooth style of playing the tenor sax and clarinet which set him apart from other tenors at the time. His original style in music as well as dress and demeanor earned him credit for popularizing the slang term “cool.”
B.B. King once said “Pres invented cool. Rather than state a melody, he suggested it. He barely breathed into his horn, creating an intimacy that gave me chills.”
His talented improvisation led him to play with the greatest jazz musicians of his day, and some of his solos have been hailed as the best solos ever - by any jazz musician (check out Lester Leaps In - 1949 JATP Carnegie Hall, and the CBS Television special, The Sound of Jazz - December 8, 1957).
Lester was unpopular with writers and critics. He was one of the first ever “hipsters,” and he avoided interviews and the media in general. He spoke in “hip” phrases that only people close to him knew the meaning of, and he wore sunglasses on stage. His aloof personality set him apart, and many attribute the behavior to the racism he experienced in the Army and throughout his life.
Lester died at the age of 49 on March 15, 1959, some might say of “ivey divey,” a phrase he used to describe life with perpetual blues. He had a history of drinking and smoking and in the end he stopped eating and drank himself to death.
With regard to Lester’s “cool” persona, Douglas Daniels, author of Lester Leaps In, The Life and Times of Lester “Pres” Young, said “…I don't think he did this to attract a following. It was the way he was, and it was the way he protected himself, by being remote, at times, with people who really didn't understand him or the history of his people,” “He didn't talk a lot, but when he did, it was very intelligent. For example, he was traveling with the Jazz at the Philharmonic in the 50's. They were flying over the country, and he looked down at the Midwest below, and he said, "You would think there would be room for all of us."” (February 14, 2002, Jerry Jazz Musician interview)