Lester Young / Aug 27, 1909 - March 15, 1959

Happy birthday to the great and influential tenor saxophonist Lester Young, the President. The original jazz hipster, he was a key link between the swing and bop eras and was a modernist with an emotionally-driven and harmonically-gifted style.

He grew up in New Orleans and played in the Young Family Band, touring the carnival circuit. In the '30s he went to Kansas City, becoming a major feature of Count Basie's band. During that decade he also played with Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, King Oliver, Benny Moten and Andy Kirk and in the '40s cut some sessions with Nat King Cole and rejoined Basie until getting drafted.

He received a dishonorable discharge after serving time for a marijuana offense. His own catalog of records is very hit-and-miss, with substance abuse a major problem in our subject's life and his playing and focus suffered as a result in his later years (though not without moments of brilliance). Check him out with Basie, for starters.

He also recorded or toured with Helen Humes, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Charlie Parker, John Lewis, Oscar Peterson and many, many more and was a major influence on every saxophonist coming up in the '30s and '40s. He died at the age of 49, his liver destroyed.

Tagged: Celebrate Icons, Count Basie, jazz, Lester Young, NOLA, reeds

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