Lester "Prez" Young
Lester Young was born on August 27th 1909 in Woodville, Mississippi. He moved to New Orleans shortly afterwards. The father of Lester formed a family band by the name of "The Young Family" in which Lester played the drums. His decision to change instruments was based on the fact that he always wanted to meet the girls after the show but it took him so long to pack up the drums that they were all gone. During the years spent with his father, he was taught how to read notes and to play various instruments such as the trumpet, alto sax and violin besides drums.
At the age of 18 he ran away from home to join Art Bronsonīs Bostonians where he learned to play the tenor sax. He was hired by Count Basie, but soon afterwards left the band to play with Fletcher Henderson in order to replace Coleman Hawkins. Members of the Henderson band tried to force him to play like Hawkins. As a result of that he went back to Basie where he recorded various masterpieces especially with Herschel Evens. After the separation from his wife he met Billie Holiday and they became close friends. Billie gave him his nickname "Prez" (President) and Lester nicknamed her "Lady Day". At the Carnegie Hall he demonstrated his musical possibilities and literary inebriates Chu Berry, Benny Carter and Billy Holiday. It is known that Lester was terribly superstitious and therefor left Count Basieīs band because they insisted to record on a Friday the 13th. In 1944 he was enlisted in the Army but soon persecuted by a Major from Louisiana who had typical anti-black prejudices because Lesterīs 2nd wife was white. Lester was condemned by a Court Martial to a 5 year prison sentence of which he only expiated 1 year. From this experience Lester was upset and destroyed, mentally and physically. He became more and more introverted and searched for comfort in alcohol and drugs. Despite his personal problems he managed to play with various other orchestras and even became a bandleader on 52nd Street in New York. Physically and mentally destroyed he died of a hard attack on march 15th 1959 in complete poverty.
Lester Young wanted to create a new way of playing the tenor sax, different from the rhapsodic, vibrant sound ideal of Coleman Hawkins. His new style consisted of lyrical music, that was played "cooled" with great control and distance. He was an introvert poet who loved smooth tones, was retained in his expression and never played any musical nuance more than necessary. When he played on his instrument it sounded like he was telling a story full of emotions and feelings. As a result of that he set the standard of Jazz accompaniment especially in his duets with "Lady Day".
Young created a new way of Jazz, by combining orchestra arrangements with free improvisation. His style had its influence especially on the Bebop, Cool and West Coast Jazz and therefor definitely was the forerunner of modern Jazz. Lester became the most important Jazz saxophonist of the swing period, of course besides Coleman Hawkins. He was nicknamed "Prez", because he is considered the president of all modern Jazz saxophonists.