Lester Young was one of the true jazz giants, a tenor saxophonist who came up with a completely different conception in which to play his horn, floating over bar lines with a light tone rather than adopting Coleman Hawkins’ then-dominant forceful approach. A non-conformist, Young (nicknamed “Pres” by Billie Holiday) had the ironic experience in the 1950s of hearing many young tenors try to sound exactly like him.
Although he spent his earliest days near New Orleans, Lester Young lived in Minneapolis by 1920, playing in a legendary family band. He studied violin, trumpet, and drums, starting on alto at age 13. Because he refused to tour in the South, Young left home in 1927 and instead toured with Art Bronson’s Bostonians, switching to tenor. He was back with the family band in 1929 and then freelanced for a few years, playing with Walter Page’s Blue Devils (1930), Eddie Barefield in 1931, back with the Blue Devils during 1932-1933, and Bennie Moten and King Oliver (both 1933… read more