Thursday, June 7, 2012
Lester Willis Young, Prez (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959).
Coming to fame while a member of Count Basie's orchestra, Lester Young aka Prez ( for President of the saxaphone) was one of the most influential players on his horn, playing with a cool tone and using sophisticated harmonies.
Prez also invented or popularized much of the hipster ethos which came to be associated with jazz.
Young’s smooth tone and relaxed lyrical playing style often earned him the spotlight in Basie’s band in the early thirties. Most soloists at the time played with a boisterous and raspy sound, influenced by the star soloist of Fletcher Henderson’s Big Band, saxophonist collossus Coleman Hawkins. In 1934, when Hawkins left Henderson’s group to tour Europe, Young briefly replaced him. However, he found his stint intolerable due to the high audience expectation that he play more like Hawkins.
Always a strong individualist, Young gained the reputation of being something of an eccentric -- indeed, in the public's mind he was the quintessential way-out hipster jazzman. Some of his quirks were visual. For starters, he held his saxophone at an odd, almost horizontal, angle, instead of straight up and down like most other saxophonists.
Prez also always wore a porkpie hat, and this flat-topped, wide-brimmed chapeau-along with finely tailored, but severely rumpled suits -- became his sartorial trademark. But it was his inventive use of slang that really fired the public's imagination. Young went well beyond the usual jazz lingo, and at times seemed to be speaking a language of his own.
Thus, Prez's saxophone keys were people, an old girlfriend was a wayback, a narcotics officer was a Bob Crosby -- he even coined the term now-commonly used bread for money. Critics, during this time, were spellbound by Young's personality, but more importantly, they were finally able to accept his cool style, and, in 1944, he was named the year's top tenor saxophonist in Down Beat magazine. Although jazz was not as popular among the general public as the Swing band music played by white orchestras, Young had become about as famous as a jazz man could be in the late forties.
Burn = to cook. "Does madam burn?," means "Does your wife cook?"
To Have Eyes = to desire or aspire to. "I had big eyes for a spot with Basie" means "I really wanted to play with Basie." To have Great Big Eyes is to really, really want something.
Bob and Bing = the cops on the narcotics squad. Acording to lore this slang was derived from the fact that Prez was allegedly busted by a cop who resembled Bob Crosby. "Bob and Bing are in the house" meant "The cops are here."
Prez also had other phrases, like to get bruised, would mean to have a bad show, or to have no crowd come to see a performance.
Young would often refer to people as Lady this or Lady that. Hence Billie Holiday's nickname Lady Day. However, Prez was known to call everybody Lady, be they male or female, because, as Prez would say, "Anyone with music in their heart is a lady."
Ivey Divey = cool, or OK.
Poundcake = a good-looking woman
I feel a draft could mean that he sensed racial prejudice, or that somebody was in the room who had hurt his feelings in the past.
George Washington was, according to jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, Prez's term for the bridge of a tune. He would say something like, "Lady Pete, may I have my George Washington again?"
Lester called his saxophone his baby doll.
Some of the nicknames Lester gave other jazz greats:
Billie Holiday - Lady Day
Harry Edison - Sweets
Bobby Scott - Bobby Socks
Count Basie - The Holy Main
Miles Davis - Midget