Lester Young and the Birth of Cool

Lester Young, who followed Coleman Hawkins in bringing jazz to the saxophone, although in a very different style, was born on this date in 1909. He fit a full career inside his not-quite-fifty years of life, influencing not only the way jazzbos played but also the way they talked. The man called “the prez” gave Billie Holiday the nickname Lady Day, called money “bread”, and referred to longing as “having eyes“. And even if he hadn’t been a great saxman he’d be worth remembering simply as the first to use “cool” to refer to something really good.

His porkpie hat and alcohol-fueled attacks on his liver did as much to establish the ’50s image of the hipster jazzbo as much as anything except maybe Dizzy Gillespie’s beret. While the film ‘Round Midnight isn’t a biography of Lester, it does offer un hommage to his style.

Enjoy this version of Lester Leaps In, to commemorate the day when he first leapt out into the world.

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2 Comments

Filed under Birthdays, Jazzbos

2 responses to “Lester Young and the Birth of Cool

  1. Thanks for the reflection on Mr. Young. As a saxophonist through high school I spent hours listening to Young, Hawkins, and Coltrane, as well as contemporary favorites like John Klemmer, Grover Washington Jr., Michael Brecker, and Branford Marsalis.

  2. Your taste is impeccable, calypso.

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