(New edit from old DTM, originally posted on August 27, 2009.)
Lester Young was born 100 years ago today. He died just over 50 years ago in March 1959.
Young is the most important link in the chain between early jazz and modern jazz. While he learned how to play from the New Orleans-style musicians he grew up with, he could still sit in at Smalls tomorrow.
Serious Young collectors chase down every obscure bootleg because they know he played something brand new almost every night. Young had one of the most swinging beats in the history of the music. And though he could deliver a honking, stomping tenor, even his most frantic outbursts sound curiously relaxed. He never tried too hard. He just was: Cool.
In fact, he may have literally invented the word “cool” and given it to the English language. This kind of verbal jousting and pre-beatnik beatnik behavior gave him a iconic mystique inseparable from the sounds coming out of his horn.
The improvisation, the beat, and the mystique made Lester Young one of the most well-loved musicians of the 20th century.