Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Day The Music Died, Jazz Edition (Part I)

Last month, there was a lot of media hoopla over the 50th anniversary of “the day the music died.”
Tomorrow on this date in 1959, Lester Young died just a few months short of his 50th birthday. Like the rockers, Pres’ passing was memorialized in song, most notably Goodbye Porkpie Hat by Charles Mingus and Wayne Shorter’s Lester Left Town.
Pres is/was a highly influential voice on the saxophone. Amongst just a few of the many, you could name saxophonists like Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Art Pepper, Wardell Gray, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Paul Quinichette, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.
A few months before the UCLA Freddie Hubbard concert, I had picked up a used copy of the double LP Complete Savoy Recordings of Lester Young. In the song Crazy Over J-Z, the band uses a riff based on the standard Louise. Since I was playing the album to death at that time, that phrase became the opening of my baritone sax solo.
Even though Paul Gonsalves was primarily influenced by Ben Webster, he was able to dig Pres, too. In his famous 1956 Newport Jazz Festival solo on Diminuendo In Blue and Crescendo In Blue, he starts chorus 13 with a quote from Lester Young’s Up ‘n’ Adam:

Gone, but not forgotten. Where’s that Lester Young postage stamp?

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