Lester Young’s Birthday and News of a Rare Recording

Lester Young by William P. Gottlieb

William P. Gottlieb, Portrait of Lester Young, Famous Door, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Today marks the 109th birthday of tenor saxophonist Lester Young, the first so-called modernist instrumental stylist in jazz. His playing and hip, creative use of musician’s jargon is admired for breaking from the prevailing saxophone style of Coleman Hawkins. In his classic recordings with Count Basie’s Orchestra, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman and others, he demonstrated a nuanced, sophisticated way of navigating chord changes with a “cool” (as opposed to “hot”) approach that paved the way for Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and generations since.

There is a remarkable, rare recording of Lester Young in the Library’s collection from a jam session possibly recorded in December of 1940, possibly at the Village Vanguard with Young, Shad Collins,  J.C. Higginbotham, Sammy Price and Harold “Doc” West. Here is an article on the discovery from the LC Gazette in May of 2006. It even made NPR’s Weekend Edition.

So far, no one has cleared rights to issue the recording. The entire jam session can be heard in the Recorded Sound Reference Center and listening appointments can be made at [email protected].

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