JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

Sixty years after his passing, we remember 10 of the President’s best recordings

10. Billie Holiday with the Mal Waldron All-Stars: “Fine and Mellow” (Billie Holiday: The Essentials, Vol. 2 [1936-1958], Jube Pops, 2015 [originally recorded Dec. 8, 1957])

There is little to add to the legend of this performance from the 1957 CBS-TV special The Sound of Jazz: how Young and Holiday hadn’t spoken in years, how they kept their distance from each other during the rehearsals for the broadcast, how the ailing Young was coaxed at the last minute to stand for his solo during Holiday’s blues “Fine and Mellow,” how they locked eyes during Pres’ single 12-bar chorus. “The solo is so solidly constructed,” wrote critic Gary Giddins, “that after you’ve heard it a couple of times, it becomes part of your nervous system, like the motor skills required to ride a bicycle.” The Sound of Jazz had an accompanying LP release, but Young’s solo there is distant, phoned-in; the TV version is hard to find on record, but easily worth the effort.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the songs in this JazzTimes 10:

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.