JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

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

4. Count Basie Orchestra: “Jive at Five” (Count Basie: The Complete Decca Recordings, Decca/GRP/Verve, 1992 [originally recorded Feb. 4, 1939])

The critic Martin Williams wrote of Young’s melodic genius that “Perhaps the great example … is his playing on ‘Jive at Five.’ Every phrase of that beautiful solo has been imitated and fed back to us a hundred times in other contexts by Lester’s followers.” It’s not hard to see why. The first 16 bars of his chorus are perfection, the kind of effortless lyricism that a listener commits to memory without even trying. Young yields the floor to Clayton for a somewhat seamier bridge solo, then returns on the home stretch as if he’d never stopped. Thousands of saxophonists would expend chorus after chorus trying to attain the flawlessness that Young here achieves in less than one.

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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.