JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

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

5. Count Basie & His Orchestra: “Taxi War Dance” (Count Basie 1936 – 1939, Vol. 2, Broken Audio, 2012 [originally recorded Mar. 19, 1939])

“Taxi War Dance” is a head arrangement on the changes of “Willow Weep for Me.” Credited to Basie-Young, in all probability it’s mostly Young’s. His is the first solo, and it’s a brilliant feint. He plays what seems to be a luscious, concise 12-bar blues … and then it continues for another four bars and veers into a new chord. It’s not a blues at all, but Young knew how to make it one anyway—then how to bring it back home. In the second half he returns to trade fours with the ensemble, including one masterful phrase in which Young does the trick so often attributed to Basie: swinging on one note.

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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.