JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

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

6. Sam Price & His Texas Bluesicians: “The Goon Drag (Gone Wid de Goon)” (Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions, Mosaic, 2016 [originally recorded Apr. 3, 1941])

Young had left the Count Basie Orchestra in December 1940, spending the next three years co-leading a band with his drummer brother Lee, starting a trio with pianist Nat “King” Cole, and freelancing with the likes of Sam Price & His Texas Bluesicians (who, despite the name, were based in New York). None of the soloists on this date takes more than eight bars, Pres included. What’s fascinating about this tune, though, is how hard alto saxophonist Don Stovall and pianist Price (who take the first and second solo) work to play Lester-like statements—succinct, light-toned, with phrases both streamlined and rich in melody. Then, of course, Pres takes the mike and effortlessly outdoes them both.

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.