JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

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

8. Lester Young and His Orchestra: “Crazy Over JZ” (Blue Lester, Savoy Jazz, 2005 [originally recorded June 28, 1947])

By 1947, bebop had firmly established itself as the new wave in jazz. But Pres wasn’t about to be consigned to a museum; he had played a major role in bebop’s development, a regular at the famous Minton’s jam sessions and a formative influence on nearly all the important bop saxophonists. “Crazy Over JZ” (a shout-out to New York radio station WJZ) is a magnificent reckoning with jazz language old and new. Young introduces the song with a Louis Armstrong lick, then moves into his own signature phrasing—a signifier of the fading swing era, but also the source that beboppers were then refining for their own vocabulary. Behind him, the horns play riffs straight out of the big bands, while the rhythm section lays down frenetic modern grooves. (At the kit was none other than 24-year-old Roy Haynes.) He still had 10 years left, but “Crazy Over JZ” served as a valediction: proof positive of how a vital a link he was in the jazz chain.

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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.