JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

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

9. Lester Young Quartet: “D.B. Blues” (Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956, Volume One, Original Jazz Classics, 1993 [originally recorded Dec. 7, 1956])

The ’50s were a rough time for Lester Young, as his longtime alcoholism caught up with him and led to a dissipation both musical and personal. His recordings were wildly inconsistent, and he was finally hospitalized in late 1955. However, a year later, playing with a local pickup band in Washington, D.C., he is close to the top of his game. “D.B. Blues,” an original that Pres had first recorded in 1945 (and named for the Detention Barracks in which he’d been confined before his dishonorable discharge from the Army), had a form that became the template for rock & roll: three blues choruses, with an eight-bar bridge (based on the one from “I Got Rhythm”) between the second and third. All told, Young plays five choruses of this form, three of them improvised—which translates to nine perfect, deep-in-the-well blues choruses.

Check the price on Amazon!

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.