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JazzTimes 10: Lester Young

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

Lester Young passed away 60 years ago, on March 15, 1959. He was one of the most profound figures of genius to ever grace the music world. His eccentricities alone were earthshaking, from his love of porkpie hats to his skewed playing stance to his self-invented slang (from which we probably get the term “cool”). It’s the music, though, that continues to resonate the most, much of it still as contemporary today as it was in the 1930s, when Young was at his peak. It’s never a bad time to revisit his body of work, but this anniversary provides a convenient occasion. (Note that this list is chronological. There is no nitpicking a rank for this kind of greatness.)

1. Jones-Smith, Incorporated: “Shoe Shine Boy” (Lester Young with Count Basie: The Columbia, Okeh & Vocalion Sessions [1936-1940] Vol. 1, Columbia/Legacy, 2008 [originally recorded Nov. 9, 1936])

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Originally Published

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.