Stories of Standards: Lester Leaps In by Lester Young
Tune in weekday mornings for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of “Lester Leaps In.” Rodney Franks presents Stories of Standards Monday through Friday at 7:50 and 8:50 a.m. starting Monday, May 6!
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“Lester Leaps In” by Lester Young, first recorded in 1939 by the Count Basie Kansas City 7, was based on the chord progressions of “I Got Rhythm” and featured twining solos by Young and Count Basie. Milestone Recordings in American Music lists “Lester Leaps In” as one of the “Milestone Recordings in American Music”, while jazz.com rated it 98 on a scale of 100, with the comment “Classic performance. A ‘must have’ for jazz fans.”
Lester Young (27 Aug 1909-15 Mar 1959) grew up in a musical family, learning the basics of trumpet, violin and drums by the time he was ten years old and joined the Young Family Band. Clashes with his father led to his leaving the band when 18, the result of his refusing to tour in the Jim Crow South. He joined the Bostonians, where he chose tenor saxophone as his primary instrument. While he had a pattern of working, returning home, then leaving to work again, he left home permanently in 1932 to join the Blue Devils. He moved in 1933 to Kansas City, where his laid-back style was in sharp contrast to the driving Coleman Hawkins style. He coined the term “Lady Day” for his friend, Billie Holiday; she came up with the nickname “Prez” for him (President of Jazz). In 1944 Young was drafted into the Army, where like many other black musicians and unlike a number of white musicians, he was put into the regular Army rather than serving in a band and was not allowed to play his saxophone. This did not work well and when marijuana and alcohol were found in his possession he was court-martialed. His composition “D. B. Blues” is thought to be based on his year in detention barracks. In the early 1950s his health declined, although a 1955 hospital stay led to improved health. In December 1957 he appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge and Gerry Mulligan in a CBS special “The Sound of Jazz”, performing Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow”; Nat Hentoff, one of the show’s producers, said of it “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard…in the control room we were all crying.” Lester Young died three months later.