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Happy 100th to Lester Young

sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
Nice article, thanks Ed.

Illinois Jacquet had a close musical and personal relationship with Lester Young, and when I worked in his band, he would tell me stories about the man from time to time. I'm sure that Jacquet's relationship with Pres started in LA back in the early '40s. Ironically, in the 1950's, they ended up being neighbors in the upscale black neighborhood of Ardsley Park, which is located in St. Albans Queens NY. Ardsley Park was the home of many jazz and entertainment luminaries back in those days. Some of the residents were Billie Holliday, Count Basie, Milt Hinton, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Waller, Jackie Robinson, Lena Horne, Joe Louis, and Babe Ruth.

I remember one particularly poignant story, which occured near the end of Lester's life. Jacquet said that even though Pres maintained the nice home in St Albans, he preferred to stay in a hotel room in Manhattan which was directly across the street from Birdland and another popular jazz nightspot called the Bandbox. Pres would sit at his window and watch the comings and goings of the hipsters as they frequented these two locations. So Jacquet would stop in to visit Pres when he came into town to work his nightly gig. Boss said that Pres' room would be a mess, with plates of uneaten food ("dinners", Jacquet called them) sitting around. Seems that Lester would order a meal from room service, and by the time that it arrived, the gin would tell him that he wasn't hungry. Pres also had new unopened bottles of gin lined up on the window sill.

So it was obvious to Jacquet that Pres was drinking the gin, but not eating any food. A sure recipe for disaster. So Jacquet boasted me, "I knew how to get Pres to eat. I was the ONLY one who could get him to eat." Seems that Pres loved to drink gin with the boss and couldn't wait for his visits so he could have a drinking partner. So IJ told Pres that he would drink with him only after they had both eaten. Lester would reluctantly consent to that, and IJ would call for two steak dinners, and he would make sure that Lester consumed every bit of his before they would touch a drop of gin.

Jacquet was a fierce tyrant and ran his band with an iron fist. Some days you'd want to kill the guy. But I knew that deep down inside, he was a warm, good hearted man. He loved Pres, and I'm sure that he knew that he couldn't stop his drinking, but he did what he could to try to lessen the blow, to soften the negative impact on Lesters health.

Julian
 
Listening to Prez and Nat Cole playing a duo on "Mean to Me." One of my first jazz records. Now worn out, but available nowadays on CD.
 

sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
More Pres today on wkcr! And tomorrow they begin the Charlie Parker birthday marathon. Bird's birthday is August 29. Masterful stuff!

Julian
 
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