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Lester Young Reviews
This slim book is part of the Jazz Masters series that came out in the U.K. in the early 1980s; I have half a dozen of them. With only 70 pages of text, you would expect a pretty shallow picture of Young, one of the greatest musicians of jazz. But I was surprised by the depth of some of Gelly's insights. I'll let him speak for himself - here's what he says about Young's music in the mid 1940s, a period which some critics see as the beginning of a decline in his playing.To listen to Lester Young, particularly at this period of his life, is to follow the workings of a supremely elegant mind. It doesn't move with blinding speed, like [Charlie] Parker's, but it moves with absolute justice. It is a mind incapable of concealing itself behind a facade of mannerisms or well-tried formulae. Every solo had to 'tell a story' and the story had to be true, to reflect the feelings of the moment. No other jazz musicians' work has ever been so emotionally transparent, so devoid of rhetorical defences. Young's way of speaking seemed bizarre to many people at the time; he invented his own slang and make odd analogies. He has been credited with inventing much of what became our hipster slang; he was supposedly the first to use "cool"in the sense of "positive, relaxed, hip," and the first to refer to money as "bread." Here is Gelly on Young's speech:It is a curious fact that Prez, with his reputation for inscrutability and verbal elision, has never been quoted as saying anything silly. Once the language is decoded, the observations are always thoroughly sensible. His remarks about the best conditions in which to play jazz, about the function of the rhythm section, about the fatal trap of trying to repeat one's past achievements, all are firmly based and shrewdly expressed. And, unlike so many jazz musicians, he never made vast, redundant and half-baked statements about Art.I'll end with perhaps my favorite of Young's odd statements, "I try not to be a repeater pencil."