Forever Young

In the concise biographical chapter of Lester Young, jazz scholar Lewis Porter emphasizes that the language used by one of the best saxophonists of his time was, “sprinkled generously with four-letter words,” but never offensive. As quoted in Reverend John Gensel’s statement, “Lester’s flow of obscenity was magnificent. Nor was it really obscene, because it was not aggressive and was said as his personal poetry. No one, surely, but Prez could say ‘mother-fucker’ like music, bending the tones until it was a blues.” As for his music, Young was an original artist. At the time when jazz musicians were under the spell of Coleman Hawkins, Young leaped into the jazz scene with a style of his own. To prove the distinction between the two tenor saxophonists, Porter points out that Hawkins had “a rich, guttural tone, a wide, fast vibrato, and a stunning command of his instrument” while Young had “a softer tone and more legato articulation until, by 1939, he had developed the famous ethereal, feathery quality that inspired Stan Gets, Zoot Sims, and thousands of other musicians.” As always, Porter’s meticulous technical details are both pleasure and insightful to read.