Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959), nicknamed 'Prez', was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He was also known to play the trumpet, violin, and drums.
Coming to prominence with the band of Count Basie, Young is remembered as one of the finest, most influential players on his instrument, playing with a cool tone and sophisticated harmonies. He also became a jazz legend, inventing or popularizing much of the hipster ethos which came to be associated with the music.
Lester Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi and grew up in a musical family. Young's father, Willis Handy Young, was a respected teacher, his brother Lee Young was a drummer, and several other relatives played music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when Lester was an infant and later to Minneapolis. His father taught him to play the trumpet, violin, and drums in addition to the saxophone. He played in his family's band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. He left the family band in 1927 because he refused to tour in the Southern United States, where the Jim Crow Laws were in effect.
Since the days of Joe "King" Oliver, jazz has bestowed lofty titles upon its ace practitioners. Bessie Smith graduated from "Queen of the Blues" to "Empress of the Blues," Benny Goodman was proclaimed "King of Swing", there was a "Duke" Ellington, a "Count" Basie, and Lester Young was dubbed Prez (short for president, a title given to him by Billie Holiday). "We called my mother 'the Duchess,'" Holiday said in a 1959 interview, "so he [Lester Young] named me 'Lady Day' and I called him 'Prez'--we were the royal family." It has been suggested that Young was called "Prez" long before meeting her, but there is no evidence of that.
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