So I was listening to some vintage jazz, Lester Young, one of my all-time favorites, and I thought, “I should turn Jules on to Lester!” And then I thought, “She barely finished listening to Miles! The speakers are still warm. Leave the poor girl alone, fer chrissake!” And then I thought, “But she would love the back story, the love story of Prez and Lady Day, and their broken hearts!” And then I said to myself, “Seriously? Nobody cares about that stuff but you!” And then I answered myself and said, “Fuck you! It’s a good story!” To which I said, “Fuck you, too!” and I stormed out of the room, leaving me here in front of the computer pouting. So then I googled Billie and Lester, and found a video I’d seen before, and it still makes me cry. Her singing, his playing, and the way she looks at him while he’s playing.
Lester and Billie were famous for their unconsumated love for each other. He named her Lady Day, and she named him the President, and called him Prez. They performed together and recorded together, and everyone in the room could see they were in love, but they were never lovers, never a couple. That went on for decades, through the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. She had many lovers, both male and female, and he had a commonlaw wife, a white woman, and that brought on him some terrible treatment, including ten months in a military prison during the war.
They were both heavy users of drugs and alcohol, but in the early ’50s he quit the heroin, and then one night he criticised her for continuing to use. She stormed out of the room and they never spoke or performed together again, until four or five years later, when they were brought together for this show. Everyone in the studio knew their story.
“Jazz critic Nat Hentoff recalled that during rehearsals, Billie Holiday and Lester Young kept to opposite sides of the room. During the performance of “Fine and Mellow”, Hentoff recalled, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard, and [he and Holiday] were looking at each other, their eyes were sort of interlocked, and she was sort of nodding and half — smiling. It was as if they were both remembering what had been — whatever that was. And in the control room we were all crying. When the show was over, they went their separate ways.”
The first guy to solo is Ben Webster. Lester Young is next. Watch how she looks at him. I’ve only ever had one woman look at me like that.
Any way, Lester Young.