Basie Fires, Rehires Prez
Lester Young was one of Count Basie’s principal soloists when the band came out of Kansas City, and admirers of the band couldn’t imagine the band being without him. But Basie fired him in 1940. After waiting for two hours for him to show up on a record date, Basie called his hotel. Buck Clayton said:
“He got him on the phone and told him we were all waiting for him to show up, and for him to get his butt down there.
“Prez said to Basie, ‘Man, I don’t make no records on the thirteenth of the month.’ So Basie had to let him go.”
Jo Jones described Lester Young’s rehiring by Basie, just before he was drafted into the army:
“Lester had left the band. He stayed out of the band for about two and a half years. When we went to the Lincoln Hotel something happened with Don Byas, and Basie told me to go find Lester. Lester by that time had left the USO show and was playing on 52nd Street. I went around to the White Rose and got Lester. ‘You’re due at work tomorrow night at seven o’clock. You come to the Lincoln Hotel.’
“And there he was! Nobody said nothing! He just sat down and started playing, and nobody said nothing. They didn’t say, ‘Hello, Lester, how have you been?’ or nothing. He came back in the band just like he’d just left fifteen minutes ago.”
Excerpted from Bill Crow’s Jazz Anecdotes, with the author’s permission.