The High Standards of Lester Young
As Told by Terry MacDonald
There are so many great anecdotes about Lester Young, it’s hard to choose. But here’s a fa- vorite of mine. Saxophonist Sonny Stitt was playing at a club one night. And who’s in
the audience but one of the greatest, most influential saxophonists of all time, Lester Young, “the Pres” himself.
Stitt, often compared with Charlie Parker, was a very skilled player with the chops to play lots and lots of notes. Which he did that night, perhaps to impress the great man.
When he finished his set, Sonny headed over to Lester’s table, certainly to pay homage and, just maybe, to see what kind of an impression he’d made on the master.
“Very nice, Lady Stitt,” Lester told him. “But can you tell me a story?”
I guess I should mention that Lester was not challenging Stitt’s manhood when he addressed him as “Lady” Stitt. It was Lester who dubbed Billie Holiday “Lady Day.” Oddly, he called everybody “Lady.” No, it was just Stitt’s musicality he was questioning.
I’ll tell one more, a short one I picked up from Bill Crow. This one, too, speaks to Pres’s high standards.
On a gig one night, Lester was apparently disappointed with the drummer’s playing.
On a break, the drummer asked him, “Lester, when’s the last time I played with you?” Lester came back fast: “Tonight.”