Monday, March 12, 2007

Presidential Salute

Every year St. Peter’s remembers Lester Young, "the Prez.," around the anniversary of his death with the To Prez. with Love concert. This year was a great opportunity to hear headliners like Jimmy Heath and Lee Konitz for only $15.

Lester Young’s influence on jazz is well documented. His cool tone on the tenor saxophone contrasted with the muscular sound of his predecessor in the Fletcher Henderson band, Coleman Hawkins. It took a while to catch on, but his sound would be tremendously influential, as is well documented with artists like Stan Getz, but less acknowledged in the case of Charlie Parker.

Young would also have an enormous impact on language. If you’ve ever talked about being “cool” or had “eyes” for someone, you’re talking Lester’s lingo. Cultural images of Young persist years after his death. Dexter Gordon’s character of Dale Turner in Bertrand Tavernier’s ‘Round Midnight, was largely a composite of Bud Powell and Young. Indeed, Gordon’s scenes with Lonette McKee’s Billie Holiday inspired character have more truth to them than the entire Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues.

Plenty of talented musicians came out to pay tribute. Jimmy Heath played an entertaining two tune set, with the very talented Aaron Diehl on piano. Heath opened with “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” which he said was known in Young’s lexicon as “Poker Chips.” Lee Konitz first played with his longtime colleague Dick Katz, and later returned with a young group led by Alan Ferber. Diehl also played an appealing duet with Dominick Faricnacci, of Cleveland (not Italy as WBGO’s Brian Delp first erroneously stated in his intro—close enough.)

Young died on the Ides of March, so the To Prez concert is typically the Sunday before. This year, we were not helped by the new D.S.T. and that lost hour of sleep—I took off by 9:30 before the festivities moved out of the sanctuary. Is this really saving energy, compared to time spent downloading patches and the like?