Greg Poppleton

21 May - Hear 1940s Jazz Harpsichord on this week's Phantom Dancer LISTEN

13 April 2021

Lester Young Genius Killed By Alcohol – 13 March 2021 Phantom Dancer

Greg Poppleton's Phantom Dancer swing jazz radio show

Lester Young, jazz tenor saxophonist called ‘The Prez’, is this week’s Phantom Dancer feature artist from live 1940s-50s broadcasts. Young was one of the most influential saxophonists, playing “a free-floating style, wheeling and diving like a gull, banking with low, funky riffs that pleased dancers and listeners alike”. Alcohol killed him.

The Phantom Dancer – your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV hosted by me, Greg Poppleton.

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Lester Young grew up in a musical family. His brother, Lee, was a drummer. (You’ll hear a broadcast by Lester and Lee on this week’s Phantom Dancer). His father lead the family band in which he played trumpet, alto sax, drums and violin. Joining Walter Page’s Blue Devils Orchestra, Lester switched saxes from alto to tenor. He also doubled clarinet, until his clarinet was stolen at a gig in 1939. (He was given a replacement clarinet in 1957).

One of Young’s key influences was Frank Trumbauer, who was famous in the 1920s Paul Whiteman Orchestra and who played the C-melody saxophone (between the alto and tenor in pitch) Young moved to Kansas City in 1933 to play in the Count Basie Orchestra. During the 1930s he also played in the bands of Andy Kirk and Fletcher Henderson. He also played in small groups that included pianist Teddy Wilson and singer Billie Holiday who gave him the nickname, Prez.


Young left the Basie band in late 1940. He played in small groups often with his brother, drummer Lee Young, including more studio sessions with Billie Holiday and Nat “King” Cole in June 1942.

In December 1943 Young returned to the Basie Orchestra for a 10-month stint before he was drafted into the army during World War II.


Lester Young was beginning to make much greater use of a plastic reed in the early 1940s. They gave his playing a heavier, breathier tone. He never abandoned the cane reed, but used the plastic reed a significant share of the time from 1943 until the end of his life. His tone also thickened from this time with a change in saxophone mouthpiece from a metal Otto Link to an ebonite Brilhart.

In August 1944 Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Gjon Mili’s short film Jammin’ the Blues. In 1946 Young joined Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP), touring regularly with them over the next 12 years. He made many studio recordings under Granz’s supervision, including more trio recordings with Nat King Cole. Young also recorded extensively in the late 1940s for Aladdin Records (1946-7) and for Savoy (1944, ’49 and ’50), some sessions of which included Basie on piano.  




The quality and consistency of Lester Young’s playing ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s. And from 1951, his playing declined precipitously as his drinking increased. He began to rely on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas. Young also coined the hipster words, ‘cool’ for good and ‘bread’ for money.). Young’s playing and health went and in November 1955 he was admited to hospital a ‘nervous breakdown’.

On December 8, 1957, Young appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special ‘The Sound of Jazz’, performing, ‘Fine and Mellow’. You’ll hear this reunion with Holiday, with whom he had lost contact over the years, on this week’s Phantom Dancer. Young’s solo was brilliant, acclaimed by some observers as an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion. Nat Hentoff, one of the show’s producers, later commented, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard…in the control room we were all crying.”

Young made his final studio recordings and live performances in Paris in March 1959 with drummer Kenny Clarke at the tail end of an abbreviated European tour during which he ate almost nothing and drank heavily. On a flight to New York City, he suffered from internal bleeding due to alcoholism and died in the early morning hours of 15 March, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York. He was only 49.  



Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney LISTEN ONLINE Community Radio Network Show CRN #485

107.3 2SER Tuesday 13 April 2021 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT) and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm National Program 5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am 3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am 4NAG Keppel FM Monday 3 – 4am 2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am 2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4am 2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4am 2BRW Braidwood Monday 3 – 4am 3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm 7MID Oatlands Tuesday 8 – 9pm 1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Friday 10 – 11am 2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm 5LCM Lofty FM Adelaide Friday 1 – 2pm 4RPH Brisbane Sunday 3 – 4am 7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am 3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am 6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Sunday 5 – 6am 3BBR West Gippsland Sunday 5 – 6pm

Set 1
ONS Swing Bands 
Theme + Sunday
Charlie Spivak Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Palladium Ballroom Hollywood AFRS Re-broadcast Oct 1943
Every Time
 Sonny Dunham Orchestra (voc) Mary Ann
‘One Night Stand’ Terrace Room Hotel New Yorker NYC AFRS Re-broadcast 16 Jul 1945
All Or Nothing At All + Close
Boyd Raeburn Orchestra (voc) Ted Travers
‘One Night Stand’ Roosevelt Hotel Washington DC AFRS Re-broadcast Apr 1944
Set 2
Jimmy Grier 
Jimmy Grier Orchestra (voc) Loyce Whiteman
Cocoanut Grove Ambassador Hotel TRANSCO Radio Transcription 1932
Time Alone Will Tell
Jimmy Grier Orchestra (voc) Donald Novis
Cocoanut Grove Ambassador Hotel TRANSCO Radio Transcription 1932
What Did You Do With It? + Music in the Moonlight (theme)
Jimmy Grier Orchestra (voc) Margaret Lawrence
Cocoanut Grove Ambassador Hotel TRANSCO Radio Transcription 1932
Set 3
Glenn Miller Radio 
Wham Re Bop Boom Bam
Glenn Miller Orchestra (voc) Marion Hutton
Cafe Rouge Hotel Pennsylvania WJZ NBC Blue NY 7 Jan 1940
The Man With The Mandolin
Glenn Miller Orchestra (voc) Marion Hutton
Meadowbrook Ballroom Cedar Grove NJ WJZ NBC Blue NY 5 Dec 1939
Tuxedo Junction
Glenn Miller Orchestra
Cafe Rouge Hotel Pennsylvania WJZ NBC Blue NY 5 Apr 1940
Set 4
Lester Young 
Benny’s Bugle
Lester and Lee Young Orchestra
Club Capri KHJ Mutual-Don Lee Los Angeles 2 Dec 1941
These Foolish Things
Lester Young with Nat King Cole Trio and Buddy Rich
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood 20 Mar 1946
Be Bop Boogie
Lester Young
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Royal Roost WMCA NY 4 Dec 1948
Intro + Fine and Mellow
Lester Young (voc) Billie Holiday
‘Seven Lively Arts’ The Sound of Jazz CBS TV 1957
Set 5
Swing Band Radio Transcriptions 
I’ve Had This Feeling Before
Harry James Orchestra (voc) Helen Ward
Radio Transcription 1943
I’m Gonna Lock My Heart and Throw Away the Key
Dick Jurgens Orchestra (voc) Ron Kemper
Radio Transcription 1938
Sentimental Jorney
Les Brown Orchestra (voc) Doris Day
Radio Transcription 1944
I’ll See You In My Dreams
Jan Garber Orchestra
Radio Transcription 1938
Set 6
Eddie Condon 
Love Nest
Eddie Condon Group
‘Town Hall Jazz Concert’ WJZ Blue NY 9 Sep 1944
Eddie Condon Group
‘Town Hall Jazz Concert’ WJZ Blue NY 21 Oct 1944
Keep Smiling at Trouble
Eddie Condon Group
‘Town Hall Jazz Concert’ WJZ Blue NY 30 Sep 1944
Sister Kate
Eddie Condon Group
‘Town Hall Jazz Concert’ WJZ Blue NY 10 Feb 1945
Set 7
Rockin’ in Rhythm
Charlie Barnet Orchestra
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood 1945
Mister Beebe
Erskine Hawkins Orchestra (voc) June Richmond
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood 1943
Save Your Sorrows
Eddie Heywood Orchestra
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood 1945
Blues in the Night
Larry Adler
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood 1943
Set 8
Charlie Parker 
Charlie Parker
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Birdland WJZ ABC NY 30 Jun 1951
Groovin’ High
Charlie Parker
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Royal Roost WMCA NY 29 Jan 1949
Charlie Parker
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Royal Roost WMCA NY 12 Feb 1949
Fine and Dandy
Charlie Parker
‘Bands for Bonds’ WOR Mutual NY 13 Sep 1947
All Gigs
12:04 pm - 2:00 pm
2SER 107.3 Sydney

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