Book Review: Rock & Roll Books

Gift guide

Rock & Roll Books

Being Prez: The Life & Music of Lester Young

by Dave Gelly
Oxford University Press, 171 pp., $23.95

He was known as Prez for good reason. As the president of all the saxophonists, Lester Young turned the jazz world on its ear when he blew out of Kansas City with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1936. His unique rhythmic virtuosity, cool and nimble sound, and bottomless wellspring of lyrical creativity transformed the evolution of saxophone-playing forever. Unfortunately, the remarkable sensitivity and gentleness that characterized his music left him ill-prepared to deal with the harshness of life, and by 1959, at the age of 49, his brilliant flame burned out. In this slim volume, British jazz writer Dave Gelly traces Young's career, beginning with his family's traveling band, through his time in Kansas City and New York with Basie, plus his years of checkered success as a solo artist revered by the jazz world and his ultimate decline. Gelly's at his best when examining Young's many superb recordings, although he gets a bit technical at times. This fan would have liked more on Young's storied musical romance with Billie Holiday. After all, it was she who dubbed him Prez and he who nicknamed her Lady Day. Nevertheless, Being Prez remains a thoughtful catalyst for dusting off Lester Young's magic.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Lester Young
Better Git It in Your Soul
Better Git It in Your Soul
Charles Mingus Among Us

Harvey Pekar, June 16, 2006

More Music Reviews
You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
Wasn't That a Time: the Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America
Once, folk singers faced jail time and worse for their political affiliations

Kevin Curtin, Dec. 21, 2018

You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
Tori Amos's Boys for Pele
The cult of Tori Amos and how to navigate a life of writing

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 21, 2018

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Texas Platters
Rosie Flores
Simple Case of the Blues (Record Review)

March 22, 2019

Best Live Music Performances of 2018
Best Live Music Performances of 2018
The bands and venues that kept our critics on their feet

Dec. 28, 2018


Lester Young

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle