Weekend Extra: Lester Young

With so little video of Lester Young, every foot of him performing on film is precious. Loren Schoenberg calls attention to a performance by Young that showed up recently on You Tube. Whoever submitted the clip from a kinescope of Art Ford’s Jazz Party television program provided no information beyond Young’s name. Ray Bryant is the pianist. The bassist is Vinnie Burke, who was on many of Ford’s shows. Does anyone recognize the drummer? We catch a glimpse of cornetist Rex Stewart, who does not play with Young on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” The sound is about a beat out of synchronization with the video. At the end of the piece, Ford introduces Sylvia Syms, whose song is chopped aborning. Such are the vagaries of You Tube; you take what you get. In this case, we are grateful to get Lester. This was most likely 1958 or ’59, shortly before he died.  

To be reminded how rich jazz was with major musicians fifty years ago and to see a substantial section of one of Ford’s broadcasts, click here.
Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit


  1. Jon Foley says

    Thanks for the heads-up on the Lester Young clip; as you say, every little bit of him performing is precious (in spite of the horrible, tinny piano – you’d think a TV station could afford a piano tuner). I didn’t recognize the drummer, either, by the way.

  2. Marvin Thomas says

    I might have to disagree with you here. Not sure if a clip like this of Lester proves anything except how far he had fallen from his previous greatness. His story is indeed a sad one. I saw him once at the Washington Social and Athletic Club. I only wish I could remember more of the music and not just the experience.

  3. George Finch says

    I really enjoyed your bit with Lester, and the link to jazz in the 1950s. It brought back memories. This was the time when jazz captured me. I wonder if people realize how much creativity was occuring then at all levels,- TV with its live shows, art with Pollock, and of course the Beat poets and writers. I believe David Halberstram wrote a book about this era. Great stuff

  4. Peter Levin says

    David Meeker’s filmography entry for Art Ford, October 2, 1958, at the Library of Congress does not mention “Polka Dots…”, but it looks as though it’s the same program, which would mean that Paretti is the drummer (Barry Miles was about 11 years old at the time).
    21. “Blues in the night” by Johnny Mercer,
    Harold Arlen, “Just one of those things” by
    Cole Porter (SS).
    21. Rex Stewart, cornet; Nick Travis, trumpet;
    Wilbur De Paris, trombone; King Curtis, Lester
    Young, tenor sax; Rolf Kuhn, Bob McGarry,
    clarinet; Ray Bryant, piano; Harry Sheppard,
    vibraphone; Vinnie Burke, acoustic double
    bass; John Paretti, Barry Miles, drums; Sylvia
    Sims, vocal.

  5. says

    Hi Doug—-In the background is a clarinet player, Bob McGarry–he had played with Isham Jones Orch.—that is “Dr. McGarry,” my middle school AND HS band/orchestra teacher, Millburn NJ. Cool guy. He also played sax/clar. with the NJ Symphony in its early days. He had me do a Mozart horn concerto when I was a senior! I appreciate how hard his job was, NOW. Ha. I remember telling him about going into NYC and seeing people like Eddie Lockjaw Davis, George Duvivier, Panama Francis, Al Harewood, in daytime concerts at the “Museum of Jazz,” and he’d laugh, “Oh I know all those guys!”