Great Solos: Lester Young, “Sometimes I’m Happy”

An Occasional Series
The tenor saxophonist recorded this masterpiece in 1943 with pianist Johnny Guarnieri, bassist Slam Stewart and drummer Sid Catlett. He had rejoined Count Basie in high spirits. They were to be dashed the following year when he was drafted into a depressing Army experience, but this is the buoyant pre-war Lester.
Prez’s final 12 bars made such an impression on Oscar Peterson that he almost never played “Sometimes I’m Happy” without quoting them at the end. Peterson was far from the only musician who bonded with the phrase. For a generation of tenor saxophonists, it was part of the doxology. Pianist Jack Brownlow, who played with Young in Los Angeles after the war, wrote lyrics to it. With permission of the Brownlow estate, here they are. Feel free to play it again and sing along beginning at 2:48.
I can find a ray on the rainiest day.
If I am with you, the cloudy skies all turn to blue.
My disposition really changes when you’re near.
Every day’s a happy day with you, my dear.
©Jack Brownlow, 1995
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  1. says

    Excellent reminder! I think I first heard Lester Young on Keynote and Aladdin, even before I tried the classic Basie sides, and I know some of those solos by heart. I hadn’t heard this for ages, but I was already singing before the piano solo ended.
    What I hadn’t noticed is that those final bars might as well be the inspiration for Gerry Mulligan’s “Jeru”(?)

  2. says

    Lester’s the sun on the greyest of days;
    You listen to Pres, the sky goes all hues of blue.
    His inspiration rearranges sad lives too,
    Turning rain into diamonds, grief into praise.
    (with apologies and thanks to Young, Brownlow, Ramsey, and real songwriters)

  3. Bob Godfrey says

    That’s a great story about Bruno writing words to the Lester Young tag. I played Prez’s record (and O.P.’s, too), sang along with Bruno’s words, and it works.
    I can remember listening to these Keynote 78’s with Bruno when he got out of the Navy in ’44 or ’45. As I recall, Bruno was not a big fan of Johnny Guarnieri. Later he dug Lester’s “These Foolish Things” and “D. B. Blues” with Dodo Marmarosa.