Prez On Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day in the United States. It falls between the birthdays of two of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22). Many years ago, there was a movement in the Congress to consolidate the two observances into one holiday that would honor all US presidents. The effort never resulted in an official national holiday, but department stores and automobile dealerships liked the idea so much that they declared it a holiday and celebrate it by having huge sales to increase their profits and buy advertising that results in Sunday newspapers weighing five pounds. To read the confused history of Presidents Day, go here.

Among jazz blogs and websites, it has become a cliché to take advantage of Presidents Day as a reason to mention Lester Young. Clichés get to be clichés because they strike a chord and are repeated so often that they become a part of the collective consciousness. When Billie Holiday declared that Lester Young was the president of the tenor saxophonists, she planted the seed of a cliché that I am happy to perpetuate. Ladies and gentlemen—on Presidents Day we present Lester Young in one of his greatest recordings. This was 1943. Prez with Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart and Sid Catlett.

Oscar Peterson liked Young’s final eight bars so much that he incorporated it whenever he played “Sometimes I’m Happy,” as in this long version.

Jack Brownlow, who played piano with Lester in the 1940s, wrote a lyric for that ending.

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)

Happy Presidents Day.

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  1. says

    Yeah, yeah, yeah!

    As a greatly swinging addition, here’s “I Want To Be Happy”:

    One of Prez’s best sessions ever, with Nat ‘King’ Cole & Buddy Rich. Nat had to participate under the pseudonym “Aye Guy” for contractual reasons. Great interaction here. This amazing track is included in a 3-part series of “Greatest Solos” I have compiled for my students.