In the United States, this is Presidents Day. It falls between the birthdays of two of our greatest leaders, 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 by advertising that results in Sunday newspapers weighing five pounds. To read the confused history of Presidents Day, go here.
Among jazz blogs and websites, taking advantage of Presidents Day as a reason to mention Lester Young has become a cliché. 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.
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.
Happy Presidents Day.