Lester Young & Miles Davis, 1950s
photo: Burt Goldblatt
And then I met “The President,” Lester Young, when he would come down from Kansas City
to play in St. Louis. He’d have Shorty McConnell on trumpet in his band, and sometimes I’d
come over with my horn to where they were playing and sit it. Man, playing with Prez was
something. I learned a lot from the way he played the saxophone. As a matter of fact,
I tried to transpose some of his saxophone licks over to my trumpet.
Lester Young & Miles Davis, 1956
He called me Midget. Lester had a sound and an approach like Louis Armstrong, only he
had it on tenor sax. Billie Holiday had that same sound and style; so did Budd Johnson and
that white dude, Bud Freeman. They all had that running style of playing and singing. That’s
the style I like, when it’s running. It floods the tone. It has a softness in the approach and
concept, and places emphasis on one note. I learned to play like that from Clark Terry. I used
to play like he plays before I was influenced by Dizzy and Freddie ( Webster), before I got
my own style. But I learned about that running style from Lester Young.
Lester Young & Miles Davis, 1955
Bird never talked about music, except one time I heard him arguing with a classical musician
friend of mine. He told the cat that you could do anything with chords. I disagreed, told him
that you couldn’t play D natural on the fifth bar of a B flat blues. He said you could. One night
later on at Birdland, I heard Lester Young do it, but he bent the note. Bird was there when it
happened he just looked over at me with that “I told you so” look that he would lay on you
when he had proved you wrong.
Miles: The Autobiography, 1990