The President’s Whisperings
So I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I like Post-War Lester better.
Through history, there have been many people who can rip changes to shreds way before their time. Many people can swing extremely hard. Fewer have beautiful tone, but still many do. However, there are very few who have a startlingly beautiful control of melody as Lester does. The only others who come to mind for me(there are more, but these are really off the cuff) are Billy Strayhorn, John Lewis, Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, some of Miles, and Duke Ellington(recently I’ve been thinking that Jaki Byard also may be in this category, but it’s too soon to tell). Each of these men are set apart from my normal tastes: visceral and outwardly soulful. These men all have different persona when they are at their best in ballad playing. Billy sounds to me like a man telling a story after hours at a bar, longing for something he doesn’t have, a little bit bitter, if you will. Miles of course is the pinnacle of seduction, the whisper in your ear after a candlelit dinner, inviting you upstairs. Ben Webster is similar in his seductiveness, but is more that of new couple in spring than a budding forbidden romance. Johnny in his later years has a subtle power to his playing, a stern warning from a man who has seen it all. John Lewis plays ballads as an experienced intellectual describes the beauty of a flower or a painting, someone who knows why he loves something, but lacks the words to adequately describe it to someone else. Duke in his early years is a very dramatic story teller, but in his later years, he is very meditative sounding like(unsurprisingly) a man who has seen it all and is grateful that he has seen it.
In Lester however, are the tragic stories of a realist. When I hear Lester play a ballad, I see a man who has never had a lucky day in his life, sitting in a chair. As he recounts all of his stories, years of being forgotten and stepped on, nights of drinking and unfulfilled dreams, and the plans he made but could never carry out, there is a quiet smile on his lips, a smile that realizes that although we don’t always get dealt the best cards, that we can still be happy. With Lester, I like to think that he remained happy because of his music. Goodness knows that it has kept me happy through my hard times.
In no other music is there at once sorrow and good humor. Although sometimes I feel like crying through Lester’s most heart wrenching solos, at the end there is always a smile on my face, knowing that although his life was scattered with opposition, in the end he triumphed in a way only he could. The stories he tells mirror that.
I rarely talk about music like this(I actually abhor being specific about the abstract and intangible beauty of music), but I encourage you to listen to this while reading the above. It’s not meant to educate or to provoke your thoughts, like my other posts are. It’s just in hope that through this, you can enjoy Lester just as much as I have. He means more to me than any other melodist, and I can only dream of making just one person feel about me as I feel about Lester.