[Lester] loved to play jam sessions and loved to not to know the tune....If you were playing a tune the instrumentalist--the soloist--didn’t know, well, it was fashionable for the pianist to turn around and say, E-flat-seventh, you know, D-flat, C major--he wouldn’t want that. If he didn’t know the tune, he’d say, “Don’t call the chords to me. Just play the chords, and I’ll play.” And I’d seen him do it many a time, you know; they just starteHd playing, and he didn’t know it, but he would play it.
But he would say that it confines you too much if you know it’s a Db7, you know, you start thinking of the only notes that will go in that chord, and he would say that’s not what he would hear. He wanted to play other things and make it fit. And he did. And I think most of the great musicians could do that, you know?
Check out Ethan's entire piece, which is a thorough examination of Lester and what his music means to jazz. Ted Gioia at Jazz.com has also paid Pres some much deserved respect over the last few days.
Since I began listening to jazz, its become increasingly clear to me that Lester Young is the towering soloist of his age. Coleman Hawkins ushered in the era of the tenor sax, but Lester Young ushered in the era of modern jazz -- not just musically, but philosophically and aesthetically as well.
Happy 100th Pres.