A Lesson From Lester

The following is a transcription of a Lester Young chorus from Lester Leaps In,
his riff tune based on "rhythm changes".
This recording was made in 1939 by a small group from Count Basie's band;
it's featured in the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz set (#49).

Harmonically, his solo is very simple; he doesn't really "detail" changes
or make much use of altered dominant harmony.
Still, Lester chooses some great notes to play on the chords
and drives everything home with his terrific rhythmic sense!

First of all, listen to the solo:
what Lester says with his horn is much more important than the stuff I'm about to say!

Some points of interest:
• This version of rhythm changes is typical of the "swing" style;

don't use these changes for Oleo or Anthropology!

• Notice the use of pitch 'scoops'; it's pretty hard to reproduce that sound on guitar.

• Bars 1-2 are a quote from the melody.

• Note that the phrase in bars 4-7 is mostly Bb major pentatonic.

• In the phrase starting at bar 9, it's easy to hear the influence Lester had on Charlie Christian!

• The bridge (starting at bar 17) is interesting; he never plays the third of a chord until bar 19 (G7).

(In general, Lester doesn't stress thirds in the bridge.)
• In many spots, notice Lester's fondness for emphasizing the 9th of a chord.

Above all else, notice how beautifully placed Lester's phrases are in the time
and how relaxed he sounds at all times!

As modern jazz players, sometimes we have a tendency to get all wrapped up
in 'hip' note choices and convoluted harmony.
It can help to listen to things like this to remind ourselves
how important time and relaxation and playfulness are!
Have fun with this...