jazz, free-jazz and improvised music

mark weber | luminous magical

Portrait of Lester Young, Famous Door, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946] (LOC) William Gottlieb, P., 1917-, photographer.


For Dan Morgenstern who showed me Lester Young’s saxophone



Now that I have held this saxophone
………………………….in my hands
this mythical horn that once danced with
joy in the hands of a poet, with unbound breath

It occurs to me that if I was to look even
deeper beyond this magical talisman of jazz

I could look for what mountain, what mine shaft
gave up the metal that made this saxophone

All the elements of the ever-spiraling universe are in it
And who was the highland Scottish shepherd made
………………………….the felt pads
Which Caribbean Island did the bamboo cane reed grow?

And still, you’d have to know, that it was spirit that
filled this saxophone, that the unfetter’d soul of a dreamer

came into possession of this perfect saxophone
this geometry atomized held sideways on the bandstand

Dan said, “Go ahead, pick it up if you want”

This is the horn he played for Billie
This is the one on his first record “Lady Be Good”
………………………..and “Shoe Shine Boy”
This is the horn he had when the Henderson lady said No, No, No,
………..play like the Hawk

be like a dauguerrotype crow
enchanted subterranean energized fluidity sparkling like
barking clouds

the absolute supernatural joy he catapulted across the sky,
luminous intelligence, the gold Conn with
the number 4 six times in a row

incandescent back waters of consciousness, before the melancholy
set in, tarnished like a bandit’s miracle

One wonders why he set this horn down, why he parted with it
what undercurrent blue oceanic depths &
alchemical grace changed

Mark Weber – 15-21aug11

Lester Young’s grave | Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn (Plot: Redemption section; Grave: 11418) | December 6, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber

Lester Young’s grave | Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn (Plot: Redemption section; Grave: 11418) | December 6, 2004 | Photo by Mark Weber


  1. Mark Weber

    Interesting to note that of the two ways you can spell Lester’s honorific
    cognomen — Pres or Prez — you can see on this affidavit in the holdings
    at IJS (Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey)
    that Lester himself preferred the Prez spelling. I took that blurry photo
    on August 9th — my Olympus 35RC is not designed for close-ups — but,
    still, Klaus was good enough to include it, this notarized statement of
    authenticity of Lester’s gold Conn with serial # 444,444 that they keep in
    temperature controlled vault — in fact, it was Dan Morgenstern, director of
    IJS, who pointed out Lester leaned toward the Prez spelling. (I’ve come
    to the conclusion that either spelling is okay, that there is no one
    correct way to spell it.)

  2. Richard Tabnik

    Lester was good but the greatest was
    Ohio Schmeckendorf!

    Ohio Schmeckendorf!

    he was so great that he played without a reed!

    no one could hear him!

    no reed!

    he was over everyone’s head!

    he was very tall!

    he didn’t practice long tones

    he had three lungs and when he blew the roof off of a place it was literal!

    he’d practice by sneaking behind a bus and blowing into the tail pipe and making the engine explode!

    but one day tragedy struck; he hiccupped!

    Ohio Schmeckendorf!!

    He played the greatest shit you never heard!

  3. Fred Voss

    Hey Mark,
    Great poem. Great poem for a great musician. Must have been something holding that horn.
    all best stuff

  4. Mary Lance

    great, great, great!

  5. Charley Krachy

    Beautiful Poem on Prez……..I have seen the horn in the glass case……charley

  6. Gary Foster

    Dear Mark,

    Many thanks for your “Prez” poem – lovely words. I am sure you know that the photo of Lester is a reverse negative – the right hand fingers the bottom part of the horn and the left hand the top keys.

    It occurs to me to be sure your have the actual recorded interview that Francois Postiff did with Lester just before he died. Tristano sent it to Warne years ago and I eventually had it put on CD. It is transcribed in one of Prez books.

    I would like to know the actual text of the To Whom It May Concern document. In the Jimmy Rowles archive there are letters from the mid-forties and a 1948 Christmas card from Lester and Mary Young!! Those were some of Jimmy’s treasures.

    More soon,



  7. Andrea Wolper

    Ah! Brings a nice memory of the session we played “The Day Mark Held Prez’ Horn,” and we got to hear about your adventure.

  8. Harry Scorzo

    made me cry.

  9. Ronald Baatz

    an excellent and beautiful and totally cool poem…

  10. Mark Weber

    Since Gary’s comment we (Klaus) have since flipped the photograph
    so that the hands are correct.

    That’s like the single surviving tintype
    of Billy the Kid that showed him to be left-handed, which he wasn’t. And
    it was years before that it was figured out that the photo was reversed. Horace
    Tapscott came up with a fanciful idea over that and wrote a tune “Deadeye Dick”
    about a right-handed gunslinger who circulated a photo of himself left-handed so
    that his adversaries would be taken by surprise.

    At IJS, Lester’s saxophone is kept in a back room that is temperature controlled,
    it’s a separate room from the room that has the stacks of manuscripts (musical
    scores) rows and rows of shelves. In the back room was Curley Russell’s bass,
    Eddie Condon’s guitar, Buck Clayton’s trumpet, several Ruby Braff cornets, and
    a gang of others. Lester’s horn is in a metal vault-like cabinet that has trays that
    slide out. On the same tray as Lester’s horn was Don Byas’ tenor and Ben Webster’s
    tenor “Betsy.” And on the tray above that was Pepper Adams baritone.

  11. Lenny Tischler

    Thanks, Mark. Your love shows through.

  12. Doug Lawrence

    Nice Poem Mark! I was afraid to pick that horn up when Dan had me over. Such history! Prez!

    Doug Lawrence

  13. Mark Weber

    Hey Doug,
    I know what you mean, except I was too stupid and had that
    saxophone in my hands before I knew what I was doing THEN was overcome
    with the shakes. Dan is so gracious.

    After holding it in my lap and fingering the keys only about a minute I then
    very very gingerly and reverentially returned it slowly to it’s tray.

    Here’s this horn that we all have learned so much from. So, when Dan said
    I could also pick up Don Byas’ horn and Ben’s, I was too delirious from holding
    Lester’s that I politely declined saying I would just like to touch them. I touched them
    with one finger, each, for talismanic reasons.

    I think you told me that you played Betsy there at IJS?

    Do you know why Lester and that horn parted ways?

  14. Doug Lawrence

    Hi Mark,

    When Ben’s horn came in Dan called me and I came over to see it. It still had Ben’s last reed on it. Dan wanted me to play the horn, but I couldn’t. Too awe struck and I have too much respect. I looked at the mouthpiece and it had a hole in the top. A few years later, Paul Gonzalves’s wife had me over to their house for some great Portuguese dinner she cooked.(I was really into Paul and Ben and was trying to play like them at that time – she heard me up in Harlem at Small’s Paradise). She brought me Paul’s horn. I opened up the case and looked at the mouthpiece. It had a hole in it too, the same place Ben’s did, on the top of the piece where your upper teeth go. I was knocked out. Couldn’t play Paul’s horn either. I wasn’t worthy!

    Doug Lawrence

  15. Jack Goodwin


    Beautiful – as usual.



  16. Ray Zepeda

    Excellent. Write a pile of them, if you can. You have it right.


  17. Mark Weber

    Other parts of the Lester Young Legend that I allude to
    in my poem are

    in the ninth stanza:

    1) His obbligattos behind Billie Holiday from 1934 when he was briefly in NYC with Fletcher Henderson, and then in early 1937 when the Count Basie Orchestra
    arrived in NYC and through to the TV special Sound Of Jazz, December 8, 1957, are magical.
    2) His first recordings were November 9, 1936 in a quintet configuration, at age 27.
    3) Lester’s ill-fated membership in the great Fletcher Henderson Orchestra lasted only a few
    months, from April through summer 1934, when he was contracted to fill the chair of departing
    star tenor Coleman Hawkins, of whom, Lester sounds nothing like. And it was Fletcher’s wife
    Leora Henderson who intended to make Lester sound like the Hawk, much to Lester’s chagrin.

  18. Dan Morgenstern

    Beautiful, Mark!
    And thanks for kind words. Prez gave the horn to Institute founder Marshall Stearns–assume he parted with it when he got that Dolnet which now belongs to Dave Pell…

  19. Scott Virtue

    Hi Mark, I love the poem, but I am not sure what a dauguerrotype crow is?Time to google…

  20. Janet Simon

    Mark- Your well described joy of Prez and so many others is great to experience 1st hand.

  21. Mike Johnston


    great poem, i dig your excursions into the different realms of the horn…….my friend len bukowski owns eric dolphy’s alto.


  22. Lillie White

    Cuz.. this poem is exceptional and I feel your love for the music, the man and the reverence in which you hold these things. Your poetry moves like a melody of thought.

    I really like it when you read your poetry too..



  23. David Meltzer

    Gentle lyricist — “You’ve gotta know the words of the song before you play it” — w/ shrewd cashmere vision — “Stan gets the money” — was a poet for all reasons & seasons — Lester spoke a language out of his own dictionary — “Bells” for good boo — “Lady” for any comrade in the riff of blues core freedom & improvisation’s often startling grace — Never alarmed by the light, Prez dwelt uneasily in dark threads — My book of poems (“No Eyes”) nervously imagines the last couple of years of his life –in his room at the Arvin Hotel on Broadway across the street from
    Birdland named after one of Young’s great disciples —

  24. Andy Fite

    Hi Mark,

    That’s a beauty!

    I posted it in a couple of places on facebook, my own page and a group Scott Yanow has called The Jazz World. I hope everyone takes the time to look.

    You’re outstanding!

  25. Don Preston

    Hi Mark, Great poem. In answer, here’s this –


    Salty humor, almost autistic
    Never looking you in the eyes
    Preoccupied with whatever
    Pawned his drums everyday
    For drugs, for inspiration
    To cut off the outside world
    Remove the pain of daily existence
    He had perfect time
    Not like a metronome
    But with furious attack
    Of the fast tempos
    Swinging like there’s no tomorrow
    He gets someone to unpawn his drums
    And goes to the dingy bar
    Sets up his drums on the bar floor
    Jn the sawdust and cigarette butts
    Playing in a bar on a bar floor
    No mikes, no lights
    Just a bar floor
    With tables and chairs pushed aside
    To make room for the band
    Frank is fully there for the music
    He knows all the arrangements
    Jordu, Oleo, Well You Needn’t
    And all the others
    Smoke hangs low in the room
    Clattering glasses, chattering Asses
    Musicians in their cocoons
    Ignoring the ignorers
    Fringe people watching in wonderment
    At the cohesion of chaos
    Into an organized bond
    The brilliant music pouring
    Into the dingy bar.
    They play. Frank’s time is perfect
    The up-tempos furious with kaleidoscope inventiveness
    The band finishes their last set
    And pack up their gear
    Frank puts his drums in someone’s car
    He’s gone thru a whole bottle of uppers
    Enough to kill you or me
    Someone takes him home
    So he gets up the next day so he can
    Pawn his drums and buy more pills
    Only a few in the audience noticed
    The brilliance that happened that night
    No one noticed the despair
    Being trapped in the cycle
    Of chasing drugs all day
    That would give him permission
    To be creative all night
    Not even Frank

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