Happy Birthday Ted Brown: An Interview on Lester Young

A very happy 91st Birthday to one of my musical heroes and friends, Ted Brown. We released our first recording this year on Gut String Records, playing arrangements of Ted and my tunes along with some from Jimmy Giuffre and Bill Holman. You can check that out at gutstringrecords.com. We conducted this interview a couple of years ago, when I was putting together my first published article on the great Lester Young. An overview of Lester’s style, it was finally published a couple of months ago here: Jazz Research Journal. I also interview Lee Konitz for the article and will post his interview later. For now enjoy this brief discussion on Lester Young.


How did Lester Young influence your playing?

When I was in High School in California I was a big Coleman Hawkins fan. I didn’t know much about Lester Young until I turned 18 and was drafted into the Army (1946) and was assigned to a Post Band in Virginia where I met musicians from Chicago and New York. That is where I first heard recordings of Lester Young and Charlie Parker.

I visited New York one weekend while in the Army and saw Lester Young at a club on 52nd Street and was just amazed at his clean sound and how hard he could swing with the rhythm section. When he finished the set he held his horn over everyone’s head in the packed club and walked out (without the case) to the sidewalk. My friend and I followed him as he went down the block to another club and sat in there. He seemed to enjoy it so much and sounded so good that I knew I wanted more of that and just had to come back to New York somehow after I got out of the Army…which I did 2 years later.

But it took some time for me to understand the difference between his approach and that of Coleman Hawkins. First of all, their tenor sounds. Hawkins had a big sound but rougher with more vibrato. Lester’s sound was softer and cleaner and much more pleasant. The Hawkins melodic line was more vertical like running the changes where Lester was more horizontal and flowing and swinging, with some vibrato…but usually just a little at the end if a phrase…more like Billie Holiday.

What do you think about his rhythmic feel and phrasing?

Well Pres used to play drums in his father’s band when he was very young. But he gave it up because he said there was too much stuff to pack up at the end of the night and, by the time he finished, all the little chicks hanging around would already have gone with the other cats in the band.

But he had a great sense of time that he was just able to make flow even with some of the early Count Basie records where the rhythm section is kind of heavy at times, he was able to get above that and just sail along. It was also his sense of syncopation and little rhythmic figures he would use to give it a boost…even if he was just using one note. And he knew how to keep it simple and leave some space. It wasn’t non-stop eighth notes or sixteenth notes.

I saw him a few times at Birdland and he didn’t like busy drummers. There is even a session on YouTube where he takes the horn out of his mouth and turns around to the drummer and says “Just a little tinkey-boom” meaning just some straight cymbal beats.

I heard him one night start off a tune and just say, “Gs if you please” and start playing a blues in G. He was a funny cat and had his own vocabulary…a lot of which became jazz lingo.

Why did Lennie (Tristano) hold him in such high regard?

Well, Lennie was trying to teach students to improvise with a good melodic line over standard tunes. So working with the recordings of good solos is one way to do that.  

But another way is to try to write a solo of your own…not as a head arrangement but a solo you would like to improvise if you could. And since solos go by so fast, that allows you to slow it way down, so you can hear something and try different things. In fact that is what Lennie told me to do on my very first lesson (with a lot fewer words).

He knew I had already copied a lot of solos off records so he had me concentrate on writing something of my own every week for a couple years. And that was great because he would often play the changes with me and discuss ways to make the line more interesting. And then tell me to memorize it. That really helped me a lot. And a few of those lines were eventually recorded.

Later on he had me go back and just sing with records instead of writing them out, just to get the feeling of the solo and the phrasing and the way they built their melodic line. And he had me do that with Bird as well as Pres. And that does help develop a sense of singing through your horn.

I understand Warne and Connie used to be very strict with students about singing the solos…with and without the record…before playing them on your horn but Lennie never told me that. In fact one of Warne’s students said he worked on “Dickie’s Dream” for a year before he let him play it. Also Sal Mosca said he worked on singing one Bird solo for a year!! That seems extreme to me.

How do you think he influenced others, and who in particular?

Well, Lester’s sound and flowing melodic line certainly influenced the entire sax section of Woody Herman’s Band…the four brothers band…Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, Serge Chaloff…plus Al Cohn and Jimmy Giuffre. And of course through Lennie’s influence both Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh covered a lot of Lester Young material and loved his pure sound and ability to swing. Allan Eager was one of the earliest. In fact he was playing at that club on 52nd Street in 1946 where Pres went to sit in. Wardell Gray was another…also Brew Moore. Dexter Gordon was also heavily influenced by Pres and Bird and was a transition for tenor players who were fans of both.

What do you think Warne Marsh learned from Lester?

Clean, pure sound…the long, horizontal flowing melodic line. Rhythmic feeling.

Do you have a favorite solo?

Well it is hard to pick one…but I think I would say “Tickle-toe.” But “Lady Be Good,” “Broadway,” “Pound Cake,” are also great and many others…”Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie,” “Shoe Shine Boy,” “12th Street Rag,” “Let Me See,” “I Never Knew.” Willie Dennis and I did “Tickle-toe” on my first record date with Ronnie Ball. We told the producer it was Lester Young’s solo but they called it “Prez Sez.” And we did “Broadway” on the Free Wheeling album with Warne and Art Pepper.

Were you influenced by Lester’s ballad playing as well?

Yes, especially the recordings he did with Billie Holiday. They had similar feelings, sounds, vibratos. But I preferred his medium and up-tempo tunes because of his rhythmic drive.

By the way there is a group on Facebook called “The Lester Young Appreciation Society” which you might want to check out. There are some real fanatic record collectors who know all the alternate takes and contents of packaged sets, etc. but there are also many musician’s comments and some great photos.

Ted Brown, Sept. 11, 2016



Jon De Lucia Octet Featuring Ted Brown – Live at The Drawing Room

Original price was: $15.00.Current price is: $9.00.


The Jon De Lucia Octet’s debut performance, documented by Tony Melone, featuring Tristano School legend Ted Brown on the Tenor Saxophone. Official release July 10, 2018.

“Some jazz listeners disdain “West Coast jazz, “cool jazz,” or any music in the neighborhood of Lennie Tristano (not just East 32nd Street) as so cerebral that it’s barely defrosted. Jon De Lucia’s Octet shows how wrong that perception is: this music is warm, witty, embracing, not Rubik’s Cube scored for saxophones. Rather, the playful, tender spirit of Lester Young dances through everyone’s heart. This impassioned group swings, even when the players are intently looking at the score. For this gig, the Octet had a great spiritual asset in the gently fervent playing of Ted Brown, a Sage of melodic invention. Also, this session was recorded at one of New York City’s now-lost shrines, Michael Kanan and Stephanie Greig’s “The Drawing Room,” a sacred home for all kinds of music. I am grateful that Jon De Lucia has created this group: so delightful in whatever they play. You’ll hear it too.”

– Michael Steinman, jazzlives.wordpress.com


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Lineage and Traditionalism in Music and Tai Chi

A couple of months ago, I attended the premiere of a new film about Professor Cheng Manching at the Museum of the Moving Image. Cheng Manching was one of the principal importers of Yang-style Tai Chi to the West and his students head many of the schools in the NYC area. My teacher, William C.C. Chen, was a student of his back in Taiwan, and then split off to start teaching on his own. T.T. Liang, one of the Professor’s other senior students in Taiwan also started his own schools in the States. It appears that both men were cutoff from the Professor after this, as he had hoped they would continue to work under him.

Movie Poster for


This reminds me of how saxophonist Lee Konitz was estranged from his teacher, Lennie Tristano, after a while for going his own way and leaving the inner circle. In fact, at this event I couldn’t help but notice the parallels to my experience with veterans of the jazz world. Not only is there some actual crossover, with some of our finest musicians being Tai Chi practitioners (Tristano bassist Joe Solomon is a student of Master Chen’s, as is bassist Lincoln Goines), but the idea of lineage and the passage of time struck me tonight. I could have pictured this as a new documentary about Lennie Tristano, Barry Harris, the late Connie Crothers, or any of the great teachers that have affected so many. It was amazing to see these students who studied with the Professor in the 1960s, some now in their 80s and 90s gathering to talk to old friends and share stories. Then to step once further back to the Professor studying with Yang Chengfu himself, the originator of the current Yang form of Tai Chi and you can feel the continuity and the beauty of traditions being passed along, though everyone has added their own reinterpretations along the way:


Learning about the lineage and history of any field is fascinating to me, and is what I have enjoyed most from getting to know people like William C.C. Chen, Putter Smith, Bill Crow, Steve Little, Lee Konitz and Ted Brown. The field of expertise is not as important as the feeling of continuity with our predecessors. It is the oral tradition and trying to track back to see what made certain things go certain ways.

Traditionalism can get a bad rap, and sometimes is what irks my fellow musicians about people like Wynton Marsalis. Why should anyone have to adhere to the styles of the people that came before them? Why can’t they have their own expression and carve a new path? Then people like Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Andrew Hill are usually put forth as musicians who broke the pattern and took us into new territory. Which they certainly did!

The fun for me is in finding where these groundbreakers are coming from, as they all are deeply connected with those that came before them. Their innovations were not groundless, or out of thin air. Ornette’s main influence was Charlie Parker, to me his sound is the closest to Bird’s, and if anyone came close to Bird’s free rhythmic sense, it was Ornette. Charlie Parker came out of Lester Young. Listen to the early recordings with Jay McShann: Lady Be Good. Lester Young listened to Frankie Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong. Of course, there were other influences, and everyone takes in what they can and molds their art from that. The ones that are the most successful create the most lasting art.

My music and craft move forward, in my experience, when I look back and study what came before. When creativity lapses, transcribing even four measures of something can start it up again. Speaking of which, next week I hope to post a finished version of the “Lester Leaps In” solo I am working on for the Jazz Research Journal, and also some other supplementary materials for the article which will be published next year. ‘Til then.



Zoot Sims the Altoist

I recently had a chance to stop in to the Library of Congress and look for some scores by Jimmy Giuffre. I acquired his pieces for Clarinet and Orchestra and an as yet unrecorded Clarinet and String Quartet piece. While I was there I had a little extra time to dig in to the extensive Gerry Mulligan collection that they have, consisting of over 200 boxes of music and correspondence. I only had time to pick one box, so I saw in the finder’s guide a chart for Venus de Milo, of Birth of the Cool fame, and went with that one. Inside I was excited to find a set of complete parts with the names Lee, Art, Coop, Willis, and Gerry on them, some also said Zoot.

Mulligan Turnstile Parts

This was for a series of charts for five saxes, the above names referring to Lee Konitz, Art Pepper, Bob Cooper, (Willis) Bill Holman, and Gerry Mulligan. I had never heard of a record by this band so I felt I had discovered something of import, perhaps as yet unheard music. Instead, I discovered that these were the charts for The Gerry Mulligan Songbook released on Pacific Jazz in 1957. Instead of the above named saxists, the recording features Lee, then Zoot Sims on second alto, Allen Eager and Al Cohn on tenors, and Gerry. The charts are great simple blowing affairs by Bill Holman, a couple of which we will perform on October 22nd at the Drawing Room. I bring this up as a lead in to today’s topic, Zoot Sims’ alto playing.

Zoot Sims Plays Alto

Certainly known more as a tenor player, Zoot Sims plays alto on a few recordings, mostly his own, but this was the first time I had heard him in a section on alto. His solos are a strong substitute for Art Pepper, who was apparently intended for the session, and in fact I would say stylistically the two are quite similar, deriving from Lester Young rather than Charlie Parker. Here is Zoot on track 1 from the Gerry Mulligan Songbook, “Four and One Moore.”


[audio: http://www.jondelucia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/zootfour.mp3]


Paul Desmond always claimed Zoot as one of his favorite players, and one can hear some similarities in feel and vibrato, while also being generally more propulsive than most of Paul’s playing.

Zoot also made a couple of novelty albums with new overdubbing technology, namely Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos, with arrangements by George Handy. You can hear a bit on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Plays-Tenor-Altos-Zoot-Sims/dp/B000QTD52K.

Bassist Bill Crow told me that when they recorded this, Zoot improvised on one alto, then gave the recording to George Handy, who transcribed it and voiced it for 4 altos. When he brought the arrangements in for Zoot to record, he had voiced every single note, creating some tricky lines. Zoot complained that he wouldn’t be able to play it, so George simplified the parts a bit. The result is this unusual record, but it does feature some great alto playing by Zoot.

One can find examples scattered throughout the 50’s before Zoot focused on the tenor, and occasionally soprano. Here is one I just discovered today, another overdubbing experiment:


I love this particularly Lesterian lineage of alto players, that also includes people like Bud Shank, who’s live at the Haig recording especially swings, and of course Art Pepper, and in a way Benny Carter and Cannonball Adderley,  alto players that are really descended from the swing era.. I’ll talk more about lineage in next week’s post, but I encourage you to check out more Zoot Sims on alto. And please do share any others I don’t know about in the comments!