On September 23, 1923, the Bennie Moten Orchestra made its first recording consisting of eight songs. By strict musical standards, the songs themselves were unrefined and not much removed from existing blues music. But the Bennie Moten Orchestra would soon build upon its earliest recordings to develop a distinct Kansas City style of jazz that later dominated the jazz scene in the late 1930s and 1940s.
Full length group photograph of three of the Blue Devils, taken by Bert Studios, Kansas City, (left to right): Ernie Williams, George Hudson, Lester Young, ca. 1932. Source: Jimmy Jewel.
Full length group photograph of three of the Blue Devils, taken by Bert Studios, Kansas City, (left to right): Theo Ross, Lester Young, and Buster Smith, ca. 1932. Source: Jimmy Jewel.
Snapshot of Lester Young with three unidentified women, no date. Source: Elmer Orrie.
Snapshot on stage of Count Basie at piano, Lester Young at mic, no date. Source: Duncan Scheidt.
Lester Willis Young was one of the premier saxophonists of the 1930s and 40s whose style and sound was emulated by future generations of jazz musicians. Hailed as “The President of the Tenor Sax” by his close friend Billie Holiday, he was simply “Prez” to his peers. While in Kansas City, Lester freelanced with Bennie Moten, George Lee, Clarence Love and other bands, before joining the Count Basie-Buster Smith band at the Reno Club in 1934.