“Lester sings in his horn; you listen to him and can almost hear the words” ~Billie Holiday
A true artist, maybe one of the truest we have ever had, Lester Young was creative in dress, in the way he played, and even in the way he spoke.
Reading about Prez I have found many references to his creative use of language, Lesterese. Like his iconic porkpie hat, wearing sunglasses in a dark night club, and holding his sax at a peculiar angle, his language was as hip and singular as his music.
Some of the terms he is said to have coined and/or popularized include:
- cool - for something fashionable, “That is a cool look.”
- bread – for money, ”How does the bread smell?” when asking how much a gig was going to pay.
- draft – for hostility/ racism
- vanilla - to play it straight, not to try and get fancy.
Some eccentric terms he used:
- to have eyes – To desire or asipre to, “I had eyes for playing with Basie.”
- bruise – to have a bad show or to have no crowd come to see a performance.
- lady – He called everyone male or female, lady, because, as Pres would say, “anyone with music in their heart is a lady.”
- George Washington – was according to Oscar Peterson, Young’s term for the bridge of a tune. He would say something like, “Lady Pete, may I have my George Washington again?”
- people - his saxophone keys, as in “My people were really smooth tonight”
- wayback – a long forgotten girl friend
- bomber - a drummer who thumped too hard
- Ivey-Divey - trademark turn of phrase, ranging in meaning from “good!” to “que sera sera…”
Seems to me the world needs all the Lester Young coolness it can get right now.
Personally, I can’t play the sax, and I am not sure I could pull off the porkpie hat, but I do know a bit about language. So I have made a vow to import a bit of Prez’s language into my own.
So if you see me and happen to ask, “How you doin’, Mark?” You can expect me to reply, “Ivey-Divey.” Dig?