[JPL] Lee Young Dies at 94; Jazz Man and Producer

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Sun Aug 10 07:31:26 EDT 2008


August 10, 2008
Lee Young Dies at 94; Jazz Man and Producer

Lee Young, who emerged from a family with musical roots deep in New Orleans
jazz, drummed for greats like Ellington and Basie, became a pioneering black
man in music¹s executive suites ‹ and survived his musician brother, Lester,
by a half century ‹ died on July 31 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94.

The death was confirmed by his grandson Wren Brown.

In contrast to his brother, whose debilitating battle with alcohol and
personal demons is almost as well known to jazz fans as his saxophone solos,
Lee Young, a teetotaler, lived a long life of accomplishment in both
performance and the music business.

His recollections, from touring in a carnival act as a child with Lester and
their sister, Irma, in the 1920s; to playing drums and cutting his first
records with Fats Waller in the 1930s; to helping forge a vibrant jazz scene
in Los Angeles in the 1940s, were recorded by the oral history program of
the University of California, Los Angeles.

His experiences included teaching Mickey Rooney to play drums for a movie
and becoming the first black ‹ and for several years the only one ‹ to be a
regular studio musician in Hollywood. He played drums and conducted for Nat
King Cole.

Mr. Young played on literally thousands of records, said Phil Schaap, the
jazz historian.

As a record producer, Mr. Young developed a reputation for knowing in
advance what would sell, and discovered Steely Dan, the jazz fusion-rock

Mr. Schaap called Mr. Young ³a most significant figure in jazz who directly
connected us to the music¹s early glories: the birth of jazz in New Orleans,
the jazz age, the swing era and bebop.² Mr. Schaap also said that Mr. Young,
who led an integrated band when that was unusual, was ³a hero in the fight
for integration.²

Leonidas Raymond Young was born in New Orleans on March 7, 1914, to parents
who were both musicians and teachers. His father had learned to play
instruments including the violin, trombone and bass as he traveled the deep
South at the time jazz was sprouting in New Orleans.

Mr. Young¹s father was a stern taskmaster, drilling music into his children
by putting notes on a blackboard before they even started school. He made
them into a novelty dancing act for traveling carnivals until they learned
to play instruments. Lee, the youngest, had visited more than 30 states by
the time he was 8.

Lee was different from Lester as a youth. Lester would practice his
saxophone for hours; Lee would rather sneak off to play ball. Lester begged
off some of the vaudeville gigs, particularly longer stays in cities like
Minneapolis and Phoenix.

The family finally settled in Los Angeles, where Lee and his sister
entertained at the dance marathons that were the rage during the Depression.
By this time, Lee was performing most often as a drummer, having switched
from the trombone; Lester had decided to specialize in saxophone instead of

Lee attended high schools in Los Angeles. He began playing with Mutt Carey,
a trumpeter and bandleader who had gotten his start in New Orleans, and also
toured with Ethel Waters. He made his first records at 23 as Fats Waller¹s
drummer. He played with Lionel Hampton and others, and started his own
orchestra, actually a smaller combo. His brother joined the band in 1941,
and its stature grew exponentially. They toured for the U.S.O., broadcast
with Billie Holiday and were a hit in New York.

LA Weekly said in 2004 that Mr. Young for years was the only black staff
musician at a major studio. Mr. Schaap wrote that Mr. Young got his job by
turning down a chance to be Stan Kenton¹s drummer at a time when Kenton led
the nation¹s hottest band.

In 1953 Mr. Young became Nat King Cole¹s drummer and conductor, Mr. Schaap
said. From this pinnacle of the music world, he had new insights into the
business side of music, and decided to join it. He produced for Vee-Jay,
Motown and ABC/Dunhill Records.

Around 1937, Mr. Young met a teenager named Norman Granz on a tennis court
and began playing against him regularly. Granz was enthralled when Mr. Young
introduced him to jazz and went on to create Jazz at the Philharmonic, the
all-star touring group that took the music out of smoky bars to jam in the
concert halls; Mr. Young and his brother can be heard on some of the
recorded jam sessions.

Lester Young died in 1959; Irma died in 1993. Lee Young is survived by his
wife of 55 years, the former Louise Franklin Young; his daughter, Rosalind
Brown of Los Angeles; his son, Lee Jr., of Los Angeles; his half-sister,
Vivian Johnson of Louisiana; six grandchildren; and nine

Mr. Young was interviewed for a book, ³Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los
Angeles² (1999) and said that when the music industry was segregated, white
musicians were paid for seven nights of work, even though they were given
one day off, while blacks had to work all seven days for their pay.

³I just loved to play so much, I went to different clubs and told the guys
that if they wanted a night off, I would play in their place,² Mr. Young
said. ³So I got a chance to play all kinds of music, because I used to let
these guys off.²

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