If this is your first visit, welcome to my blog of memories and observations. If you wish to be notified of new posts, enter an e-mail address above, and click on "Submit." As we move through a seventh year of this venture, I thank all who have made regular visits, as well as fellow bloggers who have found Stomp Off worth linking to. Doing this sort of thing is time-consuming, but I try to post fresh material at least once a week—let me know what you think. There is a Commentary option at the end of each post and a Guest Book can be reached by scrolling down and clicking on the quill image. I welcome your observations, reaction and/or suggestions in either spot—or both. As for blog content, the most current posts are on the home page, starting at the top. Earlier items are listed by month, year and title in the archive index. To zero in on a particular key word or subject, use the search option that is located directly beneath the blog's masthead. Most images can be enlarged with a mouse click, and there are links to some of my favorite blogs, etc. Since visitors have come from 150 countries, a translator with numerous languages is located below. You can at any time revert to English with a click at the top left of this page:

Search This Blog


My "interview" with Lester Young

In 1958 I was a staff producer/writer at WCAU Radio, a major Philadelphia station with an illustrious history that since has gone from CBS to NBC. At WCAU, which was celebrating its 35th anniversary back then, I caught the tail end of old-time radio, the kind that continued on TV for a while—with cameras added. They gave me two live audience shows: one aired every weekday at noon and had a dead giveaway title, "Hi Neighbor!", the other was the slightly more elaborate but equally horrendous "Surprise Party". I recently found a tape of the latter, which I may one day post a sample from, but it is hopelessly passé and my script was deliberately corny. The host was Ed Harvey, who at that time was quite a popular figure in Philly, and we featured a musical trio, two vocalists (male and female), a resonant announcer with perfect pronunciation, and a guest star, usually some Hollywood idol plugging a new movie. Our audience ate it up, they were mostly ladies with time on their hands, who came for the gratis entertainment and prizes. Each received a bag of sample products, and while that alone would have lured them there, I also had a more substantial carrot to dangle: a refrigerator, stove, or other major appliance. They gave me a budget for give-aways and I could spend it any way I wanted to. 

We had what we called the "regulars," women who never missed a show and raised a fuss if someone dared to occupying "their" seat. Frankly, I couldn't stand the regulars and I confess that there were times when I cheated them by rigging prizes. Each seat had a number with a corresponding ticket in a large bowl, so a drawing determined the week's winner. If I spotted new faces in the audience (tourists sometimes came to the station), I might call out their seat number instead of the one drawn. When the big prize was an all-expenses-paid New Year's Eve for two in Paris, I picked out a young couple to win it. I know it was dishonest and unfair to the regulars, but...

As you can imagine, doing these programs was thoroughly dissatisfying, so I managed to talk the Program Director into letting me also do a weekly one hour jazz show, "Accent on Jazz".  I wrote and produced it, our deep-throated announcer delivered it, and each week focused on a different artist or subject. Because the show was of a documentary nature, I began conducting interviews with visiting jazz people and extracting from them sound bites for the show. My own voice was not for the air, so the whole idea was to get my guests to say something quotable that could be used in a variety of contexts. 

I am offering this detail to explain why the "interview" with Lester Young is so painfully awkward and why I am asking really dumb questions to which I already knew the answers. Were it not for the extraordinary fact that Lester Young—a great player who truly took the tenor sax and the music itself in a new direction—only left behind two known recorded interviews, this tape would have remained unpublished. As it is, transcripts have appeared in books by Martin Williams, Stanley Dance, and Lewis Porter, and the tape is reproduced in a boxed Verve set (The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions), all with my permission.

Lester Young had recently been hospitalized and he looked frail on August 24, 1958, when he came to the WCAU studios on Philadelphia's City Line. On February 6, 1959, he was in Paris, where he gave his second extant interview to Francis Postif. He recorded his final session during the first week of March, but took ill and returned to New York City. On March 15, 1959,  six and a half months after we sat down at WCAU, Lester died in his room at the Alvin, a hotel across the street from Birdland that had become his "home." 


  1. Thanks for all the interviews and musical clips you post. So often no written words can express or illustrate an event, or individual like a sound recording or picture.

  2. I hadn't heard this before - wonderful. Thanks for posting it!

  3. what a wise and gracious man he was...


  4. You have some incredible stuff. How i wish I could download some of your interviews.

  5. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for the good material here.

    I'm currently doing research for a novel set in '59, about a Chet Baker-ish/Bill Evans-y character. Also hoping to use the Jan. 1959 murder of Zach Levy at Birdland as a backdrop, or a starting point for a crime story set in the jazz world of that era.

    I tried linking to your organissimo 2005 mention of that murder as reported in NYT, but your link isn't there at the forum anymore. I can probably track that specific story myself, but I wonder if I might correspond with you or do an interview at some point?, since you were doing the jazz documentary show in Philly and clearly know your jazz history.

    Either way, I'll enjoy looking at some of your other blog postings. As for my blog, I do go into jazz and other music (I was a jazz d.j. at Northwestern U for three years), but it is broader on the whole... sort of focused on creativity, culture and spirituality.

    Let me know if you have the time and/or interest, or other people I might want to talk to. Like that little detail about Pres's hotel across the street, or other relevant sites, people, events. I feel it's important to capture the spirit of that Late Fifties, pre-Kennedy countercultural vibe within the next few years, while those who lived it are still around to make their contributions. (I'm currently 46, for the record, so I have to respect my elders in such things...)

    Mark Nielsen, Chicago