Phil Schaap Jazz

LESTER YOUNG - The President

I believe I’ve discovered two things concerning the music of this most significant artist. Lester Young recorded under his own name the song “You’re Getting To Be a Habit With Me”. Prez, on tenor saxophone, did this with: Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; Lou Stein, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; and Mickey Sheen, drums on February 7, 1958. It’s late in Young’s life and one of his last studio sessions. “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” was written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren in 1932. It has a prominence but I doubt that it would make the Top 100 in the list of songs in the American Popular Songbook. For the record: “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” was created for the movie musical “42nd Street”. It has received released renderings from a list that would include: Perry Como; Doris Day; Peggy Lee; Julie London; and Frank Sinatra. When Lester Young recorded it, “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” was over a quarter century old. Why would The President record this piece and why then? Logic could lead you to the suggestion that Sinatra’s including “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me”  on his classic album “Songs For Swingin’ Lovers” released in 1956 is the reason. Perhaps that’s the case. I’ll offer that Lester’s love affair with the tune goes back to when the song was young. I believe that Lester Young was aware of Bing Crosby’s recording of the tune – perhaps the very first as it was done January 12, 1933 before the movie was officially premiered. Prez would have had it on Brunswick 6472, a 10” standard groove 78 RPM disc on which der Bingle was backed by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. The teaming of Bing Crosby with the King of New Year’s Eve (Lombardo) declares that their joint recording project was a very big deal. That fact alone supports the contention that Lester Young would have been aware of this record. Not to employ circuitous logic but the fact that Prez recorded “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” helps support he knew the Crosby/Lombardo disc. But I have more. When Bing Crosby sings “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” on Brunswick 6472, a guitar plays fills (obbligatos) behind Bing. Logic and its suggestions appears once again:  Crosby’s full time accompanist, the legendary guitarist Eddie Lang, should be the obbligatist. Discography is silent on this guitarist’s identity but until Lang’s tragic death during a tonsillectomy(!) on March 26, 1933, he’s supposed to be there when Bing Crosby is singing. Yet the guitar work did not hit me as played by Eddie Lang. Listening to the recording with the Vince Giordano (who is a Prince) I was guided to the insight that it is a tenor guitar – 4 strings tuned as a 4 string banjo would be – that is heard on the Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians recording of “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me”. Further research clarifies that it is Lombardo’s regular guitarist Francis Henry. What does this have to do with Lester Young? If you listen to the second fill played by Francis Henry as Bing Crosby in singing, then you’ll hear the beginning of a phrase Lester Young would make famous as the start of his solo on “Jive At Five” done in early February of 1939 with a contingent from the Basie Orchestra under Count’s name (Decca 2922). This lick as fleshed out and played by The President on “Jive At Five” and it has become one of the most quoted crips in all of Jazz. That riff’s root is that 2nd obbligato (the guitar enters a bit early in the vocal on Take A and one could count the bit I’m focused on as the third fill) played by Francis Henry on “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me”. And maybe it didn’t even start with Francis Henry backing Bing Crosby. Although Lester Young could only have known Take A (B12887-A), a ‘B’ take has surfaced. Francis Henry basically plays the same phrase on the rarer Take B (B12887-B), the take unknown in Lester’s lifetime. “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” take B is issued on Jonzo JZCD-12. If guitarist Henry played that lick twice in the same place on two takes of the same tune, then maybe he already knew it and perhaps obtained this crip earlier to the January 12, 1933 recording of “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me”. But I feel confident that Brunswick 6472 with Bing and Guy doing “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” is where Prez caught the lick he would player on “Jive At Five” and whatever the post 1933 recordings of “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” have to do with Lester recording the song, himself, in 1958. Bing Crosby’s record with Guy Lombardo and Lombardo’s anonymous guitarist starts the ball rolling for Prez making his own record of the Harry Warren music a quarter century later.