When Charlie speaks of Lester
You know someone great has gone
The sweetest swinging music man
Had a Porkie Pig hat on
These are the opening lyrics to Joni Mitchell's version of Charles Mingus' song "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." The Lester she speaks of is Lester Young, for whom Mingus had written the original song, and who was one to regularly wear a pork pie hat. More on Mitchell and Mingus later.
Lester Young's career emerged as part of Count Basie's Orchestra (among a variety of other bands) and on recordings with Billie Holiday and Nat "King" Cole. He played the tenor saxophone and the clarinet, though he is mostly cited for the former. He was known as "The President of Jazz," a moniker given to him fondly by Holiday. His music is studied and celebrated for its creativity, its note specificity, and its “sweetness.”
As was the case with Frédéric Chopin, in a distant part of the world, from a different culture, a century before, Lester Young's gentle musical innovativeness won over audiences previously accustomed to the harsher sound of the times. "The Prez" himself said:
"I'm looking for something soft. There's got to be sweetness."