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How to make a pork pie hat.

The cat in the hat. Wish I'd known him.

If you've read my ramblings for any length of time you may remember that I occasionally get obsessed by someone or something, seemingly at random, and am compelled to absorb as much information as I can about the subject as quickly as possible. Last week, it was Lester Young.

In case you don't know, Lester Young was a tenor saxophonist who rose to fame playing with Count Basie and then, later, Billie Holiday. He gave Holiday her 'Lady Day' sobriquet; she called him 'Pres'. They had an intense, though apparently platonic, relationship right up until he died at just 49 (drugs, booze – he looked about 69). His wife wouldn't allow Billie Holiday to sing at his funeral – that says something, no? Billie died just four months later (she was only 44).

I first heard his name from my dad who is a big jazz fan; I first heard Billie Holiday at home when I was a child. I always loved the sound of his saxophone; the melodies weren't over-fussy and the tone was amazingly laid back and rich. His undeniably romantic relationship with Billie Holiday always appealed to me. For some reason, last week, I started reading a lot about him.

He pretty much epitomised the jazz hipster of the '40s, becoming famous for his pork pie hat and scat-talk. I was fascinated to read that he was painfully shy and created this hep language (he had a quiet voice with a slight lisp) as a barrier; a means of keeping himself to himself – not revealing anything of his true persona – even as he was in conversation.

I like this little piece (above) on how he created his trademark hats; it seems so at odds with the hip, shy, unsmiling character he seemed to be most of the time. If you're anything like me, you'll now want to read his Wikipedia profile and maybe listen to some of his  – their – music. Go on... it's good.

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