Blues For T. (Thelonious & Lester) 

    I wrote Blues For T. the summer of 2006. The T. stands for Thelonious as in Thelonious Sphere Monk who was one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Thelonious’ friends called him T. I was told this by the greatest jazz musician that I ever met - Lester Bass.
    I met Lester Bass at Central State University when he was playing bass at my friend Brian Winguard’s senior recital. I had heard of Lester before then. He was a legend in my eyes. I had heard that he had played with and knew a lot of famous jazz musicians and that he even got to play with Thelonious Monk. I was in awe of Lester’s presence. Here was a man who actually knew Thelonious my hero.
    After the recital, I got my courage up and went over to meet Lester. I was asking him questions about his bass and the songs that they played. I didn’t want to ask him about Thelonious and all the musicians that he knew for fear of intruding on his personal life. Lester had on this crazy hat that I thought was so cool, so I told him that I liked it a lot. He said “Oh, that’s my Thelonious hat. I got that from T.” I didn’t understand what he meant by that so I said “It sure looks like something Thelonious would wear.”, and then Lester said “He did wear it. He gave it to me.” Then I said “So who is T.”, and he said “Oh, that was what Thelonious’ friends called him - T.” So, that’s how I found out about that.
     I have to say this about Lester. He was the kindest, most gentle, and supportive person that I think I have ever met. After that first meeting, Lester ended up doing some gigs with me. He always wanted to practice for the gig even if it didn’t pay well. I got to know him and he told me many stories about different musicians that he knew through the years. He told me about rooming with Wes Montgomery in Lionel Hampton’s big band and watching Rashaan Roland Kirk grow up in Columbus, Ohio where Rashaan Roland Kirk was at the School for the Blind.
    Eventually Lester told me about playing with Thelonious Monk. He was a sub for one week as a bass player in Thelonious’ band. When he got the gig, Thelonious said that he needed a decent hat, so he took Lester up to his apartment in New York and went into his bedroom, opened up the closet and in the closet were hundreds of hats. He picked one out and gave it to Lester. That’s how he got his Thelonious hat.
     He went on to tell me that Thelonious told him to be at the club at 2 o’clock for rehearsal. When Lester got there, no one was there. Later that night, at the gig, Lester asked Thelonious, “Where was everybody for the rehearsal?” Thelonious looked at him with puzzlement and then said, “Oh, we didn’t need to practice, you did.”
     Another friend of mine, Don Hinkey, told me a story that Lester would never tell. Don said that Lester contributed to the history of jazz as being the only man to ever beat up Charles Mingus. Charles Mingus was in a big band with him (I have no idea which one) and Charles was known to harass people into trying to do heroin with him. Lester stayed away from drugs his whole life and his favorite hobby was boxing when he was a young man. After several weeks of being tormented by Charles Mingus, Lester beat him up. Before I knew about this incident, I would ask if we could play some of Charles Mingus’ songs. Lester would always say no sternly, but I didn’t understand why. Now I know.
    In the weeks before Lester died, he was in great pain. He had edema from complications of diabetes, but he still wanted to do gigs with me. I had one last gig scheduled with him and I found out that he was sick and I couldn’t find him. My teacher, James E. Smith, subbed for Lester that day. I miss Lester a lot. I used to go to his house near my teaching studio and watch BET Jazz when I had breaks from teaching. When I wrote this song, I thought about Lester a lot. His week with Thelonious was one of the highlights of his musical career. I dedicate this song to both Thelonious and Lester. I hope you enjoy listening to it!