“LESTER YOUNG” — a poem by Ted Joans


By Ted Joans

Sometimes he was cool like an eternal
          blue flame burning in the old Kansas
          City nunnery
Sometimes he was happy ’til he’d think
          about his birth place and its blood
          stained clay hills and crow-filled trees
Most times he was blowin’ on the wonderful
          tenor sax of his, preachin’ in very cool
          tones, shouting only to remind you of
          a certain point in his blue messages
He was our president as well as the minister
          of soul stirring Jazz, he knew what he
          blew, and he did what a prez should do,
          wail, wail, wail. There were many of
          them to follow him and most of them were
          fair — but they never spoke so eloquently
          in so a far out funky air.
Our prez done died, he know’d this would come
          but death has only booked him, alongside
          Bird, Art Tatum, and other heavenly wailers.
Angels of Jazz — they don’t die — they live
they live — in hipsters like you and I


Ted Joans (1928-2003) was a poet, artist, and trumpet player. His artistic work was heavily influenced by jazz rhythms. A former roommate of Charlie Parker’s, Ted coined the phrase “Bird Lives!” upon Parker’s death.

Born on a riverboat in Cairo, Illinois, as a young man Ted moved to New York, where he became associated with the Bohemian scene in Greenwich Village. It was there that he rented himself out for parties, advertising this service as “Rent a Beatnik.”

He met, and maintained close friendships with, a number of Beat Generation figures, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Ted published many collections of poetry. The last two included Teducation: Selected Poems by Ted Joans, published by Coffeehouse Press in 1999. Ekstasis Editions published Our Thang,  a collaboration with Laura Corsiglia, which featured Laura’s drawings alongside Ted’s poems.

– Biography from

Read our interview with Lester Young biographer Douglas Daniels