When one thinks of Chicago piano - the photo of John Young begins the chapter. His recent passing April 16, one month to the day of his 84th birthdate leaves our hearts heavy but not blue. For the music he gave to us will forever make our hearts and memories sing.
Having seen John Young play countless times over the past four decades I was always amazed at his sheer joy of playing. I used to call him a piano savant. With an ever ready smile sometimes vocalizing melodies and lyrics to other band members. His Monday nites with Von Freeman at the Club Enterprise are the stuff of legend. Freeman gave Young the 'title' of "Young" as he does with many of his peers, giving them all nicknames.
It was a crime that John Young didn't record as prolifically as his undisputed reputation would warrant. Who can forget his dates on Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon's The Chase. Or the sessions with Etta James and Freeman. Not to mention his discs on the Chess label in the 50s. A time when Chicago piano was being defined by Ahmad Jamal. Other Chess roster mates included King Fleming and Ramsey Lewis.
Having attended his funeral April 23rd at one of Chicago's oldest baptist churches, Ebenezer I was struck by how few people were there. A little over a hundred tops. Oh yes many musicians, Von and George Freeman both, Eric Schneider, drummer Terry Ross, vocalist June Yvone; WHPK DJ's Sterling Watson, Gil Daspit and Lee Bailey to name a few. But I thought here lies the body of one of the greatest pianist on Earth! Why has not Mayor Daley declared this day "Young" John Young Days for all the city of Chicago?
One cannot forget John Young, with his always present Kangol caps hiding his balding dome. That twinkle in his eyes. Nor his encyclopedic piano language. A tongue which we all longed for and understood.
Pianist Bradley-Parker Sparrow put it this way.....
The piano is in the sky with white and black pedal tones
And eternal standards…
The harp is like the heavens blessing so strong
And John Young has the perfect trio,
The tuned piano,
The everlasting audience
And god is jazz.
And food for the band.
The trio is in the holy city.
Now turn around and be with all,
In tune, on time and in key.