Night Lights Classic Jazz

R. I. P., Tenor Saxophonist David Young

A tribute to an unsung hero of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene.

David Young

Photo: Mark Sheldon (used by permission)

Despite his low profile, Young's playing "always revealed him in a good light," says friend and colleague David Baker.

Tenor saxophonist David Young, who was an integral part of the David-Baker-led Indianapolis hardbop group that was absorbed by George Russell at the beginning of the 1960s, passed away early this Friday morning. He was 75 years old.

Some Young Biography

Born in Indianapolis in 1933, Young was a member of the amazing Indiana Avenue generation of the 1950s, a group that also included Baker, Freddie Hubbard, and Wes Montgomery. He appears on the Russell albums Jazz in the Space Age, Kansas City, At the Five Spot, and Stratusphunk. He also recorded a very good album (his only one as a leader) for the Mainstream label in the 1970s, with a lineup that included fellow Indy trumpeter Virgil Jones, saxophonist Sonny Fortune, pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Richard Davis, and drummer Idris Muhammad.(Whew!).

A fellow student, along with Baker, at the now-legendary Lenox School of Jazz, Young in his early period was sometimes influenced by John Coltrane (a hard thing for any young tenor circa 1961 to avoid), but he always had a distinctive sound that evolved throughout the 1960s and 70s into a fluid, inside/outside attack of quiet strength (with a biting, soulful edge on the Mainstream album–perhaps a result of his time with Brother Jack McDuff). Unknown to the general jazz public, he retained a great deal of respect among his fellow artists; in addition to George Russell and Baker, he worked with Frank Foster’s big band, Sam Rivers’ Harlem Ensemble, and Lionel Hampton’s Inner Circle.

Avoiding the Limelight

Musician and jazz writer Allen Lowe saw Young years ago with the Ellington orchestra, in its post-Duke, Mercer-led incarnation:

He was brilliant – he sorta served as the Paul Gonsalves tenor when I saw the band – it was probably 1980 or so and I remember thinking, who is this guy and where has he been hiding?

David Baker, Young’s long-running musical colleague, cites his friend’s shyness and deliberate low profile as one reason why he never became better known:

He always said he’d rather practice than play…but when he played, he played, man! His playing always revealed him in a good light.

Although I haven’t yet learned the cause of death, it seems Young’s health was rather fragile, and he was unable to attend Mark Sheldon‘s Great Day in Indy photo shoot last year. Nevertheless, a couple of people close to him expressed surprise and shock upon receiving the news.

I was very fortunate to hear Young several times, including a quasi-revival of the Russell-Baker group in 2004 (during which he took a solo on Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” that nearly brought my wife and me to tears) and a performance  with organist Melvin Rhyne (a former bandmate of Wes Montgomery‘s) just last year.

You can hear David Young on the Night Lights program When Russell Met Baker. (In his liner notes to the At the Five Spot reissue, Kirk Silsbee says that Young was “by all accounts the spark plug of the Russell-Baker band.”) Night Lights will also air a tribute program to David in mid-April that will include remarks from David Baker, as well as some previously-unreleased performances of Baker and Young.

For More David Young…

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • http://none Lou Kratzer

    David will be greatly missed, especially by the musician friends he was so generous to. It was a distinct pleasure to work with David, and an even greater treasure to be considered his friend. His musicianship was impressive, and beautiful, but no more so than his personality.
    God rest him.

  • Michael Stricklin

    David Young as a saxophonist was top shelf. He loved to practice. Not just sometimes, always. He was truly an inspiration to all musicians that were fortunate enough to have heard and/or visited with him. David as a husband and father was just as stellar. Not saying much, sometimes makes what you say be heard loud and clear. A tremendous human and fabulous musician. Though small in stature, his presence was daunting and formidable. His spirit will be in all of us.

  • Terrie Buxton

    It was a pleasure taking care of you. You were the patient that touched my heart. Rest in peace. Love, Terrie

  • Tim Riggins

    What a wonderful player and sweet guy. I was fortunate to see David play several times, but two stick out particularly. Still a teenager, our high school bandleader took our jazz band to see the Mercer Ellington big band at a southside Indianapolis mall. I got a kick out of the whole experience but David really stood out. Another time was at Second Story nightclub in Bloomington in the mid 80s, playing in a quintet with Slide Hampton, Jim Beard, Robert Hurst and Shawn Pelton. I still have a tape of that night, covertly made on my Walkman, and just listened to the group’s version of Star Eyes – wow!!

  • Ben Tolly

    Here’s another fine musician of whom I am not familiar with. Every large city I have visited has had fine players I heard then and have not received proper accolades. Nevertheless those of us who are aware of their soulful, heart-felt playing and making great music are thankful for experiencing this artistry personally and so wish to share that knowledge with everyone! Thank You all….

  • David Brent Johnson

    Ben, I’ll be doing a whole Night Lights show on David in April–hope you’ll tune in after it’s archived. David was really under the radar, in spite of his recordings with George Russell and David Baker.

  • John Jonsson

    I was a Swedish exchange student at Indiana University during 1959-60. I then met and heard David Young several times with the Dave Baker I.U. Big Band and was very impressed by his soulful playing.
    I also had the opportunity to hear him several times with the G. Russel sextet in N.Y. at the Five Spot – always swinging. Thank you David!

    John Jonsson

  • Alessandro

    Sad new.
    I love Young’s playing from some legendary George Russell cds. I am very sad to hear this; from the records I always felt he was a great player

  • Youngkyle

    he is my granpa!i loved him so much my last name is young one of his dauters was nina bennett witch is my mom

  • http://www.facebook.com/therealjohnleahy John Leahy

    Four years ago?! I’ve been looking on google for a few years to find out what happened to David Young, whose album (with his tune “For You With Love” on it) totally blew me away! This man was one of the greatest Tenor players ever, as his solo on “For You…” provides evidence. It’s a great album, and includes the best Baritone sax solo I’ve ever heard, played by Sonny Fortune (a testament to Mr. Young’s leadership). So sad for me that I never got to meet him, nor hear him play live.

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