(1) In 1965 he started Jazz at Noon, which lasted forty-five years as a great New York notion achieved with artistry and renewed with vigor and vibe on a weekly basis. Every Friday you could go to whichever club or tavern was hosting and you'd hear Les on his saxophone joining other gents who, like Les, held demanding jobs in medicine, finance, or other professions, but relished this one hour when they could honor their love of jazz. News of Jazz at Noon spread from mouth to mouth and a dedicated following followed. Dizzy Gillespie dropped in with his trumpet, and Buddy Rich visited to play drums.
(2) Les's main job was as a journalist, a sports journalist, whose profile of the great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra ran under the title "There's No Place Like Home Plate."
(3) Les, fluent in French, spent many a summer in St. Paul de Vence with his charming wife, Edie, a beauty in the Ava Gardner manner, where they befriended the painters and poets who made this hillside town in the Alpes Maritimes a destination worth a journey.
(4) A veteran of the air force in World War II, Les had a sharp wit and was adept at delivering a humorous comment or aside with a straight face in the Bogart manner.
Jazz aficionado Jamie Katz, Les's stepson, has spoken movingly about his "talented, lovable stepdad, who spoke six languages, pitched a no-hitter in college, landed in Normandy, recorded with Django Reinhardt in Paris in 1945, and wrote hundreds of imaginative, beautifully turned, whimsical magazine articles."
When I met Les, he was twenty five years younger than I am now, which sounds like a math problem but is just a way of saying that he was a longtime friend who was exemplary in demonstrating that possibly the best way to appreciate great music -- better even than the joy of listening -- is to play it. This is a lesson that applies as much to poetry as to jazz. -- DL
Les Lieber, who for more than 45 years ran Jazz at Noon, a fabled New York institution where talented amateur players got together every week to stretch their skills and to perform alongside top-flight professionals, died on July 10 on Fire Island, N.Y. He was 106.
His stepson Jamie Katz confirmed the death.
Mr. Lieber had already had a substantial career as a publicist and journalist when, in September 1965, he organized the first Jazz at Noon, partly to give himself a chance to play his alto saxophone and penny whistle for an audience. It was on a Monday at lunch hour at Chuck’s Composite, a restaurant on East 53rd Street.
“I was dying on the vine as a musician,” he told The New York Times in 1975, recalling the origin of the sessions. “I hadn’t had my sax out of its case in eight years. I felt there must be others like me who would love to play but couldn’t get a rhythm section together without disrupting their families.”
The experiment soon had a following, as players who might have once had thoughts of a professional career but had become doctors, lawyers or accountants pulled instruments out of closets. Soon Mr. Lieber added to the allure by recruiting professionals, for a modest fee, to drop in as guest stars.
for more of Neal Genzlinger's obituary for Les Lieber, click here.