Wispy and vibrato-less, the sound of a tenor sax floated down the stairway at Blues Alley, an effective, even haunting introduction to a group that strives to invoke the spirit rather than the letter of the late Lester Young's work.

One tune grew out of another as Three Saxes for Lester took diverse paths to the bandstand, where they converged for unison reed section choruses in the opening medley of songs associated with the late tenor saxophonist.

If "Watergate" Clyde Dickerson, who rubbed shoulders with Young's circle, represented the early laid-back Young, Ron Holloway was the Young of the later Jazz at the Philharmonic "cutting" contests. Byron Morris, on alto and soprano, fell somewhere in between, alternately loping behind the beat in whispered slurs and swaggering on top of it in hoarse blues tones.

Dickerson, wearing a porkpie hat and bending forward over the mike, could pass for Young. His light-toned and relaxed "Sometimes I'm Happy" was an uncanny replica of the late tenor's sound.

Whether "Swinging the Blues" a la Basie, using a tune from the Ellington book or interpreting a Young favorite, the group took the familiar and made it its own.