LESTER YOUNG: FOREVER YOUNG / HANLEY-MacDONALD: Indiana (2 tks). V. YOUNG: (I Don’t Stand a) Ghost of a Chance. LEWIS: How High the Moon. L. YOUNG: D.B. Blues (2 tks). Lester’s Mop Mop Blues (2 tks). Lester Leaps In (2 tks). Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid. Medley: SHEARING: Lullaby of Birdland/L. YOUNG: Up and At’em. MERCER: Too Marvelous for Words. SHEARING: Lullaby of Birdland. GREER: Just You, Just Me. ARLEN-ROSE: It’s Only a Paper Moon. McLAUGHLIN: Speak. GREEN-HEYMAN-SOUR: I Cover the Waterfront. YOUMANS: Tea for Two. VAN HEUSEN-BURKE: Polka Dots and Moonbeams (2 tks). RUBY-KALMAR: Three Little Words (2 tks). G. & I. GERSHWIN: Oh, Lady Be Good (2 tks). SHEARING: Lullaby of Birdland. STRACHEY-LINK: These Foolish Things. JOHNSTON: Pennies From Heaven / Lester Young, t-sax with various personnel (see below)/ Storyville SVL1038414 (live: Birdland, New York City, May 19, 1951; April 15, 1953; August 15, 1956; Storyville, Boston, December 15, 1953; Théâtre des Arts, Paris, November 1, 1956; Kongresshalle, Zurich, November 19, 1956; Olivia’s Patio Lounge, Washington D.C., December 8, 1956; Café Bohemia, New York, December 15 & 22, 1956.)
This marvelous 2-CD set consists of all live material by a mostly late-period Lester Young (part of CD 1 and all of CD 2 come from 1956), when he was still in command of his powers as an improviser. Rather than list all the various other musicians and muck up the header, I’ve inserted the back cover inlay which will tell you who plays what:
And here is the breakdown as to which tracks have which players:
CD 1: (a) tracks 1-4; (b) tracks 5, 6; (c) tracks 7-12, 14; (d) 13, 15 (Raney only)
CD 2: (a) tracks 1, 2; (b) tracks 3-6 (M. Davis on 6 only); (c) tracks 7-10; (d) tracks 11, 13, 16; (e) tracks 12, 14, 15.
As is often the case with live recordings from this period, there are the usual drawbacks—boxy sound and ambient surface noise—but in its favor is the excitement of hearing Lester in live settings, and wow, is he good here. If anything, the tight microphone placement makes his tone sound brighter and less “wheaty” (a term I coined for his sound many years ago), which is all to the better. Here, particularly in the opening Indiana, Young sounds like a gutsier, bluesier version of Stan Getz, which isn’t surprising since Young was Getz’ model. Trumpeter Jesse Drakes plays in standard bebop style, not bad at all if lacking a bit in imagination (although his turnarounds are fairly interesting), while pianist John Lewis, here in a rare bop outing, sounds fine if also a bit generic, using a few Bird licks here and there to pepper his playing. Even in a ballad such as Ghost of a Chance, Young plays with a bit of an edge that gives his ballad playing some guts, a trait that seems to have disappeared in many modern-day saxists’ approach. He sounds his most be-boppish in How High the Moon, and here Drakes plays a fine solo. In the trumpet-tenor sax chase chorus, Young thrown in two bars from Jingle Bells just for fun.
In the 1953 session at Birdland (where, ironically, Stan Getz is also announced as appearing later on), pianist Horace Silver drives the rhythm with tremendous verve, pushing Young into some of his most exciting playing. In Too Marvelous for Words, interestingly, he is much mellower and more laid-back in his approach.
Surprisingly, the session from Boston’s Storyville, made later the same year, has fantastically good sound, full and natural with no distortion and little surface noise. Unfortunately, pianist Gildo Mahones isn’t as good as either Lewis or Silver, but the mellow rhythm section of Connie Henry and Connie Kay glide like ball bearings, the sort of rhythm section Young loved, and he sounds relaxed and inventive in Just You, Just Me. Mahones is also outstanding on this track.
As one reaches 1956, Young is clearly mellowing his sound and approach. The musical ideas are still interesting, but ironically, some of the earlier grit is gone and he sounds more like Stan Getz than before—by which I mean his tone, not necessarily his musical ideas. Lester’s Mop Mop Blues is the famous Ames Brothers hit tune, played in a jazzier, less R&B style. The unidentified trumpet player is pretty generic-sounding, not as fine as Drakes, and drummer Gus Johnson drops a few too many “bebop bombs,” a style that Young particularly disliked. On the other hand, the underrated pianist Bill Triglia is quite interesting. The brief (1:36) version of Tea for Two is taken at a blistering tempo, but Lester sounds relaxed and mellow.
Unfortunately, the Zurich Polka Dots and Moonbeams is a bit too relaxed and mellow; Young sounds wholly uninspired here, playing remembered licks in a dull style. He wakes up a bit in Three Little Words, however, and this version of Lester Leaps In is pretty good. The presence of Miles Davis on Oh, Lady Be Good peps things up a bit, as does Rene Urtreger’s piano, and Christian Garros’ drum break is quite good, too. All things considered, however, the rather noisy-sounding set at Olivia’s Patio Lounge in Washington, D.C. with Earl Swope on trombone is considerably peppier; Young sounds wide-awake on this set, with a superior solo on this version of Oh, Lady Be Good. Swope plays a wonderful solo, as does the underrated Bill Potts on piano. Potts also sets up a rocking motion on this version of Mop Mop Blues that gets the toes tapping and Lester in a festive frame of mind.
“Symphony” Sid Torin, the famous bop DJ and live-show host of the late 1940s and 1950s, is paid tribute to in Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid, originally recorded by the Dizzy Gillespie big band. This version is relaxed and could almost have been titled Getting’ Cool With Symphony Sid. Young is in good form, though, his solo complemented by Swope’s. The later version of Three Little Words, featuring a blistering-hot Idrees Sulieman on trumpet, is also exceptional, and the final Indiana really jumps, thanks in large measure to the propulsive bass of Gene Ramey.
All in all, an interesting set of live Lester from late in his career, with the many high moments covering up for the few weak ones.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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