Lester Young

Classic Columbia, Okeh and Vocalion: Lester Young with Count Basie (1936-1940)

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Lester Young was in some ways the definitive jazz musician. He was the personification of the art of swing and a master of creative ballad interpretation. He was one of the early innovators who laid the groundwork for bop and was the principal, as it were, of the cool school. Most Lester Young collections are well worth investigating, simply because his recorded legacy is filled with exciting and beautiful moments. In 2008 Mosaic brought out a four-CD Lester Young/Count Basie set containing 83 selections recorded between 1936 and 1940 which were originally released on 78 rpm Columbia, Okeh and Vocalion phonograph records. This is by no means a complete chronological survey of every studio session that Pres and Basie participated in during the second half of the '30s. There are a lot of gaps; most conspicuous is the omission of Basie's Decca sessions that took place between 1937 and 1939, important years in the development of Lester Young and the Basie band. Note also that 29 of the 83 titles are additional, sometimes multiple takes. These are heaped together at the end of each CD, with disc three consisting of ten master takes followed by ten alternates. The fourth disc adds the Benny Goodman Sextet session of October 28, 1940 (an informal jam that brought together guitarist Charlie Christian with Lester Young, Buck Clayton, and Count Basie and His Kansas City Rhythm Section) and six peculiarly satisfying sides recorded on June 26, 1939 by electric organist Glenn Hardman and His Hammond Five, a group that contained several of Count Basie's key players, without directly involving Basie at all. This compilation is at once thorough and incomplete, its layout both meticulous and perhaps unevenly constructed, for had they not ladled on the alternates so prodigiously there would have been plenty of room for every single master take from each studio session that Basie and Pres participated in together during this time period, even with 24 months' worth of Deccas left out of the picture. Clearly, the masters and alternates were chosen as glowing examples of inspired collaboration, with plenty of opportunities for careful comparison. By the time this collection was released, buckets of Basie/Young material had been reissued in a wide range of layouts and packaging. Of course a truly comprehensive appreciation of Lester Young's early recorded works would also include the sessions he shared with Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, recorded, like everything on this compilation, for Vocalion, Okeh and Columbia. Given the omission of many excellent Basie/Young recordings and the piling on of alternate takes, this Mosaic set would best serve those who already know and love their Pres and would therefore be able to relax and appreciate the way the anthology is put together. If you are convinced that multiple treatments of the same song will make you itchy and uncomfortable, and if the promise of enlightenment fails to persuade you to hunker down and absorb four consecutive versions of ""Riff Interlude"," look elsewhere for sensible editions filled with master takes, under the names Count Basie and Lester Young.

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
2 2:33
3 2:35
5 2:39
10 2:57
14 1:38
15 2:30
16 2:38
20 2:55
blue highlight denotes track pick