For decades, jazz critics have been insisting that Lester Young's post-1944 work is of little or no value. It was in late 1944 that the seminal tenor saxophonist was drafted into the army, where he was victimized by racism and court-martialed for drug possession before getting a dishonorable discharge in December 1945. The critics who dismiss Young's post-1944 work would have us believe that he was so emotionally destroyed by his experiences in the military that his playing was never the same after he got out. But while Young did, in fact, go through hell in the military and ended up suffering from severe depression as a result, his playing never went downhill. Racism robbed the Prez of his piece of mind, but it didn't take away either his chops or his ability to play with tremendous feeling. Recorded in 1944 and 1946, this collection explodes the myth that Young's musicianship went to pot during his months in the military -- his playing is as impressive in 1946 as it is in 1944. Six of the nine tracks are from an October 1944 session in L.A., where Young is joined by such heavyweights as trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison and fellow tenor man Illinois Jacquet. Some of these 1944 performances were used in the film Jammin' the Blues, including "Midnight Symphony" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street." The latter features Marie Bryant, a pleasant singer who was heavily influenced by Billie Holiday. Meanwhile, the three tracks from 1946 (some of which boast Coleman Hawkins on tenor) were all recorded at New York's Carnegie Hall, where Young hardly sounds like someone whose chops had just been destroyed -- he plays beautifully. This collection demonstrates that, before and after 1945, the Prez was a truly a master of the tenor saxophone.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson