Although he'd lived a scant 50 hard years when he died in 1959, tenor sax giant Lester Willis Young was and remains one of the most vital and influential forces in jazz. He used words as singularly as he played, dubbing Billie Holiday "Lady Day"; theirs was an incomparable musical pairing and she returned the favor, calling him "Prez" for president. Prez proved to be the key link between the early jazz of Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins with the bop of the '40s. Among the legions of players influenced by his playing were Stan Getz, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.
Sides 1-7 in this Centennial Celebration are from a 1956 Washington, DC gig in a relatively intimate setting as Young swings comfortably with musicians mostly a generation younger than himself. His playing is elegant, eloquent and subtle. Inventiveness and brisk pace on "Tea For Two" transform that chestnut while on "I Can't Get Started" he slows down and plays real pretty. For "Oh Lady, Be Good," a standard from his celebrated days with the '30s Count Basie band, he kicks the tempo up, swinging solidly in tandem with trombonist Earl Swope. Throughout he displays the surprising rhythmic and melodic style for which he was famous. On "Just You, Just Me," Prez ebulliently calls out "beautiful" after a particularly sizzling drum solo from Jim Lucht.
The last three sides included are from Jazz at the Philharmonic performances and find Young in company with the likes ofOscar Peterson, Roy Eldridge, Herb Ellis and Max Roach, giants all. The closer is Young's own signature tune, "Lester Leaps In," with the blazing heat of his soloing eliciting cheers and whistles from the audience.
Jumpin' With Symphony Sid; Tea For Two; I Can't Get Started; Pennies From Heaven; I'm Confessin' (That I Love You); Oh; Lady; Be Good; Just You; Just Me; Undecided; I Cover the Waterfront; Lester Leaps In.
Sides 1-9: Lester Young: tenor saxophone. Sides 1-7: Earl Swope: trombone; Bill Potts: piano; Norman Williams: bass; Jim Lucht: drums.
Side 8: Flip Phillips: tenor saxophone; Roy Eldridge: trumpet; Hank Jones: piano; Ray Brown: bass; Max Roach: drums. Sides 9 and 10:
Oscar Peterson: piano; Herb Ellis: guitar; Ray Brown: bass; J.C. Heard: drums.
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