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Exercise In Swing (Giants of Jazz)

Lester Young

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Album Review

While Giants of Jazz might not be considered a very prestigious or comprehensive label, there's no denying that some of their reissue compilations serve jazz lovers as mini-surveys illuminating great moments in swing and bop. One of the best entries in the entire Giants of Jazz catalog is probably the magnificent Bud Freeman's 1928-1939. Similarly wonderful and highly recommended for those who are forever in love with the spirit and sounds of Lester Young, Exercise in Swing is a sublime if chronologically obfuscated sampler of Prez's best recorded performances dating from a slice of time running between the summer of 1942 and the spring of 1946. The album opens with most of the master takes from a trio session produced by Norman Granz in either March or April of 1946; here Prez collaborated with pianist Nat King Cole and drummer Buddy Rich. Without any exaggeration whatsoever let it be said that these tracks (one through six) constitute some of Lester Young's most inspired work and indeed some of the best intimate small group swing ever played in a recording studio. After the famous January 1946 Aladdin recording of "It's Only a Paper Moon" the rest of this compilation dwells mainly upon Young's adventures as a Keynote recording artist. "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "Afternoon of a Basie-ite" come from Prez's first-ever recording date as a leader (not counting a relatively obscure series of sessions co-led with his brother Lee Young). Four other vintage Keynote selections feature the Kansas City Seven, which was essentially a scaled down Count Basie band with Basie billed as "Prince Charming." "Three Little Words" was performed by the Kansas City Six, a Commodore jam band that included trumpeter Bill Coleman, trombonist Dicky Wells and pianist Joe Bushkin. This outstanding Lester Young sampler closes with a marvelous 1942 rendering of "Body and Soul" (another daydream for trio involving Cole and bassist Red Callender) and the stimulating "Exercise in Swing," an aerobic romp recorded for the Savoy label on April 18, 1944. Without piling on superlatives let's just say this is a knockout Lester Young disc that you probably need more than you even realize at this moment; ideally it would incite you to obtain this man's complete Keynote, Aladdin, Commodore, Savoy and Verve recordings.


Born: 27 August 1909 in Woodville, MS

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s

Lester Young was one of the true jazz giants, a tenor saxophonist who came up with a completely different conception in which to play his horn, floating over bar lines with a light tone rather than adopting Coleman Hawkins' then-dominant forceful approach. A non-conformist, Young (nicknamed "Pres" by Billie Holiday)...
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