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The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions On Verve

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Album Review

All too often, jazz critics have promoted the myth that Lester Young's playing went way downhill after World War II — that the seminal tenor man was so emotionally wounded by the racism he suffered in the military in 1944-1945 that he could no longer play as well as he had in the '30s and early '40s. To be sure, Young went through hell in the military, and his painful experiences took their toll in the form of alcohol abuse, severe depression, and various health problems. But despite Young's mental decline, he was still a fantastic soloist. This eight-CD set, which gathers most of the studio recordings that he made for Norman Granz's Clef, Norgran, and Verve labels from 1946-1959, underscores the fact that much of his postwar output was superb. At its worst, this collection is at least decent, but the Pres truly excels on sessions with Nat "King" Cole and Buddy Rich in 1946, Oscar Peterson and Barney Kessel in 1952, Roy Eldridge and Teddy Wilson in 1956, and Harry "Sweets" Edison in 1957. Disc 8 contains two recorded interviews with the saxman — one conducted by Chris Albertson in 1958 for WCAU radio in Philadelphia, the other by French jazz enthusiast Francois Postif in Paris on February 6, 1959 (only five or six weeks before Young's death on March 15 of that year). The contrast between the fascinating interviews is striking; in Philly, Young is polite and soft-spoken, whereas in Paris, the effects of the alcohol are hard to miss. Sounding intoxicated and using profanity liberally, Young candidly tells Postif about everything from his experiences with racism to his associations with Billie Holiday and Count Basie. But as much as the set has going for it, The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions on Verve isn't for novices, casual listeners, or those who are budget-minded (Verve's suggested retail price in the U.S. was $144). Collectors are the ones who will find this CD to be a musical feast.

Customer Reviews

The explicit stuff ...

The other reviewer asked what was explicit about this album … it's the interviews. And yes, there's as much swearing and "saltiness" as a rap album in the interviews on this collection (as I understand it: I don't listen to rap). Prez cursed lots and lots when speaking. Moving on, for Prez fans, like myself, the interviews are fascinating; especially as there are discussions regarding post-WWII playing, army racism, and many of the things that critics say lead to the downfall of Lester's playing. Also, the interviews give great insight into the "jive" speaking of Prez. He's widely known for having created a unique - and often hard to follow - form of speech (coining slang terms in common use like "bread" for money), and this gives you a chance to hear it in action. I feel like it helps understand Papa Jo Jone's speech patterns also. As a person completely removed from the culture and time of this music (born decades after his death), I view the interviews as a valuable cultural document worth studying in a effort to better "get" the jazz culture of the original greats.

The Sad Slow Decline of Lester Young to Alcoholism

The Sad Slow Decline of Lester Young to Alcoholism

To understand this collection, one must also understand that Lester Young was an alcoholic who paid the price with his career and ultimately his life. This boxed set is a reflection of this decline and as such has some playing which is simply not up-to-snuff. The last 3 disks are the last days of Lester Young and his musical talent has all but drained from his body when compared to the same material 12 years earlier. The playing on discs 6,7, and 8 are inferior to those of his earlier career and really only enjoyable to a completionist. The interviews contained on disc 8 have all the "Explicit Language" and by and large interesting to listen to for die-hard fans. It is a great collection, but also a frightening reminder what alcoholism can do to great talent.

What's "Explicit" About This Album?

This is 1950's classic instrumental jazz, not hip-hop filled with cursing and violence and hatred of women!


Born: August 27, 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) had the ironic experience in the 1950s of hearing many young tenors try to sound exactly like him. Although he spent his earliest days near New Orleans, Lester Young lived in Minneapolis...
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The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions On Verve, Lester Young
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