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Ken Burns Jazz: Lester Young

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Album Review

With cooperation from the Verve and Columbia Legacy catalogs, the Ken Burns Jazz series on CD individually spotlights the musical excellence of 22 jazz originators whose careers and influence are explored in Burns' PBS documentary Jazz. This disc highlights tenor saxophonist Lester Young, beginning with his membership in the Count Basie band during its historic prime from 1937 to 1939. In addition, Young's late-'30s participation in the Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson orchestras is represented, and the CD also includes mid-'40s sides for Aladdin such as "D.B Blues" and "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" (which proved wrong many critics who insisted that Young's abilities had deteriorated after his release from the military). Although Young initially left Basie in 1940, he occasionally rejoined the band, as evidenced by "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," this disc's concluding track from 1957. While it's difficult to sum up the history of Lester Young on a single disc, the highlights presented on Ken Burns Jazz should be enough to keep the novice jazz listener interested in searching out more material.


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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