Lester Young on Verve

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Lester Young was born on August 27, 1909 and died March 15, 1959. Known as Prez or Pres (short for President, a nickname Billie Holiday gave him), the tenor saxophonist was famous for his cool and airy relaxed style that modernized the tenor saxophone. Instead of improvising with an aggressive, vertical chopping approach, his sound was more horizontal, like a flat rock being skimmed along the top of a still lake. As a result, his notes lingered and seemed to moonwalk rather than tap dance. [Photo above of Lester Young by Herb Snitzer]

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In 1946, producer Norman Granz began recording Young on sessions that would last until 1959 for his Norgran, Clef and Verve labels. The genius of Granz is that he could hear exactly how to marry Young to the American songbook accompanied by enormously tasteful sidemen. The only flaws are that he didn’t always pick the best standards and he made a serious mistake not using guitarist Barney Kessel with just bass and drums. [Photo above of Norman Granz by William P. Gottlieb]

That said, the Granz sessions offer splendid examples of Young’s tissue-y blues and reinvented melodies while improvising on standards. Here are 10 exquisite examples from The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions on Verve: 

Here’s Somebody Loves Me, with Nat King Cole (p) and Buddy Rich (d) in 1946…

Here’s I Can’t Get Started, opening with a false start when Young blows a clam. This is a perfect example of why Granz should have recorded an album of Kessel and Young together. The beauty of them together should have been obvious…

Here’s I Can’t Give You Anything But Love in 1952, with Oscar Peterson (p), Barney Kessel (g), Ray Brown (b) and J.C. Heard (d). Dig how Young slides around on the original melody as if finger painting and then does his own thing, with signature sighing phrases…

Here’s There Will Never Be Another You in 1952, with the same group…

Here’s I’m in the Mood for Love in 1954, with Gildo Mahones (p), John Ore (b) and Connie Kay (d)…

Heres She’s Funny That Way in 1955, with Harry „Sweets“ Edison (tp), Oscar Peterson (p), Herb Ellis (g), Ray Brown (b) and Buddy Rich (d)…

Here’s It’s the Talk of the Town in 1955, with the same group…

Here’s I Didn’t Know What Time It Was in 1956, with Teddy Wilson (p), Freddie Green (g), Gene Ramey (b) and Jo Jones (d)…

Here’s I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans in 1956, with Vic Dickenson (tb), Teddy Wilson (p), Freddie Green (g), Gene Ramey (b) and Jo Jones (d)…

And here’s Taking a Chance on Love in 1956, with Teddy Wilson (p), Gene Ramey (b) and Jo Jones (d)…

      

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