Lester Young and the Giants of Jazz ’56 (Verve, 1957)
Conventional wisdom has it that Lester Young’s protean powers began to fade after his disastrous stint in the US Army during World War II. Young’s experience with the racism and violence of the army were a far cry form the admiration he had enjoyed during his tenure as the featured soloist with the Count Basie Orchestra and were one of many factors that led him on a downward spiral that led to his early death in 1959.
But he hardly went out like a lamb. Young was well recorded during the 1950’s by Norman Granz’s Verve label, both in the studio and as a stalwart on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours that took jazz legends all around the world during this time. While it’s true that Young’s soloing my not be as innovative on the Verve recordings as those of prior years, albums like this and the classic Lester Young Meets the Oscar Peterson Trio belay the notion that The President was washed up.
This record is somewhat unusual because it puts Young in the company of a larger group of “giants” made up of Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Teddy Wilson on piano, Vic Dickinson on trombone, Gene Ramey on bass, Freddie Green on guitar and Jo Jones on drums. The larger format is very helpful, because Young no longer has to dominate the music as he did on many records of this period, and the solo duties are well spread out amongst the band members.
Blues, standards and ballads were the order of the day, particularly the aptly titled “The Gigantic Blues” during which everyone gets in a rousing solo on a swinging uptempo blues. It’s a fine record, recommended for all of Young’s fans. He was nearing the end of his term as “The President” but it’s foolhardy for anyone to say that he didn’t go out swinging.
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