Were Lester Young still alive today, he would be a couple weeks short of his 100th birthday. As it is, the trailblazing tenorman died just over 50 years ago, in March 1959. Still, the very fact that the saxophonist would’ve turned 100 on August 27 was reason enough for the Concord Music Group to spotlight Young in the latest installment of its Centennial Celebration Series.
Lester Young: Centennial Celebration, released on August 4, is a 10-track compilation of songs that Young recorded during the last seven years of his life. All of the tunes were released originally on the Pablo label in the 1950s. Tracks 1 through 7 were recorded in December 1956 during Young’s weeklong run at Olivia Davis’ Patio Lounge in Washington, D.C. He’s accompanied by the Bill Potts Trio – the Patio Lounge’s house band – which was comprised of pianist Potts, bassist Norman Williams and drummer Jim Lucht. The last three tracks were recorded during two of Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic tours in the early 1950s. Accompanying musicians include pianists Hank Jones and Oscar Peterson, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, bassist Ray Brown and drummers Max Roach and J.C. Heard.
“This collection celebrates the mature Lester Young of the 1950s, a reminder of a time when he would blow into town for a week performing with a local rhythm section, or for a one-night appearance as part of an all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic tour,” jazz historian and journalist Ashley Kahn writes in the CD’s liner notes. “A time when his powers of eloquence and subtlety remained undiminished, while his tone had developed a more mature-one could say darker-edge.”
This is the third installment in the Concord Music Group’s Centennial Celebration Series, which began with the release of a Ben Webster collection on March 10 and then a Lionel Hampton collection on April 12. Art Tatum and Johnny Mercer compilations will be released this Fall.