14 Songs, 1 Hour 3 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

As a member of the Count Basie saxophone section in the late ’30s, tenor Lester “Pres” Young changed jazz with his elegant yet knife-sharp approach to improvisation. Players of all stripes, including Charlie Parker, learned to play and sing those early Basie solos note for note. But in the years prior to Young’s death from alcoholism in 1959 (at just 49 years old), his abilities had begun to fade. It made sense for producer Norman Granz to feature him with others who could lift him up and show him in the best light. That’s the case with this date for Norgran Records, one of the labels that foreshadowed Granz’s iconic Verve imprint. (The Verve reissue combines two volumes that resulted from the 1952 session.) It should be noted that Young off his game is still Young: laidback and sumptuously warm, with glimpses of his earlier incarnation as a samurai of melody, able to cut across any tempo with perfectly relaxed, blues-marinated phrases.

Piano giant Oscar Peterson, like Young a stalwart of Granz’s acclaimed Jazz at the Philharmonic series, had found success with a drum-less trio in the mold of Art Tatum and Nat Cole. On this album, however, drummer J.C. Heard joins Peterson, bassist Ray Brown, and guitarist Barney Kessel—presumably to add rhythmic drive and propel Young’s playing. “Ad Lib Blues” leads off, and it’s no accident that the atmosphere of the jam session, JATP's raison d’être, is front and center. Following that is a set of often-played standards, strictly in everyone’s comfort zone. Young is animated and resourceful on the uptempo numbers (“Tea for Two,” “Just You, Just Me”), but it’s his rendition of “Stardust,” with a breathy and meditative ending cadenza, that leaves the most lasting impression. On the unreleased track “(It Takes) Two to Tango”—a song that was charting for Louis Armstrong right around this time—Young’s vocal is uproarious and full of on-the-spot invention. Even when he’s just goofing around, Pres could sound like a genius.

EDITORS’ NOTES

As a member of the Count Basie saxophone section in the late ’30s, tenor Lester “Pres” Young changed jazz with his elegant yet knife-sharp approach to improvisation. Players of all stripes, including Charlie Parker, learned to play and sing those early Basie solos note for note. But in the years prior to Young’s death from alcoholism in 1959 (at just 49 years old), his abilities had begun to fade. It made sense for producer Norman Granz to feature him with others who could lift him up and show him in the best light. That’s the case with this date for Norgran Records, one of the labels that foreshadowed Granz’s iconic Verve imprint. (The Verve reissue combines two volumes that resulted from the 1952 session.) It should be noted that Young off his game is still Young: laidback and sumptuously warm, with glimpses of his earlier incarnation as a samurai of melody, able to cut across any tempo with perfectly relaxed, blues-marinated phrases.

Piano giant Oscar Peterson, like Young a stalwart of Granz’s acclaimed Jazz at the Philharmonic series, had found success with a drum-less trio in the mold of Art Tatum and Nat Cole. On this album, however, drummer J.C. Heard joins Peterson, bassist Ray Brown, and guitarist Barney Kessel—presumably to add rhythmic drive and propel Young’s playing. “Ad Lib Blues” leads off, and it’s no accident that the atmosphere of the jam session, JATP's raison d’être, is front and center. Following that is a set of often-played standards, strictly in everyone’s comfort zone. Young is animated and resourceful on the uptempo numbers (“Tea for Two,” “Just You, Just Me”), but it’s his rendition of “Stardust,” with a breathy and meditative ending cadenza, that leaves the most lasting impression. On the unreleased track “(It Takes) Two to Tango”—a song that was charting for Louis Armstrong right around this time—Young’s vocal is uproarious and full of on-the-spot invention. Even when he’s just goofing around, Pres could sound like a genius.

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