Half Notes: Lester Young and Teddy Wilson – Pres and Teddy (1956)

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What was cool about Lester Young was that he kept evolving. All “Pres” did was:

— Pave the way for bebop in the 1930s.

— Presuppose, while playing clarinet with Basie back in the day, the cool California sound of Paul Desmond in Dave Brubeck’s 1960s band.

— Later find his own endless vista of late-period thoughtfulness in the 1950s.

Young’s health was bad by the 1950s, and he eventually drank himself to death. But when he was in the mood, he made some of the most openly joyful, deeply emotional tenor music there was. Obviously, you buy anything he did with Billie Holiday — moments so achingly beautiful and so perfectly in sync that it seemed impossible that they were not lovers. But he recorded for two decades, so that’s just the beginning. I’ve always favored this long-awaited reunion with pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Jo Jones. While his 1930s style was more forceful, Pres and Teddy illustrates how his autumnal playing was far more considered and emotional. Recording the day after another third-act classic called Jazz Giants ’56, “All of Me” is the highlight — soulful, even shattering.

Other late-period recommendations — Timeless Lester Young: Fifteen tracks to get you started. Classics from the 1940s and ’50s. A favorite is “Jump, Lester, Jump.” … Lester Young, with the Oscar Peterson Trio Oscar Peterson (and the underrated Ray Brown on bass) help the cool-swinging Pres breathe life into a series of timeless pieces in 1952, including “Tea for Two,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and “Almost Like Being in Love.” Completely in the pocket.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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