AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
All too often, jazz critics have promoted the myth that Lester Young's playing went way downhill after World War II -- that the seminal tenor man was so emotionally wounded by the racism he suffered in the military in 1944-1945 that he could no longer play as well as he had in the '30s and early '40s. To be sure, Young went through hell in the military, and his painful experiences took their toll in the form of alcohol abuse, severe depression, and various health problems. But despite Young's mental decline, he was still a fantastic soloist.
This eight-CD set, which gathers most of the studio recordings that he made for Norman Granz's Clef, Norgran, and Verve labels from 1946-1959, underscores the fact that much of his postwar output was superb. At its worst, this collection is at least decent, but the Pres truly excels on sessions with Nat "King" Cole and Buddy Rich in 1946, Oscar Peterson and Barney Kessel in 1952, Roy Eldridge and Teddy Wilson in 1956, and Harry "Sweets" Edison in 1957. Disc 8 contains two recorded interviews with the saxman -- one conducted by Chris Albertson in 1958 for WCAU radio in Philadelphia, the other by French jazz enthusiast Francois Postif in Paris on February 6, 1959 (only five or six weeks before Young's death on March 15 of that year).
The contrast between the fascinating interviews is striking; in Philly, Young is polite and soft-spoken, whereas in Paris, the effects of the alcohol are hard to miss. Sounding intoxicated and using profanity liberally, Young candidly tells Postif about everything from his experiences with racism to his associations with Billie Holiday and Count Basie. But as much as the set has going for it, The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions on Verve isn't for novices - collectors are the ones who will find this CD to be a musical feast.
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