Allegro Music has released another worthy compilation in its Jazz Legends series. Compiled by Scott Yanow, these twenty-one tunes display the Pres in settings ranging from small group to big band, from his very first recording with a small group drawn from the Basie organization called Jones-Smith Incorporated to the days as sideman with bands led by Basie, where Yanow’s excellent liner notes state Young found "the perfect home for his sound," and Teddy Wilson. On "He Ain’t Got Rhythm" and "A Sailboat In the Moonlight" Billie Holiday is the vocalist, the latter tune from the days of Billie Holiday’s Orchestra and the beginning of a long and fruitful musical collaboration. Among the rarities included is a 1938 Kansas City Six version of "I Want A Little Girl" that has Young on clarinet, displaying what Yanow notes is "a distinctive and highly original sound." Yanow traces the origins of Young’s long and sad decline to his being inducted into the Army during World War II. Unlike many other swing era musicians who were able to fulfill their duty by playing in service bands, Young’s time in the military was brutal, there was a drug related incident, and Lester was sentenced to a year in military prison along with a dishonorable discharge. His deteriorating mental condition did not show for a time and he was played with energy and inventiveness in a 1946 small group date with Nat Cole.
This indispensable compilation serves as a fine introduction to the influential tenor saxophonist playing in his prime. The quality of the recordings themselves are remarkably, consistently clean.