I found this rarity by Lee and Lester Young on YouTube this morning and was only its 100th viewer. It’s an aircheck from a Mutual Network radio broadcast. Lee was leading the Esquires of Rhythm at the Capri in Hollywood when Pres made his way to California in May 1941. He’d left Count Basie the previous December and put together a small combo for an engagement at Kelly’s Stable, but it came to a sudden, disappointing end, and that sent Lester and his wife Mary out west. Bumps Myers was already on Lee’s band, so with Pres it became a full-bodied, two-tenor combo à la Basie. The group didn’t make a studio session, so this performance, which finds Pres in peak form, is a wonderful addition to his legacy.
Here’s another Lester rarity that surfaced a couple of years ago. It’s most likely from a jam session at the Village Vanguard in December 1940, perhaps the very same date at which the above photo was taken. It’s billed as “Variations on I Got Rhythm,” and hailed as “exemplary.” This clip is from a feature that Scott Simon presented on NPR’s Weekend Edition in 2012.
Lester’s excellent, though short-lived Kelly’s Stable combo (Shad Collins, tpt; John Collins, gtr; Clyde Hart, piano; Nick Fenton, bass; Doc West, drums) made only one studio recording when it backed the singer Una Mae Carlisle on March 10, 1941. The wartime novelty, “Blitzkrieg Baby,” which features Pres in a 16-bar solo, is the best known title from the date, but his sublime playing on “Beautiful Eyes” makes it the session highlight for me. Today is Lester Young’s 105th birthday anniversary.