Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie & Lester Young Studio Sessions (#263)

Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set


Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie & Lester Young Studio Sessions (#263)
"Here is the Basie band just a month after arriving in New York, and they are already bringing something radically new to the table: a flowing rhythm section and an emphasis on improvised solos, the likes of which had never been heard in New York before." - Loren Schoenberg Session Notes for January 21, 1937
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies

8 CDs -  $136.00


So Many Firsts & Beautiful Remastering
And Some Gems No One Has Heard On Record, Ever!

At Mosaic Records we love plugging holes. We live to introduce, or re-introduce, artists or recordings that never received the recognition they deserved. We get thrills bringing back essential recordings too long out-of-print or orphaned by modern media conglomerate disinterest. And discovering lost or unknown alternate takes? Come on. Are you kidding? How can we resist? Holes. We hate them. We're obsessed with filling them.

Our newest set "Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions" - gives us many opportunities to close some important gaps in our own presentation of the music.

The last time we addressed Basie and Young ("Classic Columbia, OKeh, and Vocalion Lester Young with Count Basie 1936-1940"), we had access to the most well-known selections from Young's first recording session ever, from November of 1936 and a number of other sessions from 1939 and 1940. Despite offering five never-before-heard alternate takes, it left more than two years of music unrepresented. (It was a four-CD set, and it's long out-of-print.)

Thanks to changes in product availability, we are now able to "close the gap," and we think you'll rejoice in what was going on in that critical two-plus year period.
A Great, Big, Box - with Big Surprises

This set - comprising EIGHT CDs, by the way - picks up where the old set left off and continues through February 4, 1939, documenting what Basie and Young were doing on an almost monthly basis through their development as artists. Then, respecting our tradition of not offering music we've previously released, it picks up again after the first set concluded, with tracks from March 1941 until the end of 1947.

There are two slight examples of duplication, but we think all collectors will be fine with them: a few numbers appeared on our Complete Commodore boxed sets (and boy, have they been sold out a long time), and we are re-releasing the Jones-Smith Inc. session, the source of "Shoe Shine Boy" and "Lady Be Good," where Young made his first recordings with the Count. The reason we decided to include the four songs (plus one alternate) first heard on our original collection is that since that time, an alternate has been discovered for the three others. They are included, and this new set will be the first time the world has heard these alternates, from Lester Young's first recording session ever almost 80 years ago.

We have yet one more surprise, and it's a big one. As we were putting this collection to bed, we suddenly and unexpectedly unearthed an alternate take of "Honeysuckle Rose," the Fats Waller tune that in 1937 was the first recorded document -- ever -- of Basie's big band. Not having included that would have left a big, giant, massive gaping hole.

Revolutionary, Out of the Gate

But back to the beginning. By 1936, when these recordings begin, Basie had already developed the style that would carry him through his career - breaking from the stride tradition he learned from Fats Waller and James P. Johnson and opting instead for a sparse, heavily accented kick as hearty as a drummer's. His notes were always perfectly timed to push the song ahead as well as fill any opportunity a soloist would leave for him to quietly assert his presence. Basie's often under-appreciated work at the keyboard contributed enormously to giving the band just about the best sense of swing of its era. Within a year, Basie's band was among the tops in the land. Our set includes the music you'd hear if you heard them play live.

As for Lester, making his recording debut here at the advanced age of 26 makes his early years atypically under-represented. What no one knew who didn't hear him in concert was, Lester had been working for years perfecting a sound that was too early to be considered "modern," but too advanced to be considered anything else.

A New, And Controversial, Sound on Tenor

From today's vantage point, it's difficult to re-construct in our minds what a forceful and startling recording debut it was. Gone was the whooshy, pillowy vibrato-laden sentiment of his predecessors and most of his contemporaries. In its place, a driving, vigorous crisp approach that allowed him to play longer lines that still hung together as complete musical statements. His sense of musical form - the way he structured solos - has never been surpassed. And while some of his fellow musicians argued against how he played, and critics at first turned up their noses, the next generation heard him loud and clear. Would there have been a Charlie Parker, a Dexter Gordon, a John Coltrane, and so many others without Lester Young? It's impossible to speculate, but his influence was unmistakable.

In addition to the Jones-Smith sessions (credited in that way because of Basie's outside contractual obligations), there are dozens and dozens of highlights by Basie and Young together, as well as work Young did with Basie sidemen and others under a variety of small group leadership arrangements.

The set features Lester in trio, quartet, quintet and sextet configurations under his own name or others from Basie's roster; sessions with Young fronted by Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, pianist Sammy Price, and vocalists Una Mae Carlisle and Helen Humes. In addition there are the two Count Basie rhythm session dates from 1938 and 1939.

In all, the set is jammed with 173 tracks. Our exclusive booklet includes many vintage photographs along with an appreciative essay by Loren Schoenberg, and a discography that corrects errors in prior documentations. There's us plugging holes again!

You don't need Mosaic Records to tell you this is classic music you have to own. But we'll urge you to order soon. As with all our sets, it will only be offered for a limited time and never again.

Read More About LesterYoung:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »

  • Booklet
  • Audio Quality
  • Photography
  • Sample Session Notes
There are many devotes of Lester Young’s music but you would be hard pressed to find someone as passionate as saxophonist, band leader, writer and Founding Director / Senior Scholar at The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg. Loren is no stranger when it comes to writing for Mosaic sets and, in fact, his notes for our Woody Herman Columbia set garnered him a Grammy Award. No matter how intimate you might be with these jazz classics by Count Basie and Lester Young, it is with the accompaniment of Loren’s notes do we fully grasp, understand and connect the musical dots with his eye-opening observations. For example, here’s what he writes of Prez in the notes for the Spring 1946 session with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich for Mercury Records: “As he did famously with Billie Holiday, Young was able to create statements that could be heard either as background or foreground. This is another reflection of his deep understanding of the contrapuntal nature of New Orleans jazz. Some of Young’s most beautiful moments come as whispered asides; here they merge with Cole’s chords on the downbeats of the third measure of the first two eight bars in the final chorus, climaxing with the one that launches into the closing phrase in measure 5 of the last eight. As is the case with all great art, all the intellectual analysis is just an effort to put into words what can truly never be expressed in the hope of sharing the beauty and, above all, enhancing the unique pleasure that only art can provide”.

The music restored for this set come from a variety of sources. A complete list is found in the back of the discography of the booklet. We brought together the GRP Decca CD compilation of the Basie material (which comprised of mainly the original metal parts), Hep CDs, shellac and vinyl test pressings and mint U.S. and Australian Decca 78s. The restoration engineer (Grammy Award winner, longtime Sony engineer and now engineer of his own company Meyer Media) is Andreas Meyer who along with the producer of the set Scott Wenzel listened at great length to each source copy that they had at their disposal and have selected the cleanest and clearest signal to work with in restoring these classic sessions. Collector, historian, writer and engineer, Steven Lasker, was responsible for a number of transfers on this set where we did not have metal parts at our disposal. Steven was also responsible for us obtaining a real rarity of this set; the alternate take of the Basie band’s “Honeysuckle Rose” which represents the earliest recording we have of the band. Located by film historian Mark Cantor at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, Steven’s tireless effort to obtain a transfer of this historic gem is a highlight of this set. We have also unearthed via the George Avakian Collection at the New York Public Library, 3 previously unissued alternates of Lester Young’s first record date in 1936 including the immortal “Oh, Lady Be Good”. We scanned the globe to find the best copies of these sessions and thanks go to Leon Dierckx, The Institute of Jazz Studies, Steven Lasker, Lloyd Rauch, Russ Shor and Scott Wenzel for their rare gems.

Photo Copyright © Protected
The photos used for the set came from a variety of sources. There are a number of shots taken of the Basie band during their run at the Famous Door in 1938 that were captured by Otto Hess, courtesy of the George T. Simon Collection. Also with the Baise band but from 1937 and 1939 are images from Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook and the Apollo. Lester Young’s short lived band is seen at Kelly’s Stables from a photo by Ray Levin as well as from one of the Keynote sessions and a behind the scenes shot of Lester during the filming of “Jammin’ The Blues”. We also have rare photos from the PoPsie Collection with Lester and his band at Town Hall (NYC) in 1947. We conclude with a never before published shot of Duke Ellington with Prez at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival

(m) Kansas City Six
September 27, 1938

One can never anticipate the intangible elements that come together to produce the kind of art that stands head and shoulder above the rest. When confronting the wonders of this recording session, the components are easy enough to assemble: the only opportunity the Basie musicians had to record an instrumental session away from the big band; a reunion with Eddie Durham, who had left for hopefully greener pastures a month earlier; the presence of Billie Holiday in the studio (and the proximity of the room down the hall where she and the band partook of a substance now becoming gradually legal across the USA); the care that the engineers took to obtain a perfect balance of the unorthodox instrumentation that the electric and acoustic guitars presented, meshed with the subtle way that Young played his ensemble clarinet parts.

If there's an analogous session to this one in its unique creation of a mood new to the music and the setting out of principles (different, but equally influential) that would be elaborated on for decades, it would be Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. Granted, that recording had a distribution unthinkable for Gabler's small label, and jazz for listening wasn't culturally or commercially positioned for that kind of attention in 1938, but this music is as distinct from everything that preceded it as was Davis’ two decades later.

John Hammond had recorded this ensemble (without Young) the preceding Spring and was surprised that Vocalion was not interested in issuing it. He mentioned this to Milt Gabler, the proprietor of the Commodore Music Shop and fledgling record producer, who offered to put them out if Hammond would bring back the same band for a second date, with Young added.

Unlike Hammond (known within the jazz world as either "The Great White Father" or "The Bringdown"), Gabler had an easy rapport with jazz musicians, and created an informal yet productive air in the studio. Over the next decade, he became one of the most successful producers in the industry, handling a wide range of artists, from Armstrong and Holiday to Bill Haley and the Comets.

Durham brought to the session a parcel of minimal arrangements that contrasted well with each other. He never thought of himself as a soloist, but rather as someone who knew how to create frames that showed other's talents in the starkest relief and to their best advantage. The one factor that distinguishes this session from the many others these musicians made together is the absence of Basie’s piano and the presence of Durham’s guitar in its place, creating an entirely different musical world. The sound and the notes and chords are all his own. Although he mentored Charlie Christian, Durham’s approach to accompaniment is a more complete and sophisticated one than Christian’s, who favored stomping, relatively static four-to-the-bar basic chords alternated every so often with Basie-esque plinks or bluesy bent sounds. Acting as free agent over the Green/Page/Jones team, Durham orchestrates with his guitar.

One of the most revealing aspects of Young's genius was his ability to create counterpoint, a natural enough talent given his early exposure to New Orleans music. Many of Young's most memorable moments on disc are when he is spinning his lines in and around another exceptional musician; his best partners included Billie Holiday, Nat Cole, John Lewis, and Basie, of course. One can only imagine what might have happened had he been given the opportunity to record with Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell (with both alternating on tenor and clarinet, and while we're at it, adding Fats Waller, George Van Eps, Israel Crosby, Dave Tough and Ethel Waters), given their shared passions for both Armstrong and Beiderbecke. This session and one made the following year with Glenn Hardmann lets us hear Young's telepathic communication with a trumpeter (Lee Castle on the former, Buck Clayton, on the latter) in this contrapuntal and New Orleans cum Kansas City-based context. Then there is the fact that he gets more space on these four sides (not even counting the four alternates) than he had since Jones-Smith, Inc., or would receive on any recording until the 1942 date with Nat Cole. Add to that the new sound he unveils for the first time on disc: it feels as if the notes are being thought rather than being played on a large brass instrument. This is truly chamber music in the term’s original sense, which is music created to be played and heard in an intimate setting.

“Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” sounds like just another 32 bar AABA pop tune, but its structure is actually quite different – A (8) A1 (4) B (8) C (8) - inspiring different phrase shapes from the improviser. Its composers, Creamer and Layton (one of the most successful African-American songwriting teams of the early 20th century), also felt that it’s lyrics were innovative. When published in 1922, they advertised it as "A Southern Song, without A Mammy, A Mule, Or A Moon.” Durham arranged the first chorus in tight harmony, with his trombone topped by Young’s clarinet and Clayton’s trumpet. The electric guitar enters in perfect sync on the ninth measure of Clayton’s solo, with gentle, mostly whole-note or half-note chords. We heard Young precede his inspired solo with a two-bar warmup phrase on “Doggin’ Around”, and he does the same here on the issued take – maybe this was a signal to the band that he was “on.”

This is some of the deepest Young you’ll ever hear – he’s at his most weightless, where the slightest change of emphasis in a phrase can send the solo spinning in an entirely new direction. Certain intervals are stressed, most notably both sharped and flatted ninths, that relate directly to Beiderbecke, while the sound is a natural outgrowth of Trumbauer’s light, sometimes wispy tone. (The pair had famously recorded the same tune in 1928). Young flows with an entirely new, even way of playing eighth-notes that presages not only Charlie Christian, but the wave of jazz that Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett developed. Thankfully, alternate takes exist for all four tunes and are equal in quality to the issued ones.


Click here to write a review

  Get it fast, while you can
Hearing this familiar music in Mosaics set is a revelation because of the sound quality. It wasnt until Mosaic put out its Bix Beiderbecke box that I felt I really heard Bix. Same with these recordings. Even if youve heard all this music, you havent.
  And Freddie Green smiled...
The late Chicago jazz radio personality, Daddy-O Daylie, said it best and said it often, If you are tired, and cannot sleep, dont count sheep, Count Basie, Count Basie. As Daddy-O was the king of rhyme on Chicago jazz radio, these sides prove, over and over again, what kings Prez and Basie were. There are so many reminders of just how good they really were that even a sample list of favorites and examples is a disservice. There is so much here that is good, groundbreaking, genius and most notably, effortlessly performed. Of the Mosaic sets I own, this is the favorite. Heed Daddy-Os advice.
  One of the original giants.
In my mind you can put many saxophone players in between my two bookends. One bookend Coleman Hawkins and the other bookend Lester Young case closed...
  How has this not sold out?
I have the majority of this material on CD already, mostly European LoFis. But Lesters playing is so subtle and nuanced that after hearing these Mosaics I have to say Lester, we hardly knew ye. And what a supreme joy it is to finally hear why he belongs on the pantheon. This old Coleman Hawkins fan has a new favorite tenor player. The Presidents peak years finally properly rendered for posterity. Plus: the Decca Basies from the era were poorly rendered to CD by that company. Now we get The First Generation and greatest Basie band in good sound at last. No extra charge. Its a cliche, but true in this case: NO JAZZ COLLECTION IS COMPLETE WITHOUT THIS SET.
  The essence of Jazz
This is one of my top three favourite Mosaic boxed sets unquestionably - the music is superb and the sound quality fresh and bright - Jazz music doesnt come any better than this so dont miss it,
  Mosaics most important release.
First a disclaimer - Im a complete Lester Young tragic. So perhaps Im a bit biased, but in my opinion the music in this set is on a par with the Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens or the Parker Dial sessions. In other words a highwater mark in the entire history of recorded jazz. As Mosaic has yet to present the Armstrong or Parker sides Id therefore argue that this is their most significant release ever! I agree with many of the comments in other reviews. The set would have been enhanced if the tracks were presented in strictly chronological order as it would give a better sense of the evolution of Lesters sound and jazz vocabulary through the late thirties and early forties. It would also highlight the rapid improvements in recording techniques through this period. And I agree that the Loren Schoenberg essay is frustrating as it doesnt follow the presentation of tracks on the set, and has nothing to say about many of the tracks Lester played as a sideman. On the positive side the sound engineering is marvellous. None of the restored and remastered CD sets I own come close to the sound here. One of the frustrations of the early Basie recordings is that they dont give a very good idea of Lesters actual tone. It often sounds like a blanket has been thrown over his saxophone by the recording engineer. You can hear the attack on a note coming from a brass instrument, another one of the horns, or even Basies piano, but Lester sounds muffled by comparison. This was always made worse on LP transcriptions where the top end was wound out to reduce surface noise. So I have nothing but the highest praise for the job that Mosaics engineers have done in revealing the tone of Lesters saxophone on his important early recordings. And the sound gets even better on some of the later sessions in this set - the Keynotes in particular are an absolute revelation. Dont miss this one!
  Essential jazz history and a pleasure to hear
Thank you, Mosaic, for issuing this set. The material is too well-known for explanation of why its good to be necessary. Well done! Most of us, myself included, already had a sizeable amount of the tracks, but its great to have them all in one package, and the sound quality is fine. It is unlikely that any of the tracks sounds better in any of the other releases. And, there are some precious previously unissued tracks as well. Through no fault of Mosaics, the two owners of the tracks, Sony and Universal, were mingeing and it was necessary to hive all the Sony tracks onto Disk # 1. This, plus Mosaics penchant for sticking takes before the master takes at the end of the CDs leaves everything in a real tangle. Im sure that Im not alone in rearranging all the tracks into chronological order. I will never play the disks as sold. But, they say that some customers prefer not to have all the takes of pieces together, so fair enough. But, because these are all singles, not LP albums, there never was a particular release order, so it makes sense to hear the tracks in the order in which they were recorded. The excellent booklet notes are in chronological order they had to be, so they dovetail nicely with my custom disks. That criticism is a very minor matter compared with the importance of this set, and I am not annoyed with Mosaic. I have been rearranging their sets for over 20 years. Once again, well done, and thank you. The site software messes up the punctuation, removing parentheses and apostrophes, for some reason.
  Best sound and notes ever on these recordings
This is superb. There are some new finds here in addition to the many classics. The sound is fantastic, for example the Keynote session is completely transformed. The notes by Loren Schonberg are wonderful as expected, I find his writing and insight so valuable and even-handed and informed. As on most recent Mosaic productions, the tracks are nicely organized on the CDs, with alternate takes at the end of each CD. This allows for greater variety listening of a CD straight through. If you like to study the alternate takes in sequence with the masters its possible to program the CD player or use a playlist on your computer. I had most of this music in other editions but this Mosaic box is really superior, I am very glad that I bought it.
  Yes indeed,
the guy could play.
  Prez for President
Another outstanding Mosaic box with sound far superior to the many cheaper reissues appearing in Europe and elsewhere. Yes, it costs more, but it supports people who care about music, musicians & sound quality - what a novelty these days! One minor issue: why arent the track notes & the track listings coordinated? Its nice to read notes in sequence at least once and awhile. One minor correction: Frank Marshall Davis mentored President Obama in Honolulu, where Mr. Davis lived for about 40 years. He really knew his music & after listening never during could talk jazz, blues, gospel, the old newspaper business in Chicago and Atlanta and much more. His book, Livin The Blues, has many good insights, especially about Chicago in the 20s. His ex-wife Helen was also quite a music lover and had many great tales to tell as well. It was especially fun when their tales supplemented or even contradicted one another. Anyway, kudos, and lets hope Grammys for this fine and valuable box set. You better grab it while you can. Keep up the great work, Mosaic, and like Mr. Davis used to say: dont let anyone ever get the best of you!
  Great Sound Engineering, Poor Notes, Poor Organization
Its great to have all of this material together, and with excellent sound quality, far better than previous reissues of most of these tracks. About ten years ago, as a personal project, I collected all of the 30s Prez clarinet tracks from the reissues in my collection and burned them to a CD that I gave to a few friends. As a retired sound engineer, I did a lot of work to restore those tracks, so their sound is pretty well burned into my brain. An important part of my work was to restore the lost highs and lows that misguided engineers of those earlier reissues had equalized into those reissues in the interest of reduced turntable rumble and record scratch. The engineers for this set Steven Lasker, Doug Pomeroy, and Andreas Meyer got it right! My hat is off to them. Thats the good news. The bad news is that 1 Loren Schoenbergs notes are purely chronological, but the organization of the tracks on the 8 CDs is not; 2 Schoenbergs notes have a lot to say about the differences between alternate takes, but those alternates are out of sequence with the issued takes, so its quite difficult to compare them. Also, I dont find Lorens commentary all that useful -- its like he doesnt bother with details that are published elsewhere, perhaps his own. Its more of a long form essay about Prez and about the Basie band, but aside from discussing some of the alternates, has precious little to say about the individual tracks, and rarely says whos soloing and in what order, and theres no identification of solos on the track listings. Yes, long time fans and listeners recognize most of the soloists, but what about those without 60 years of listening experience with this music? Also, the commentary lacks any sort of introduction to the package -- it SHOULD begin with an outline of how the tracks are organized on the CDs. The ONLY information I can find on this is a brief Producers Note explaining that for contractual reasons, certain material owned by one corporate entity is segregated from the rest on CD1. Theres NO explanation about why the order of the remaining tracks dont follow in sequence, nor why big band tracks are not all together, and so on. Bottom line -- thumbs way up for all the work that went into getting rights to put out this wonderful collection, for the engineering, for chasing down the best source material. Thumbs way down for the organization of tracks, for the gigantic holes in Lorens commentary, and the coordination of it with the order of music on the CDs.
  Best Yet
I have quite a few Mosaic boxes but this is the best yet. Being a Basie and Pres fan, I already had most of these, but the sound quality here is the best I have heard. For example, I have never really heard the chording by Eddie Durham, along with Freddie Green, on the Kansas City Six sides, which I have been listening to for over 45 years, like I can hear it here. In addition the complete sessions are here with wonderful analysis by Loren Schoenberg. The only thing that would improve these would be a soloist listing such as that on the Decca Basie box. Next, would it be possible to have a complete box of the Basie Columbias, perhaps with the post war small band sides? Also a Louis Jordan box would be nice too.
  An embarrassment of riches
Too cool for school, ol Pres easy swinging with the Basie band and a variety of other vocalists & bands. Great variety with that unmistakable tenor tone tying it all together. The sound is fantastic. Not sure as to this sets comprehensiveness over this time period but at 8 discs you could get lost and not really care. A brief scan of some of the notes clues me that a few of these are landmarks, not only for Pres and the Basie band but for jazz itself. Ive come to trust Mosaic with assembling this music that I love with an ear for pedigree of the highest caliber and a Midas touch.
This box set is beyond my wildest dreams. Sound that leaves my old Deccas in the dust. Alternate takes of the epochal November 9, 1936 session that introduced Pres to the world. Loren Schoenbergs liner notes are, no surprise, erudite and fascinating--and the big beautiful booklet is filled with photos of dear Herschel Evans and his Basie brothers that Ive never seen before. Did I forget to mention an alternate take of Honeysuckle Rose? All of my Mosaic boxsets are precious to me and frequently played, but this one is beyond the beyond. BUY IT TODAY BEFORE ITS GONE, FOLKS. This is soul nourishing music that personally I cannot live without.

Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie & Lester Young Studio Sessions (#263)
Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie & Lester Young Studio Sessions (#263)
Limited Edition: 5,000 copies
8 CDs - $136.00

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