The Library of Congress has recently unearthed some recordings from the archives. Among them: a live recording of Lester Young with trumpeter Shad Collins, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, pianist Sammy Price (there are only a couple recordings of Price with Pres) and drummer Doc West. The venue is uncertain, but it is believed to be at the Village Vanguard. Eugene DeAnna of the LOC says the recording picks up an emcee announcing, “The chili con carne is ready if anyone wants to order it.” They’ve dated the recording December 29, 1940, which is probably after Pres left Count Basie’s band but before coming out to Los Angeles where he frequented Central Avenue with his brother Lee. Hear a bit of the recording on NPR's Weekend Edition.
Young reunited with Basie in 1943, but the army caught up to him and, like many Basie band members at the time, Pres was drafted. Check out this News and Notes feature on his army days. It’s an incredibly thorough and informative account from Douglas Henry Daniels, author of Lester Leaps In: a Biography of Lester "Pres" Young. He discusses his hipster persona, his habits (alcohol, marijuana), and his harsh treatment in the military. He was certainly not cut out for army life: he’s described as a live-and-let-live pacifist (and perhaps somewhat passive); he once reported to duty while still high; he even showed up to his induction with his sax and a fifth of liquor.
Plenty of Lester fans believe his music was never quite the same after his discharge, and if this is true, then these recordings find him at his peak. But whether or not one agrees, it could be one of jazz's best discoveries this year.