Deciphered! Nat King Cole and Lester Young

nate cole-lester young-blogWhen does a record seem too good to be true? When it’s Crown Records CST 412, Nat King Cole & Lester Young! Of the five tunes, Lester does play on all five, but Cole only two. Given Cole on the cover, you’d think he would be on every song. It’s always hard to know what you’re getting with Crown, since there are never any liner notes.

All the online discographies list this 1962 stereo LP as being taken from the July 15, 1942 Los Angeles performance on the Philo/Aladdin label, but something just didn’t add up. Four songs were recorded on that 1942 date, but the LP has five! Turns out only two songs, Indiana (Philo 1000, the original title was listed in 1942 as Back Home Again In Indiana) and I Can’t Get Started (Philo 1001) are from the ’42 session in Los Angeles.  Jumpin’ At Mesners (misspelled on the Crown LP as Meaners) isn’t Nat Cole on piano at all, it’s Dodo Marmarosa and it was recorded in December 1945 as Aladdin 124. Red Callendar is the bassist on both dates, but this is essentially Lester Young’s band. A good listen to this tune and you’ll realized that Nat Cole is not the pianist.

The tune labeled S.M. Blues is mislabeled. It’s really a song titled Sunday. Both tunes were recorded on  February 18, 1947 as Aladdin 162 (released on Aladdin LP 706). The pianist is Argonne Thornton and it was recorded in Chicago. Nat is missing again.

Jammin With Lester comes from an Aladdin 12 inch LP, Lester Young and his Tenor Sax (LP-801). It’s January 1946, with Wesley Jones on piano. This is Lester’s band again, with Nat Cole nowhere in sight. I’d say this Crown LP is really about Lester Young, with a little Nat Cole thrown in to help sell it. So that’s it for the five songs.

I wonder if Crown did this on purpose, or was just really sloppy when packaging their wares. Confused? Check out my PDF on the corrected session dates and personnel!

There are a number of online reviewers who feel this is Lester’s best performance. I can’t make that statement, there is so much great Lester out there. If you want an easy path, try the 4 CD set on the Proper label (Properbox 8) out of England. It’s cheap, well mastered and includes three songs from the 1942 Aladdin session, sans all the noise and rumble of the Crown LP. This is some of the noisiest, raspiest vinyl I’ve ever heard, and it isn’t just my copy. There are lots of online complaints about it.

I ran Clickrepair and Bias Soundsoap noise reduction (see my Page on Vinyl Conversion!) on this LP to make it reasonably listenable. Without it, the surface noise, clicks-pops and low bass rumble were quite a bother.   I presume the original Philo/Aladdin 78s sound better, best of luck finding them.

I bought this vinyl for 99 cents and have seen it a few times in the dollar bins. The noise is not the fault of the previous owner’s crummy turntable needle, it’s just the way Crown did things. Crown Records was a budget subsidy of the Los Angeles based Modern Records, with the emphasis on budget. As in dirt cheap. The album’s cardboard packaging is thin, there’s no info, and it sounds pretty bad (Scroll down to my medley to hear it!). Wow!

For the unfamiliar, Nat is (supposedly) playing piano here, because that’s what he really did before his fame as a singer skyrocketed; he then largely abandoned the 88s. Nat is cited as an early influence by many piano greats. Here his playing is much like his singing; fanciful and lighthearted. You can hear bits and pieces of the earlier styles of piano greats such as James P. Johnson, when Cole solos on Indiana. Not that Cole plays stride, but sometimes the way he rolls through the keys reminds me of JPJ. This certainly isn’t the Kansas City barrelhouse style of Jay McShann, nor Bud Powell’s bebop. If you like Cole’s singing, you’ll like his piano. No, he does not sing on this LP.

There are several of what sound like obvious razor cut edits here and there, except this wasn’t originally recorded onto tape, so once again, I blame Crown. They probably screwed up in the transfer process. The bluesy Jammin’ With Lester just decides to end, as if the recording machine took a break. Two minutes into Jumpin’ At Meaners, the tune abruptly jump-cuts rather nastily. I didn’t care that much, but you might search out other versions of this LP to avoid this problem (see below).

If you’re a fan of Lester Young, this is some of his best. His relaxed, not Charlie Parker style is on full display here. Cole and Young seem well matched for that reason. Neither man is trying to best the other. It isn’t just another one of those blowing sessions that were sometimes the norm later in jazz. It strikes me as an easy going affair that managed to be recorded.

“It was on July 15, 1942 that Prez (Lester’s nickname) next entered the record­ing studio,” journalist Joop Visser stated in his liner notes to The Lester Young Story. “With this session begins what critics often describe as “Late Lester Young.” Lester’s tone is darker now. He plays with a wistful absent-mindedness quite unlike the compelling blues and riff oriented swinger. His larger tone may perhaps be attributed to his change of saxophone (and mouthpiece).”

A CD version is available with more tracks, the cover looks quite different from the 1962 Crown, however. Oddly, Crown issued this LP a year earlier, as Nat King Cole Meets Lester Young (CLP 5305A, a mono only LP). A French LP (on the Musidisc label: 30 CV 983)  is available, and a 1958 release on Score (subsidiary of Aladdin)  as SLP 4019, but I don’t know what they sound like.

*My research into clarifying who is really playing on this Crown LP comes from Joop Visser and his liner notes to the Properbox 4 CD set, The Lester Young Story (Properbox 8) and other online sources.

Got one minute and 48 seconds? You can listen to a medley of three tunes from this LP!

ALSO RECOMMENDED:

The Lester Young Story (Proper Records, Properbox 8, 2000). Ok, ok, it’s a CD set of four, but for the dough, it’s a great intro to Lester, covering the early part of his career when most critics feel he was at his best. Nicely remastered, good sound quality for the time period. I can recommend many of the sets available on the Proper label, but I’m opening a can of worms, too. Proper is out of England, and they CANNOT sell their CD sets legally in the USA due to our copyright laws, which are different in the European Union…but you can easily find Properboxes on Amazon, or in local brick and mortar stores for sale. I didn’t know about this until recently, years after I had been buying Properboxes. So it’s up to you whether you go his route. The Steve Hoffman Forums are a great resource, and they talk about the Proper label here.

The Jazz Giants ’56 (Originally Norgran MG N-1056, 1956. Later as Japanese Verve UMV 2511, 1978, and others). Much later Lester. He plays slower and with less facility, but I like it quite a bit. Critics go back and forth over this one.

There’s so much Nat Cole out there, I’ll list recommends when I get around to one of his LPs…

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6 thoughts on “Deciphered! Nat King Cole and Lester Young

  1. Man, I digs your notes and research. Righteous, Brother.

    I totally agree with your comments regarding Crown. I have a few of their pressings, and each one resonates with “cheap.” As in, press it, sell it, make a buck.

    One person I would say you should check out is Dodo. I have one of his recordings I think called “Dodo’s Back.” It’s amazing. They guy may still be alive for all I know….mysterious. Came out of nowhere, played with C.Parker, disappeared, came back, recorded in the early 60’s…then…

    Yeah, Dodo is the Man.

    M.

    ________________________________

    Like

  2. Appreciate your research big time. Was just listening to this LP for the first time and clearly side 2 is a different combo, (Mesners even with a trombonist!) but could’ve never pieced it all together without your help.

    Like

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