Shellac Spotlight: Lester Young, “These Foolish Things” / “Jumpin’ at Mesner’s” (Aladdin 124)

Original 1946 pressing
Recorded December 1945 in Los Angeles

Selection: “These Foolish Things” (Strachey)

Truth be told, I snubbed Lester Young for a long time for the simple fact that he rose to fame during the swing era. I didn’t realize how hip he could be until I heard the Oscar Peterson Trio sessions he recorded for Norgran. From there, something told me to check him out when I started collecting 78s, and sure enough, I discovered the set of small combo sessions Prez recorded for Aladdin Records on the West Coast in the mid-1940s.

God knows why these Aladdin 78s are so cheap because they are a goldmine of fantastic performances by Young and his various company. For the 1945 session that produced this particular disk, Young’s quintet included pianist Dodo Marmarosa and trombonist Vic Dickenson, the latter of which sits out the A-side, “These Foolish Things”. This is a standard ballad that Lester Young owns like a Cadillac paid for up front with cash. Before I had a chance to study Young in even the most rudimentary of ways, I had heard more experienced jazz fans talk about his breathy style of playing. Once I started listening for myself, that breathiness quickly proved an undeniable hallmark of Prez’s sound. He has one of the most original tones in the history of jazz, and it’s something that makes him instantly recognizable.

Of course, listening to classic material like this just sounds right on 78. The soft, consistent surface noise complements the mood. I also own the CD box set of these Aladdin recordings, and though my regular readers will know all too well how much I love the dead-accuracy of digital — especially for older lower-fidelity recordings like this — I find myself listening to my needledrop of the 78 far more than my CD rip. Make no mistake about it, though: the box set, produced by Michael Cuscuna, delivers with startling clarity and low noise. Yet I still seem to prefer listening with all the extra “stuff” baked in to the 78 experience.