Album Review: Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin’

For the inaugural album review on ClimbingSky, I am choosing a Lester Young album that is also my favorite all-time album cover: Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin’.

Lester-Young-Laughin-to-Keep-from-Cryin

What makes jazz recordings special is that they are literally a moment of beauty captured. Imagine if Michelangelo’s medium was something as ephemeral as a cloud, that only those who could be present when he was painting could have seen the Sistine Chapel. That is the way it is with jazz when it is not recorded. That, more than anything else, explains why jazz audiophiles are such obsessive collectors.

While this is not my favorite Lester Young album, it is one of the best for showcasing what I think makes Prez the single most compelling artist I have ever encountered: his ability to transubstantiate his own individual vulnerability into the highest universal art.

Lester Young criticism is divided into two camps: one that believes that his music continued to grow as he aged, and suffered; and the other camp that believes his best work was all done before being drafted, court-martialed, and imprisoned during WWII.  Criticism I could find of this album seems to  follow this same divide.

Recorded during the last year before his death, Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin’ reflects a suffering  artist at the end of his life, still creating and searching but with a sparse vulnerability that can break your heart.

On Side One, Young plays clarinet on the appropriately titled “Salute to Benny” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” And while the clarinet is not Prez’s instrument, I do enjoy how he plays it. It has been said by some about Young’s famous style and sound that it was achieved ultimately because he was trying to play his tenor like an alto. He plays the clarinet the same way. On Side 2, Young returns to his tenor and makes magic happen.

Besides Prez, the other strong part of this album is Hank Jones. Jones (who was featured this week on Music Monday) provides the perfect architectural structure for Lester to inhabit and respond to.

The two best “tracks” are: “Gypsy In My Soul” and “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.”

“Gypsy in My Soul” starts with a nice guitar solo from Herb Ellis who is soon joined by Hank Jones. Prez’s solo starts in his usual quiet way and remains subdued but beautiful.

“Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” has Lester accompanying the the horn at the beginning of the song so when his solo begins he is well into things. This is easily my favorite Lester Young song on the album. It is also my favorite Hank Jones contribution as well.

 

A1 Salute To Benny 8:25
A2 They Can’t Take That Away From Me 5:55
B1 Romping 11:33
B2 Gypsy In My Soul 4:09
B3 Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone 5:55

Credits

  • Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone – Lester Young
  • Piano – Hank Jones
  • Drums – Mickey Sheen
  • Bass – George Duvivier
  • Guitar – Herb Ellis
  • Trumpet – Harry Edison, Roy Eldridge
  • Photography By – Burt Goldblatt
  • Sleeve – Sheldon Marks
  • Supervised By – Norman Granz

Notes

Recorded NYC, February 8, 1958(p) 1958 MGM Records Inc.
Manufactured by Polydor International GmbH, Hamburg
Printed in West-Germany by Johannes Alt GmbH

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