In 1956, when pianist Bill Potts wanted to informally record his local trio backing up "The President of the Tenor Saxophone" at a local jazz club, Lester Young worried about the producer with whom he was then under contract. Oh no, Billy," Young told Potts. "Norman Granz will kill me." But mollified by "the biggest bottle of Hennessy Cognac available, finally Young gave the go-ahead. Last year, tapes from those sessions started appearing on the Pablo label started by Grantz in 1974, 15 years after Young's death. The latest volume, "Lester Young in Washington, D.C., 1956 (Vol. 3)," was released last week.
"I taped 'em back then and just sat on them, though I listened to 'em every year," says Potts, now a recording engineer and part-time teacher at Montgomery College in Rockville. "Since Granz had had Lester under contract back then, I felt I had to give him first crack. He loved it." The tapes were restored by engineer Jack Towers because, Potts says, "the speed was a little off, which put them in the wrong key and changed the tempo. He brought it back to how it was supposed to be."
Potts, who has played and arranged for many jazz greats and spent five years as pianist, arranger and conductor for Paul Anka, has put his local big band aside till the end of summer in order to write some charts for "The Johnny Carson Show." He's also involved with a multi-record project for Columbia drawn from his tapes: a 1953 trio date with Bud Powell, Charlie Mingus and Roy Haynes recorded at the long-gone Club Kavakos; Charlie Parker guesting with The Orchestra in 1953; and Dizzy Gillespie doing the same in 1955. "I keep finding things," Potts explains. "I've got some Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, Stan Getz. I'd forgotten about Dizzy, but God, it sounded good!" The Columbia albums will be released in the fall.