Les Spann: Gemini - JazzWax

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February 01, 2011


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O'Sullivan, "Red"

Another record (you did mention) where I do see Spann up in the limelight, and defacto the leading man, is the fine Red Garland quartet record - piano/bass/drums + Spann's flute + guitar alternating, and featured in the front line in the "Solar" disc, also definitely evidence of great Spann personality and uniqueness - Sam Jones & the legenadry and super-hopping drummer, Frank Gant (of considerable mastery duing his tenure with Jamal - and later, even with Monty Alexander and Ray Brown), round out the group. A good 'un.

O'Sullivan, "Red"

And that's Spann, again, telling in his hip contributions to Ellington/Hodges Verve "Side by Side" (if not the sister/companion "Back to Back" session as well... I'm never sure if he made both great sessions or just one, along with Sweets, Papa Jo Jones, etc.: and it's hard to check in my normal fashion of going directly to my shelf, what with my sides an awfully long way out of reach nowadays... (no regrets, Marc).

Martin Westmacott

This is much appreciated info. - from all concerned, thanks guys. There was an 'in progress' publication from Les, according to that Guild Guitars 'Acousti-lectric' advert (with Les's 'Afterthought' sheet music as the backdrop)- something called 'Guitar Diary' - I wonder whatever became of it?

More Les stuff is on the way from Verve Select - a 2-CD set of Ella Fitzgerald's 'S'Wonderful - Live in Japan 1964', backed by a quintet including Les, Roy Eldrige and I think Tommy Flanagan. I hope some of Les's playing is to the forefront on this upcoming issue, and that the 24-page booklet features him in an 'unseen' photo or two?

Newcomers should hear Les on Lockjaw Davis's 'Lock - The Fox' album, & on Curtis Fuller's 'The Incredible Trombone of....', as well of course as the 2 x Dizzy Gillespie records. The recent 4-CD 'Quincy Jones' Complete European Concerts 1960' is classic music with a nice fat photo booklet, but Spann isn't featured to any great extent.

Sadly, reports elsewhere (Bill Crow, Quincy, etc.)were that Les died a penniless hobo on the notorious Bowery, not long after some jazz associates made an effort to 'rescue' & rehabilitate him from there - an unspeakable tragedy for a truly class act and an undoubted jazz great - his signature sound is in fact my favourite of all time.............

Martin Westmacott

Martin Westmacott

Seems I got it wrong about the above Ella set 'Live in Japan' - Les Spann WAS part of the quintet show on Jan. 13th - but WASN'T in the quartet on Jan. 18th that made the recording.......ah well..you can see him on the 'Jazz Icons' Live in '57 & '63 Ella video as part of her backup group. Perhaps more intriguingly, there's a short few-minutes clip of Les rehearsing in 1966 in a Belgian hotel lounge as part of Benny Goodman's group, prior to going on stage at the Belgian Jazz Festival('BG - The Centennial Collection'- Bluebird Jazz 82876-60088-2).

I don't believe we hear anything at all of Les's recording/playing activities beyond 1966........so what happened, beyond the obvious diminishing of the jazz market & the rise of rock,etc.? Any news, anyone?

Martin Westmacott

Martin Westmacott

OK...so I forgot the 1967 Johnny Hodges record mentioned above.
But finally, there's also a dearth of photos of Les Spann on the Internet - so I was delighted to find TWO 'new' ones (not retrievable on a Google search) on bassist Buddy Catlett's MySpace photo archive. Buddy, Les, Julius Watkins, Phil Woods (?), Benny Bailey (?) & an unidentified drummer are seen playing in a tiny jazz club in (?) Portugal, probably during the Quincy Band's European Tour, c.1960.
Great photo & autobiog. webpages, Buddy!

Martin Westmacott

cilt kremleri

I find it interesting that several top jazz guitarists of the '50s Screen shot 2011-01-31 at 6.14.53 PM steered clear of recording as leaders.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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