Gemini: LES SPANN
Les Spann (fl-*, g) Julius Watkins (frh) Tommy Flanagan (p) Sam Jones (b) Albert Heath (drs-*) or Louis Hayes (drs) Recorded in New York City; December 8* and 16, 1960
Smile (*) (6:10) (Donald Heywood)
Con Alma (3:33) (Dizzy Gillespie)
Q’s Dues Blues (6:11) (Les Spann)
It Might As Well Be Spring (*) (4:41) (Hammerstein-Rodgers)
Stockholm Sweetnin’ (5:31) (Quincy Jones)
Blues for Genini (*) (4:27) (Julius Watkins)
Afterthought (*) (5:04) (Les Spann)
There Is No Greater Love (4:46) (Symes-Jones)
About This NEW Jazzland Recording –
“Gemini,” the constellation that forms the third sign of the zodiac, is pictorially represented as having the shape of a set of twins, sitting side by side. Not that we intend to get too deeply into the astrology of the situation, but the fact is that LES SPANN, who is the focal point of this unusual-sounding album, was born under this sign. When you consider also that Les is one of those extreme rarities in jazz, an artists equally worth listening to on two quite dissimilar instruments, the twins aspect of this LP is sharply underlined. We won’t go quite so far as to say that it was inevitable that his would be a swinging and successful album because it was written in the stars, but you can draw your own conclusions …
The “twin” talents of les Spann are actually the key to the construction of this record. On all selections there is a formidable rhythm section and the mellow-but-spirited French horn of Julius Watkins, by all odds the finest jazz performer on that off-trail instrument. On four tunes, this combination is led by the rich sound of Spann’s flute; on the other four, it is Les’ brilliant guitar work that is featured. Both sets of sound-blends make for uncommonly intriguing listening.
Leslie L. Spann, Jr., was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on May 23, 1923 (just two days into the Gemini period). Attracted to the guitar since childhood because he “always liked the sound,” he taught himself to play it while attending high school in New York. Then, becoming a music major at Tennessee State University in Nashville, he selected the flute when required to learn a second instrument. Spann’s return to New York City in 1957 coincided with the Army draft call of his friend, guitarist Calvin Newborn, who recommended Les to take his place with brother Phineas Newborn’s group. IN August ’58, he began on active year with Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet, working alongside bassist Sam Jones. In ’59 Les joined the Quincy Jones band for a European tour and at this writing is still a member of that impressive group of inter-continental travelers.
Spann is heard on flute here on two standards: a swinging version of the oldie, Smile, and a ballad treatment of It Might As Well Be Spring; plus an uptempo blues by Julius Watkins titled in honor of Les’ zodiac sign, and Afterthought, a moody piece written by Span in his Nashville days. The guitar numbers include a gentle There Is No Greater Love, two notable compositions by the major band-leader in Les’ life (Quincy’s Stockholm Sweetinin’ and Dizzy’s Con Alma), and a Spann original dedicated to Quincy Jones’ Q’s Dues Blues.
In addition to Watkins (who is also a key man in Quincy’s orchestra), Spann’s support here comes from a very solid section: Sam Jones’ masterful bass, the lyrical Tommy Flanagan on piano, and “Jazztet” drummer Al Heath on the guitar numbers, replaced on the flute session by Louis Hayes, who is Sam Jones’ rhythm partner in the Cannonball Adderley quintet. Hayes filled in when other commitments made Heath unavailable, and it wasn’t until much later that it was noted that both men are not only Gemini’s, but share the same May 31 birthday! Like we said, it was all in the stars …
Recent JAZZLAND releases include:
Tough Tenors – Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis – JLP 31 & Stereo 931S
The Soulful Piano of Junior Mance – JLP 30 & Stereo 930S
Eastward Ho! – Harold Land, with Kenny Dorham – JLP 33 & Stereo 933S
Breezing – Sonny Red, with Blue Mitchell, Yusef Lateef – JLP 32 & Stereo 932S
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS and CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover designed by KEN DERADOFF
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER
Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYYDROFEED lathe
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GARUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York 36, New York