Spann, Les(lie L., Jr.)
(b Pine Bluff, AR, 23 May 1932; d 24 Jan 1989). American electric guitarist and flutist. While studying music education and flute at Tennessee State University (1950–57) he performed with local bands. Although he was principally a guitarist, he frequently played flute. Following graduation he performed and recorded with Phineas Newborn (1957) and worked briefly with Ronnell Bright and then with Dizzy Gillespie (August 1958 – August 1959); in 1959 he took part in a recording session with Gillespie that resulted in two albums, The Ebullient Mr. Gillespie (Verve 6068) and Have Trumpet, Will Excite (Verve 6047). From 1959 to 1961 he toured Europe and recorded with Quincy Jones, and during the same period he recorded with Abbey Lincoln, Ben Webster, Duke Ellington, and Johnny Hodges. Spann recorded on flute as the leader of a hard-bop quintet (1960) that included Julius Watkins and Tommy Flanagan; he also made recordings as a guitarist with Nat Adderley and as a flutist and guitarist with both Benny Bailey and Randy Weston. Later he took part in sessions led by Curtis Fuller and Charlie Shavers (both 1961), Red Garland, Jerome Richardson, Wild Bill Davis, and Charles Mingus (all 1962), Duke Pearson (1965), Sonny Stitt and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (both 1966), and Hodges (1967).
M. C. J.: “Les Spann,” Jm, no.61 (1960), 29 [incl. discography]
Les Spann was a perfect example of a jazz artist who had an impressive list of sideman credentials but never got very far as a leader. Although he played with heavyweights like Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges, and Ben Webster, the guitarist/flutist didn't record on his own extensively -- which is regrettable because Spann was an intriguing musician. How many guitarists are equally proficient when it comes to playing the flute? Spann's two instruments get equal time on Gemini, an excellent hard bop date that was produced by the ubiquitous Orrin Keepnews. This album, which Fantasy reissued on CD on its Original Jazz Classics imprint in 2001, was recorded at two different sessions in December 1960. One finds Spann on flute, while the other finds him on guitar. Both sessions employ Julius Watkins on French horn, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and Sam Jones on upright bass, but there are two different drummers -- Al "Tootie" Heath at one session, Louis Hayes at the other. Spann gives 100 percent at both sessions. As a guitarist, he is bluesy and expressive on material that ranges from Quincy Jones' "Stockholm Sweetnin'" and Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" to the standard "There Is No Greater Love." But he is equally impressive when he picks up the flute on tracks that include the melancholy "Afterthought" and a lyrical performance of the standard "It Might as Well Be Spring." One thing Spann doesn't do on this album is play both flute and guitar on the same tune; he is careful to keep them separate. And while it would have been interesting to hear him play a flute solo right after a guitar solo, Gemini is still excellent. It's too bad that Spann didn't do a lot more recording as a leader. ~ Alex Henderson, All Music Guide