[Note: The following transcription cannot do justice to the artistry of the original 12-page booklet, on heavy-stock textured paper, containing a multi-font text layout designed to complement 19 accompanying photographs. Nevertheless, we have attempted to accurately reproduce all of the textual material including photo captions. The reader will simply have to visualize Les with his cape-draped arms spread in a bat-like Dracula pose; or Les in striped gym shorts standing on a service platform in order to "stuff" a basketball in the net; or the many other scenes referenced below.]Photo Captions and Concluding Text:
"Man, whatever is said about me in this album, please don't compare me to anyone. I'm me. I play music the way I feel it, in my own style. You dig me? Thanks."
The black Mustang pulled to a stop in front of the annex of the Radio Recorders studio in Hollywood. Behind the wheel was Les McCann, a 5 feet 7½ inch, 237 pound apparition in black. When McCann squeezed out of the car he looked like a refugee from a grade "Z" Spanish mystery movie. He was dressed in a black suit over which he was wearing a woolen, black flowing cape that hung almost to his ankles and a black, stiff-brimmed hat popular with movie gigolos in 1920 films. The combination was both ludicrous and fascinating, the exact effect that Les wanted. He had rented the outfit for another photo session and liked it so much that he figured he'd have fun with the costume by wearing it around town for a couple of days, get more pictures taken in it and build his reputation as a character. That costume in a way explains Les' approach towards both life and music. Behind his wild humor is often a careful consideration for the effect he's making. He has fun, but he knows what he's doing. His music is spontaneous and fresh, but rests on a solid foundation of skill and discipline. It's a shame we couldn't have kept some of that 70 pounds of weight Les recently lost to distribute with the album so that in addition to the stunning piano and trio work you could enjoy more of the man himself. But music is a communication tool and it expresses his love of life, beauty and people. The next best thing we can do is to take you along with Les during the two days this album was produced to show you how a professional goes about the job of turning out incomparable music and having fun in between.
Nobody laughed when Les sat down at the piano on the rainy Wednesday afternoon in Hollywood for the first three-hour recording session of this album. Despite plenty of rehearsal, Les was understandably edgy in doing his initial album for Limelight and the moment of truth was rapidly approaching—with all it implied, success or failure. His sidemen, Victor Gaskin on bass fiddle and Paul Humphrey on drums, took their cue from the boss and were subdued. While the mood of this session was calm and reserved, the mood of the second, which took place the following evening, was wild and uninhibited; yet they both produced fine music. The contrast between the two recording dates underscores Les' maturity as an artist; his technique has developed to the high level of his inspiration, and he can turn out excellent music whatever the mood may be.
As Les and the boys warmed up, the other half of the recording team Jack Tracy, Limelight A & R Director, and Dave Wiechman the sound engineer, made their preparations in the booth. Tracy opened his key in the control room and his muffled voice asked over the studio speaker,
"Do you want some more heat, Les, or are you going to produce it?"
"Man, I hope to produce it,"
Les replied as he blew on his fingers,
"but I wouldn't mind more heat."
He still hadn't taken off his suitcoat. Someone fiddled with the thermostat, Les massaged his fingers, complained again about the studio, sighed and said,
"Anytime now. Let's try some stuff."
"Okay, I won't even put a number on it,"
"we'll just call it rehearsal for some jazz."
Les' wife, Charlotte, and several other visitors quieted and the trio swung into "Our Delight." As the trio ended, Tracy announced over the speaker,
"We'll leave that on the tape. We'll call the next one 'take two'."
"Man, I want to try that one over,"
"Yeah, the tempo is up from the rehearsals,"
"Standby. Take two, 31767."
"Don't mention numbers. I can't spend my life worrying about numbers. I'm here to make music."
said Tracy after Les had put his dislike about numbers on the front of take two. Finishing the second "take" on "Delight," Les wiped his eyes, took off his jacket and blew on his hands.
"I'd like to try that once more right now,"
said the voice from the control room.
"Wait a minute,"
said the engineer as he popped out of the control room, made a few microphone adjustments and hurried back to his panel.
"Take four, same number."
The last notes from the piano were still humming in the air at the end of the fourth "take" when Les jumped up from the bench and announced to Tracy as he walked towards the door of the control room,
"It ain't going to get no better than that. Let's play it."
In the booth his wife Charlotte tenderly held his hand as everyone listened to the playback.
"That's going to take a few alterations and extensions,"
"but it's good."
"Yeah. Let's go on."
And on they went, the two creative forces of musicians and technicians, playing off each other. There was no wild soul pounding mood, just one of supreme craftsmanship and the feeling that despite the quiet atmosphere, man, the music was there. Bits of conversation, unrelated and in random order from various people, indicated some of the activity during the afternoon.
"I thought the tempo sagged a bit at the end. Let's try it over."
"Man, that one felt good."
"Come in on the third chorus with a beat like this...."
"For some reason, the one before this seemed more urgent."
"Let's do a ballad and come back to that one."
"We don't need a rundown. Let's make it."
"Yeah. That's pretty wild."
"Victor, would you please put your bass cover over your stool to make a cushion for the bow?"
"Intercut for the intro on take seven."
"Oh, you mean that tune."
"That's great, but I never heard it in rehearsal."
"Yeah man, that's it,"
said McCann as he finished "Little Freak," popped off the piano bench and strutted across the studio into the control room.
As they listened to various playbacks, Les and Tracy discussed a few cuts and changes and made some plans for Thursday night's recording date.
"Very productive session,"
"we've got about 12-14 minutes. Let's hope tomorrow goes as well."
"Let's do it right now because you got a piano that's a gas,"
said Jack Tracy. Tracy's urging to Les was the story of Thursday's recording session. It was literally as different from Wednesday as night is from day. But night and day are necessary for the same 24 hours and both sessions were necessary for the album. This was just the wild night time scene.
It was raining when Les arrived at the studio and a small crowd of friends stood around with Les waiting for the studio to be opened. While they waited, Les wandered out into the rain and returned with several tamales to munch on. As he passed around the tamales someone else passed around a half gallon of rosé wine to wash them down. By the time the doors were opened, everyone was in a fine mood.
Les regally entered the studio, shook the rain off his Count Dracula cape, affectionately kissed his wife and every other female in the studio, plopped onto the piano bench, plunked the keys and announced to the crowd that was draped about the studio,
"Baby, we're going to have a ball tonight."
And he did. And they did. And everybody did and you will when you hear the results.
The session was just a few minutes old when Tracy's voice came over the loudspeaker with the approval of Les' gassy piano. It wasn't more than a few minutes later when a smiling Tracy again opened his speaker key and announced,
"I hate to break into this by announcing numbers. Let's just tape continuously for the next four hours."
A big cheer came up from the audience but technical considerations prevented this.
In fact the audience got a little too carried away several times. To set the proper mood for "Yours Is My Heart Alone," Les had all the lights in the studio turned out except for one photographer's spotlight. As the dreamy melody floated from the keyboard someone whispered and Les stopped.
Les stared at the offending party for a few minutes and then started to chew him out.
"Aw come on baby, I need quiet for this one. It's a sweet melody."
"You mean it's really sweet,"
answered someone in a mincing voice.
said Les sweetly and the entire audience collapsed in laughter. It was a few more minutes before the ballad could get under way.
Inside Back Cover Notes:
Jack Tracy, Limelight chief, and Les work out some musical phrasing while bass player and amateur shutter-bug, Victor Gaskin, tries for an unusual picture angle. Les is an excellent photgrapher in his own right.
Any person involved in a creative pursuit, be it at a piano or behind a palette, is alone. Nobody can help him while he's practicing his art, but sometimes people close can give him the understanding and support to make the job more bearable. In the dimness of the control booth, left and below, Les' wife, Charlotte, tries to help him in a gentle, soothing way as they listen to the playback of the tapes.
After Wednesday's recording session Charlotte hurried home to give French lessons to a few select pupils. Les later joined two of them, movie star Julie Adams and Charlotte's daughter Rose Elaine.
Les is a news nut. If he's near a television set or radio when a news show is on you can be sure he's tuned to it. Here he relaxes after the French lesson while watching a TV news show and sipping wine.
Leaving a Hollywood restaurant after dinner Wednesday evening, Les does an impromptu Dracula imitation for his wife's amusement.
Thursday was just one of those days that started right. After sleeping late, Les puttered around the house and then left to play basketball at the Hollywood YMCA. About a year ago Les looked in the mirror and saw enough of him to make almost three people. He figured enough was enough and following a program of diet and exercise he has peeled off 70 pounds and is still getting slimmer. The next time you see him he may be able to star in a remake of "The Thin Man." ABOVE: Les waits under the basket for a pass. RIGHT: Although he has a deadly hook shot and can murder opponents with his accuracy from the side court, Les demonstrates about the only way he could ever "stuff" the ball in the basket. BELOW: McCann the Man races downcourt to make a basket.
After several hours of strenuous basketball, even a thin man gets hungry. Les, accompanied by a friend, Steve Alsberg dashed to the supermarket for some barbecued chicken and dined at the bus stop across from the market. LEFT: Revitalized with food, Les even managed a few can-can kicks with a next door neighbor. BELOW: Late in the afternoon Les finally got a chance to sit at the piano in the living room of his rented house in Buena Vista in Hollywood and work on a few tunes.
RIGHT: Les' wife Charlotte (bottom center) leads audience reaction during a swinging number Thursday.
This photograph of the control room on Thursday night at the Radio Recorders studio in Hollywood really explains the difference between Wednesday and Thursday's recording sessions. Compare this picture with the similar photo shown earlier of others listening to the playbacks on Wednesday night and the difference will be startling. The group of people below is really not having a party. They are listening to playbacks. Really. Oh well. They're really having a party listening to the playbacks.
The little boy, Timmy, that Les has in his arms, was a lad that had literally adopted him in the restaurant in which Charlotte and Les ate Wednesday night. The boy stared in amazement when Les had entered the place in his cape and hat and no sooner had the couple sat down at their table when he slid away from his parents and dashed over to stare at Les. That stirred Les' own childlike enthusiasm and they started playing games in the restaurant much to the amusement and enjoyment of everybody in the place, including Les and the boy. Charlotte (2nd woman from left in picture below) had to suffer through the dinner by herself. Les had invited the child and his parents to the session and they stood around in fascination at being on the inside of a record session, while Timmy stomped around the studio with glee to the rhythm of the trio.
But soon everything has to end. The final sad but happy pronouncement came from Tracy about three hours after the recording had started.
"This session has really been a riot,"
he said to the gathered crowd as the engineer began to remove the tape from the machines,
"a productive, creative riot. I think that we got ourselves one hellava album."
For once Les was speechless. All he could do was smile and say,
Les McCann was born in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 23, 1935 one of 5 children. "We weren't poor," said Les, "but we really never had much money." His mother and father are still living and his father does custodial work. Les' first brief introduction to the piano came when he was six years old and his parents scraped up enough money for piano lessons from a friend who wasn't charging much. But the friend moved away and the piano lessons came to an end several weeks after they begun. Through grade and high school Les noodled around with several instruments but finally settled on two of them, his voice in solo and choral work, often with a gospel beat, and, really, the E Flat Sousaphone in the high school band. It was in the Navy after high school that Les really caught the piano fever. "Man, one day I heard Garner's record of 'Lullaby of Birdland' and literally fainted away with excitement." From then on Les intertwined singing with developing his piano style. After the service he picked up some college and formal music training at various schools on the West Coast then became disgusted over the rigidity of the approach to music that was being taught to him. "I just had to say it my way." Early McCann piano music (and early means just several years ago because Les has only been sitting behind the keyboard about six years) was expressive, but not very technically accomplished. The joy of this album is that it represents the highest point yet achieved of Les' flawless technique and artistic experience.
LIMELIGHT RECORDS, the finest in jazz recordings has created another exciting album to enhance your permanent record library. For this exclusive text and photo treatment of Les McCann, photographer-writer-designer Fred Schnell left his family in Chicago, flew to Hollywood and for four days literally moved in with Les McCann and his wife, Charlotte. His purpose was not only to describe the recording session, but to reveal something of the fun and frustration of making an album, and the personalities involved.
The photos were taken with several 35mm Nikon cameras and Nikkor lenses ranging from the Fisheye to the 180mm Nikkor. Tri-X film was rated at 1200 ASA and developed in UFG. (A plain, old chewed-on pencil and a 15¢ spiral notebook were used for the notes.) The album is printed on white Polar Glow stock, hand-made finish, 80 lb. cover stock and 70 lb. for the booklet. The title is set Goudy heavy condensed, and the text is set in ten point News Gothic with five points of leading. The printing is offset lithography.