"Say Les. . . how's about playing Herb Alpert And His Tiajuana Brass' swinging arrangement of Flamingo?"
Does Les McCann look down his great grand at the impetuous patron and snarl something befitting such as "Sure, man, soon as my four trumpet players show up."? No.
Nor does he verbally decapitate (though he's uniquely capable of it) or cut with the silent sword of pure ignoral (as most jazz artists would) such requests as. . .
"Bobby Hebb's super hit, Sunny?
"Can you please play Manfred Mann's arrangement of Pretty Flamingo? Not the regular Flamingo, but Pretty Flamingo. You know the one, Les, don'tcha?
"Betcha can't play Sunshine Superman by Donovan. . .
"Dionne Warwick's Message To Michael maybe?
"How 'bout it, Les?"
These are traditionally trying moments for most jazz artists. Even in the hippest rooms in the country, paying customers besiege the bandstand with requests for today's top hits.
Les McCann's philosophical insight into the situation: "People like the Pop tunes," and his personal solution to the problem: "So I play them."
So when Limelight A&R man, Jerry Ross, suggested an album entitled, LES McCANN PLAYS THE HITS, Les' reaction was a readily agreeable. . . "Not you, too??" Seriously though, he liked the idea. And immediately went about the job of researching his material: He switched on his transistor radio; simultaneously hopefully searching his mirror for even the slightest sign of acne.
The truth of the matter is that America's Pop music scene circa 1966 happens to be sparking compositions that are too tough for any musician to ignore, especially an open-minded jazz entertainer of the caliber and catholicity of Les McCann. Haunting, beautiful new melodies such as Message To Michael and Sunny, great rediscovered standards such as Flamingo and River Deep, Mountain High, give one an idea of what a swinging source for material today's Pop hit charts really are.
Les McCann enjoys playing piano for people. And the more people he can speak to with his music, the more he enjoys his work. So it is not at all unusual that Les turns what might be a problem assignment into a party. Like everything else he approaches on the piano, Les plays today's hits like they were literally going out of style. Perhaps because they are.
It's no secret that the adage "here today, gone tomorrow" has more than passing application to the Top Ten tune scene. And a sad thing it is, too. Since many of today's hits have a great deal more musical potentiality than will ever meet the typical teenage ear.
Les McCann proves it here. And has a ball doing it in the process.
-- Bill Petan