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From The Guardian:
For some three decades, the trumpeter Les Condon, who has died of cancer aged 77, was at the forefront of modern jazz in Britain, performing with the most innovative musicians of the day, among them Tubby Hayes, Tony Crombie, Joe Harriott and Stan Tracey. In the view of his close friend, the drummer Laurie Morgan, “he was always a brilliant light”. Others described him as “world-class”.
Yet for all his brilliance, Condon’s last years were spent in comparative obscurity following the collapse of his embouchure. Even his most frequent musical companions knew little of his illness.
Condon was a south Londoner of Irish stock who took up the trumpet in his late teens. Largely self-taught, he worked with local dance bands before doing his national service, when he played for the Eager Beavers at RAF Wroughton, Wiltshire. After turning professional in 1952, he played with the usual round of palais bands and then took to the sea as a member of “Geraldo’s navy”. Working as a musician on Cunard liners crossing the Atlantic allowed him to worship at the feet of the great exponents of bebop on New York’s 52nd Street. Originally a conventional jazz player, like others of the second wave of modernists he was bowled over by bebop, forging an eloquent style of his own, building on what he knew of Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and Miles Davis.
In 1954, he became a founder member of British bebop pioneer Tony Crombie’s new band, playing alongside trumpeter Jimmy Deuchar and trombonist Ken Wray. Despite having little formal musical education, he was a valued composer and arranger, contributing to the Crombie band book and recording with the drummer for Decca in 1955. He also began to record and solo regularly with bands led by Vic Lewis and Hayes, before joining drummer Tony Kinsey’s successful quintet. Always sociable and sharp-suited in the hip manner of the day, he was the epitome of the jazz modernist, aware of new trends and developments and performing nightly in London’s many clubs.
Condon was among the local players added to form Woody Herman’s (Anglo-American) Herd when the veteran US bandleader toured the UK in 1959. He clearly relished this experience, forming a rewarding friendship with Herman’s lead trumpeter Reunald Jones, formerly a key member of the Count Basie orchestra.
Another career highlight came in 1961 with Condon’s year-long association with the mercurial Jamaican alto-saxophonist Joe Harriott, famous for his pursuit of “free form” jazz alongside his more structured pieces. He went on to work with a dazzling array of local movers and shakers, recording with the Hayes and Tracey big bands (including Tracey’s album with clarinetist Acker Bilk) and performing with just about every other significant jazz modernist of the day. Like many of his contemporaries, he was also active as a studio musician, playing for radio and television shows, recording with singer Georgie Fame and appearing on the Beatles’ Revolver album. His theatre work included a two-year stint with the musical show Bubbling Brown Sugar and a visit to South Africa in 1981, accompanying the singer Jack Jones.
Dental problems forced Condon to cease playing the trumpet in 1990, after which he confined himself to playing the piano at home, composing and studying music. An early marriage ended in divorce. He leaves no direct survivors.
Les Condon played the trumped on The Beatles’ 1966 track “Got To Get You Into My Life.”
It was interesting and unusual. I’ve never done a session quite like it before. The tune was a rhythm & bluesish sort of thing. We were only on one number. Apparently, The Beatles felt it needed something extra. As for the song’s arrangement, well, they didn’t have a thing written down! We just listened to what they had done and got an idea of what they wanted. Then we went ahead from there and gradually built up an arrangement. We tried a few things, and Paul and George Martin decided between them what would be used.Les Condon – Trumpet player – From “The Beatles: Off The Record” by Keith Badman, 2008
BEATLES PLUS JAZZMEN
IT’S Ringo, Paul, George and John week! And in this week of “Paperback Writer” (it’s out tomorrow, Friday), comes the news the Beatles have recorded an LP track with top British jazzmen.
Georgie Fame advised the Beatles on the best musicians available that would “think Beatle”. On the session were Ian Hamer, Les Condon and Eddie Thornton (trumpets), Alan Branscombe and Peter Coe (tenors).
Trumpeter Les Condon told the MM of his reaction to working on a Beatle date: “Interesting and unusual — I’ve never done a session quite like it before. The tune was a rhythm-and-bluesish sort of thing — we were only on one number which they had recorded previously. Apparently they felt it needed something extra. That’s why we were there. The arrangement? Well, they didn’t have a thing written down. We just listened to what they’d done and got an idea of what they wanted. Then we went ahead from there and gradually built up an arrangement. We tried a few things, and Paul McCartney – he’s really the prime mover who gets everyone at it — and recording manager George Martin decided between them what would be used. But most of it went right the first time. Ian and I jotted down some voicings but everybody chipped in and credit for the arrangement must be evenly divided. I suggested something for the trumpets for an ending, and we dubbed that on. They didn’t think it was quite strong enough, so we dubbed it on with the three trumpets again. You’ll really be hearing six trumpets in that coda. It was the most relaxed session I’ve ever been on. The Beatles all seemed very nice fellows. And do you know what? They didn’t tell us anything. They kept asking things.”From Melody Maker – June 11, 1966
Last updated on November 15, 2023
May 18, 1966 • Songs recorded during this session appear on Revolver (UK Mono)