“Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Make your record,” singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Jack Spann tells me via phone from his studio in upstate New York. After years playing everything from piano bar sing-a-longs, to sessions with David Bowie and a role in a Broadway musical, Spann strikes out on his own with his debut album Time, Time, Time, Time, Time. With an eclectic blend of pop, rock, and theatrical song fare, Spann’s music bursts with the kind of energy you’d expect from someone who has covered a lot of musical ground over the past two decades.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Spann and his wife moved to New York City in 1999 to pursue their artistic dreams. “We decided to just go for it, because we’re both artists. So off we went!” Spann says. “And right away, I was introduced to Chip Taylor, who wrote songs like ‘Angel of the Morning” and “Wild Thing.’ That led to me working with his guitarist John Platania, who also played with Van Morrison for many years. I have both a musical background and an acting background, and John was doing a lot of theater at the time. Later I got into the piano-bar circuit in New York City, playing songs like “Piano Man” 15 times a night, working for tips! I also went back to my first love of writing songs and performing. So I was doing a variety of gigs.”
Spann’s performing would take a dramatic left turn when he was cast as the character Songman in the Broadway play War Horse, which ran from 2011 to 2013 at Lincoln Center. “I lied my way into the audition,” Spann explains. “I said I could play the accordion. I just figured it was a sideways piano, and I ended up getting the job! That allowed me to finally move out of my apartment and buy a house.”
Spann would also get an unexpected call to work with David Bowie on what would become demos for his final album Blackstar. “I was introduced to [Bowie Producer] Tony Visconti through a mutual friend,” Spann says. “Tony was looking for someone who could play in a particular style, and my name evidently came up. I ended up working with David on a bunch of demos for four days in April and May of 2013 at the famed [now defunct] Magic Shop Studio in New York City. And he was really, really nice to me. He was the perfect gentleman. The day that I walked-in, David just came straight up to me, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Welcome to the studio, Jack. We’re going to have a lot of fun.’ David sang, Tony played bass, and I played a bunch of different keyboards. It was amazing.”
After years of backing-up other artists, Spann finally takes center stage with the release of his new album. “I’ve been developing as an artist over the last fifteen years, but I was never actually able to make an album on my own,” he explains. “So when I decided I was ready to put this project together, I contacted Tony Visconti and he recommended Gary Tanin to me. I wanted to work with someone who appreciated my music and could help take it to another level.”
Tanin jumped in to produce Spann in the most 21st Century of ways—via Internet. “Jack’s music is unique and I love his vocals,” Tanin says. “His songwriting is a little off-kilter and it really intrigued me. Initially he sent me some tracks and I thought I would just mix them. But once I started digging in, I thought we could make the album even better if we worked on it together. So we would send things back and forth to each other via Dropbox. We fleshed out the arrangements and the album via long distance. Some things I stripped down, and I also added keyboards to nine out of the ten songs. Then I mixed and mastered the album as well.”
Spann plans to take his new music on the road, with shows planned in Milwaukee, St. Louis and beyond. And he’s already at work on his next album. “We have another one that’s ready to go,” Spann says. “I’m just waiting for this one to make as much of a splash as it can first!”