Melvin Sparks (Acid Jazz)

sparksAlthough not a huge name in jazz, Melvin Sparks brought his Grant Green-influenced guitar to quite a few soul-jazz and organ combo recordings of the late ’60s and early ’70s. A lover of jazz as well as R&B and blues, the Houston native took up the guitar at 11, and was only 13 when he sat in with B.B. King. In 1963 he joined the Upsetters, an R&B show band that backed Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and other big names. After leaving the Upsetters, Sparks played with Jack McDuff in 1966-1967. The improviser was very much in demand in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and he was featured on sessions by Charles Earland, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Rusty Bryant, Sonny Phillips, Reuben Wilson, and Johnny “Hammond” Smith, among others. Sparks delivered his first album as leader, Sparks!, for Prestige in 1970, and recorded a few more Prestige dates before providing Melvin Sparks for Westbound in 1975.


I’m a Gittar Player When soul-jazz’s fortunes declined in the mid-’70s, the guitarist wasn’t working as much. The only album Sparks recorded as a leader in the ’80s was 1981’s Sparkling on Muse, although he was featured as a sideman on sessions by Houston Person, Hank Crawford, and Jimmy McGriff during that decade. The 1990s saw a lot of renewed interest in soul-jazz, and in 1997 Sparks returned to the studio for his Cannonball date I’m a Gittar Player. Although he continued to perform, Sparks did not return as a leader until 2002’s What You Hear Is What You Get. He then followed up with 2004’s It Is What It Is, 2005’s This Is It!, and 2006’s Groove on Up, all on Savant Records. Sparks died on March 15, 2011 at his home in Mt. Vernon, New York, of complications from diabetes and ultimately heart failure. He was 64 years oldsparks1

Discography (extract)

As leader

  • Sparks! (Prestige, 1970; reissued on BGP/Ace in 1993) -with Leon Spencer
  • Spark Plug (Prestige, 1971) -with Grover Washington Jr.
  • Akilah! (Prestige, 1972; reissued on BGP/Ace in 1993)
  • Texas Twister (Eastbound, 1973; reissued on BGP/Ace in 1995)
  • Melvin Sparks ’75 (Westbound/20th Century, 1975; reissued on BGP/Ace in 1995)
  • Sparkling (Muse, 1981)
  • I’m A ‘Gittar’ Player (Cannonball, 1997)
  • What You Hear Is What You Get (Savant, 2001)
  • It Is What It Is (Savant, 2004)
  • This Is It! (Savant, 2005)
  • Groove On Up (Savant, 2006)
  • Live at Nectar’s (One Note, 2017)

As sideman

With Henry “Pucho” Brown/Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers 

  • Rip A Dip (Milestone, 1995)
  • Jungle Strut (Lexington/West 47th, 1995)

With Rusty Bryant

  • Soul Liberation (Prestige, 1970) -with Charles Earland

With Hank Crawford

  • Indigo Blue (Milestone, 1983)
  • Down on the Deuce (Milestone, 1984)
  • Roadside Symphony (Milestone, 1985)
  • Night Beat (Milestone, 1989)
  • Groove Master (Milestone, 1990)
  • South Central (Milestone, 1992)
  • Tight (Milestone, 1996)
  • After Dark (Milestone, 1998)
  • Crunch Time (Milestone, 1998) -with Jimmy McGriff
  • The World of Hank Crawford (Milestone, 2002)

With Joey DeFrancesco

  • All In The Family (HighNote, 1998)
  • Plays Sinatra His Way (HighNote, 2004)

With Lou Donaldson

  • Hot Dog (Blue Note, 1969) -with Charles Earland
  • Everything I Play Is Funky (Blue Note, 1969)
  • The Scorpion (Blue Note, 1970)
  • Cosmos (Blue Note, 1971)

With Charles Earland

  • Black Talk! (Prestige, 1969)
  • Infant Eyes (Muse, 1979)
  • Pleasant Afternoon (Muse, 1981)
  • Slammin’ & Jammin’ (Savant, 1997)
  • Cookin’ with the Mighty Burner (HighNote, 1997)

With Jack McDuff

  • Do It Now! (Atlantic, 1966)
  • Double Barrelled Soul (Atlantic, 1967) -with David “Fathead” Newman

With Jimmy McGriff

  • Countdown (Milestone, 1983)
  • State of the Art (Milestone, 1985)
  • Blue to the ‘Bone (Milestone, 1988)
  • Feelin’ It (Milestone, 2001)
  • McGriff Avenue (Milestone, 2001)

With Idris Muhammad

  • Black Rhythm Revolution! (Prestige, 1970)
  • Peace and Rhythm (Prestige, 1971)

With Houston Person

  • The Nearness of You (Muse, 1977)
  • Suspicions (Muse, 1980)
  • Heavy Juice (Muse, 1982)
  • We Owe It All To Love (Baseline [UK], 1989)
  • Christmas with Houston Person and Friends (Muse, 1994)

With Sonny Stitt

  • Turn It On! (Prestige, 1971)
  • Black Vibrations (Prestige, 1971)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.