Les McCann  

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Les McCann (1935 – 2023) was an American pianist and vocalist working in jazz.

Notable songs include "Sometimes I Cry" (1972), "Go On and Cry" (1974) and "Vallarta" (1977).

The album Layers (1972) is notable for its early use of electronics on a soul jazz recording.

McCann's recordings have been sampled in hip hop music by nearly 300 artists.


Early life

Leslie Coleman McCann was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on September 23, 1935. He grew up in a musical family of four, a brother and three sisters with most of McCann's family singing in church choirs. His father was a fan of jazz music and his mother was known to hum opera tunes around the house. As a youth, McCann played the tuba and drums and performed in his school's marching band. As a pianist, he was largely self-taught. He explained that he only received piano lessons for a few weeks as a six-year-old before his teacher died.


During his service in the U.S. Navy, McCann won a singing contest, which led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. After leaving the navy, McCann moved to California and played in his own trio. He declined an offer to work in Cannonball Adderley's band so that he could dedicate himself to his own music. The trio's first job was at the Purple Onion club in 1959 accompanying Gene McDaniels.

The main part of McCann's career began in the early 1960s when he recorded as a pianist with his trio for Pacific Jazz. In 1969, Atlantic released Swiss Movement, an album recorded with saxophonist Eddie Harris and trumpeter Benny Bailey earlier at that year's Montreux Jazz Festival. The album contained the song "Compared to What", and both the album and the single reached the Billboard pop charts. "Compared to What" criticized the Vietnam War. The song was written by Eugene McDaniels years earlier and recorded and released as a ballad by McCann in 1966 on his album, Les McCann Plays the Hits. Roberta Flack's version appeared as the opening track on her debut album First Take (1969).

After the success of Swiss Movement, McCann, primarily a piano player emphasized his vocals. He became an innovator in soul jazz merging jazz with funk, soul, and world rhythms. He was among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music.

In 1971, he and Harris were part of a group of soul, R&B, and rock performers–including Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers, Santana, and Ike & Tina Turner–who flew to Accra, Ghana, to perform a 14-hour concert for over 100,000 Ghanaians. The March 6 concert was recorded for the documentary film Soul to Soul. In 2004, the movie was released on DVD with an accompanying soundtrack album.

McCann had a stroke in the mid-1990s, but he returned to music in 2002, when Pump it Up was released. He also exhibited his work as a painter and photographer.


McCann died from pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital on December 29, 2023, at the age of 88.


McCann's recordings have been widely sampled in hip hop music. Mostly occurring in the 1990s and 2000s, nearly 300 artists have sampled McCann. These artists include A Tribe Called Quest, Cypress Hill, De La Soul, the Notorious B.I.G., Sean Combs, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Mary J. Blige, the Pharcyde, Eric B. and Rakim, Mobb Deep, Gang Starr, and Raekwon.


As leader

As sideman

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Les McCann" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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