Artist picture of Les McCann

Les McCann

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Compared to What Les McCann, Eddie Harris 08:36
Compared To What? Les McCann 02:30
Sunny Les McCann 02:36
Burnin' Coal Les McCann 06:38
Let It Lay Les McCann 05:21
Benjamin Les McCann 05:46
McCanna Les McCann 04:07
Sometimes I Cry Les McCann 05:22
The Lovers Les McCann 26:02
Someday We'll Meet Again Les McCann 06:52

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One of the great jazz keyboard players and singers, Les McCann's performance at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival is one of the most legendary in jazz history, resulting in one of the most influential jazz albums of all time, 'Swiss Movement'. Merging swing and gospel music, he is regarded as one of jazz's most visionary talents, pioneering electronic ideas, which helped create jazz rock.

Born in 1935 in Lexington, Kentucky, he had a few piano lessons as a child but was largely self-taught and his exuberant style was strongly influenced by Erroll Garner. In the early 1950s he served in the Navy and, stationed in California, spent his leave time hanging out in San Francisco jazz clubs. He won a Navy talent show for singing which earned him a spot on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and, after being demobbed from the Navy, he settled in Los Angeles, forming a trio which played regularly on Sunset Strip. His fearless performances both as a singer and pianist gained plenty of attention and Miles Davis recommended him to the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, an opportunity he declined because he wanted to form his own band and do things his own way.

The gamble paid off as McCann was signed to the LA label Pacific Jazz and, produced by Nick Venet, became its biggest star after releasing his groove-laden first album 'Plays the Truth' in 1960. He went on to play with some of the leading jazz musicians of the day including Richard Holmes, Ben Webster, The Jazz Crusaders and The Gerald Wilson Orchestra and shared stages with personal heroes Ray Charles and Count Basie. He also discovered Roberta Flack after hearing her in a nightclub in Washington and in 1967 embarked on the most successful phase of his career when he signed to Atlantic Records.

It was at the Montreux Jazz Festival that he first met and started working with sax player Eddie Harris, resulting in the best-selling album 'Swiss Movement' and a hit single 'Compared to What'. Successful collaborations with Harris continued on 'Second Movement' (1971), 'Invitation to Openess' (1972) and the groundbreaking 1973 improvisational album 'Layers', on which McCann pioneered electric piano and explored the idea of electric jazz with 15 musicians and involved one 27-minute track.

Through the 1980s he worked with McCann's Magic Band on a series of albums and in 1997 he teamed up with German pianist Joja Wendt, resulting in another important album 'Pacifique'. A stroke in the 1990s curtailed him for a while but he was back in 2002 with the album 'Pump It Up', while publishing a book of his photographs of many of jazz's most iconic musicians.