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Mon, 09.23.1935

Les McCann, Pianist and Composer born

Les McCann

*Les McCann was born on this date in 1935. He was a Black jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader.

Leslie Coleman McCann was born in Lexington, Kentucky. 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 jazz fan, and his mother was known to hum opera tunes. 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 trio, declining an offer to work with Cannonball Adderley. The trio's first job was at the Purple Onion Club in 1959, accompanying Gene McDaniel. 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," the album and the single reached the Billboard pop charts. "Compared to What" criticized the Vietnam War. After the success of the Swiss Movement, McCann 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 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 returned to music in 2002 when Pump it Up was released. He also exhibited his work as a painter and photographer. McCann's recordings have been widely sampled in hip-hop music. Mostly occurring in the 1990s and 2000s, nearly 300 artists have sampled McCann. Les McCann died from pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital on December 29, 2023, at the age of 88.

To Become a musician or Singer
To Become a Conductor or Composer

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