Les McCann

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Les McCann
Les McCann.jpg
McCann in 1980
Background information
Birth nameLeslie Coleman McCann
Born (1935-09-23) September 23, 1935 (age 83)
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
GenresJazz, soul jazz

Leslie Coleman McCann (born September 23, 1935) is an American jazz pianist and vocalist.[1]


McCann (left) with the Les McCann Trio, 1962

An early musical success for McCann was his winning of a Navy talent contest for singing; this led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.[1] McCann's main career began in the early 1960s when he recorded as a pianist with his trio for Pacific Jazz Records.[2]

In 1969, Atlantic Records released Swiss Movement, a recording of McCann with frequent collaborator, saxophonist Eddie Harris, and guest trumpeter Benny Bailey at that year's Montreux Jazz Festival.[3] The album contained the song "Compared to What", and both the album and the single were huge Billboard pop chart successes. "Compared to What" featured political criticism of the Vietnam War. The song was not written by McCann; fellow Atlantic composer/singer Eugene McDaniels wrote it years earlier. "Compared to What" was initially recorded and released as a ballad by Les McCann in 1966 on his album Les McCann Plays the Hits, issued on the Limelight label. Roberta Flack's version appeared as the opening track on her debut recording, First Take (1969).

After the success of Swiss Movement, McCann – primarily a piano player – began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more. He became an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms; much of his early 1970s music prefigures the Stevie Wonder albums of that decade. 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 for a historic 14-hour concert before more than 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.

Les McCann discovered Roberta Flack and arranged an audition which resulted in a recording contract for her with Atlantic Records.

A mild stroke in the mid-1990s sidelined McCann for a while,[2] but in 2002 he released a new album, Pump it Up. McCann has also exhibited as a painter and photographer.[1]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Teddy Edwards

With Richard "Groove" Holmes

With Clifford Scott

  • Out Front! (Pacific Jazz PJ-66, 1963) — with Joe Pass

With Lou Rawls

With Stanley Turrentine

Appears on[edit]


  • "Compared To What" was featured in "Lockdown", the season two episode of Lost.
  • The live version (from Montreux's Jazz Festival) of "Compared To What" was featured in the Martin Scorsese film Casino, during the scene where the organizational hierarchy of the casino is being explained.
  • "Compared To What" has been a featured song in the 2007 tour of American Idol Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks.
  • McCann's song "Valllarta (Skit)" was sampled by the late rapper The Notorious B.I.G. in the song "The Ten Crack Commandments" off his album Life After Death.
  • The song "Roberta" was sampled on Afu-Ra's "Whirlwind Thru Cities".
  • The beginning of "Sometimes I Cry" was sampled by Massive Attack to create their song "Teardrop".
  • "Behind Bars" by Slick Rick also samples "Sometimes I Cry".
  • "The song "Beyond Yesterday" was sampled by Gang Starr, on "Itz A Set Up".
  • The beginning of the song "The Harlem Buck Dance Strut" is used in the Daddylonglegs (Howie B) song "Giddy Up" and is used in full on Ice-T's "Soul On Ice" from the album Power.
  • McCann's song "Benjamin" (1969) was sampled by French rap band IAM in the song "C'est donc ça nos vies" and in "Right Back At You" by New York rap duo Mobb Deep.
  • "Rather Unique" by AZ samples the ending chords of "Anticipation".


  1. ^ a b c Feather, Leonard & Gitler, Ira (2007) The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, p448. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ a b Yanow, Scott. "Les McCann: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-10-17.
  3. ^ Olewnick, Brian. "Swiss Movement: Review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-10-17.

External links[edit]