Les McCann

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Les McCann
McCann in 1980
McCann in 1980
Background information
Birth nameLeslie Coleman McCann
Born (1935-09-23) September 23, 1935 (age 87)
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
GenresJazz, soul jazz

Leslie Coleman McCann (born September 23, 1935)[1] is an American jazz pianist and vocalist.[2]

Early life[edit]

McCann (left) with the Les McCann Trio (Herbie Lewis & Ron Jefferson), 1962

Les McCann was born in Lexington, Kentucky.[1] He grew up in a musical family of four, a brother and three sisters with most of McCann's family singing in church choirs.[3][4] His father was a fan of jazz music and his mother was known to hum opera tunes around the house.[4] As a youth, he played the tuba and drums and performed in his school's marching band.[3][4] As a pianist McCann was largely self-taught.[5] He explained he only received piano lessons for a few weeks as a six-year-old before his teacher died.[3]


During his service in the U.S. Navy, McCann won a singing contest which led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.[2] After leaving the Navy, McCann moved to California and played in his own trio.[5] He declined an offer to work in Cannonball Adderley's band so that he could dedicate himself to his own music.[5] The trio's first job was at the Purple Onion in 1959 accompanying Gene McDaniels.[3]

The main part of McCann's career began in the early 1960s when he recorded as a pianist with his trio for Pacific Jazz.[6] 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.[7] 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,[6] but he returned to music in 2002 when Pump it Up was released. He has also exhibited his work as a painter and photographer.[2]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1548. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b c Feather, Leonard, and Ira Gitler (2007), The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, p. 448. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ a b c d Feather, Leonard (1986). The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties. New York: Da Capo. p. 206. ISBN 0-306-80263-5.
  4. ^ a b c McMullan, Jim (1994). Musicians as artists. Internet Archive. Boston : Journey Editions. pp. 60–61. ISBN 978-1-885203-06-9.
  5. ^ a b c Mathieson, Kenny (November 26, 2013). "McCann, Les(lie Coleman)". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2242229. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved November 8, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ a b Yanow, Scott. "Les McCann". AllMusic. Retrieved September 3, 2019.
  7. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Swiss Movement". AllMusic. Retrieved September 3, 2019.

External links[edit]