Already established on the soul jazz scene of the 1960s, Les McCann became an international jazz superstar with the release of “Swiss Movement,” recorded at the 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival with the late Eddie Harris. The album generated a multi-million selling hit single, "Compared To What," and placed McCann and Harris in the forefront of the jazz market. There was a lot more to Les McCann than that show in Switzerland,both before and after. As a musician, he moved comfortably from one jazz style to the next, demonstrating impressive chops from bop to fusion, from vocals to virtually any kind of keyboard he puts his hands to.
Born in 1935 in Lexington, Kentucky, Les is a self-taught musician. In the early fifties, he left the South and joined the Navy. While stationed in California, he took every opportunity to visit San Francisco's jazz clubs, where he first experienced Miles Davis and his music. His first major influence though, was pianist Erroll Garner, who shared the same exuberance and bursting vocalizations. After his discharge from the military, McCann moved to Los Angeles and formed a trio, Les McCann Ltd., which became a favorite on the Sun Strip in the late fifties.
Les McCann was recommended by Miles Davis to play with Cannonball Adderly, but turned it down in order to form his own band. In 1960, McCann was signed to the L.A.-based Pacific Jazz, where he became the label's top-selling artist, debuting with “Plays the Truth.” (1960) He also co-headed albums with label mates such as organist Richard "Groove" Holmes, saxman Ben Webster, The Jazz Crusaders and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.
McCann's laid-back personality has always been an opening for musicians to perform together. 1960/2 Antibes Jazz Festival was a hit as he shared the stage with Ray Charles and Count Basie. The following year he toured Europe with Zoot Sims and Charlie Byrd. He would move constantly, playing in countless sessions with the greatest names in jazz. He co-produced the debut album from Lou Rawls, “Stormy Monday,” (1960) and appeared on records with Stanley Turrentine, who played sax on McCann's “In New York,” (1960) and McCann on Turrentine's “That's Where It's At.” (1960) In the early seventies, McCann heard Roberta Flack for the first time at a nightclub in Washington D.C., and immediately became her champion, as he did similarly with Mahalia Jackson and Nancy Wilson. After a brief stint on the Limelight label (subsidiary of Mercury Records), McCann signed to Atlantic Records in 1967, his first major label deal. His perfect marriage of church and swing captured the spirit of the times in the same way that Ray Charles' mixture of gospel and blues heralded the arrival of soul.Read more
- 20 Special Fingers by Douglas Payne
- Twenty Special Fingers by C. Andrew Hovan
- 20 Special Fingers by Jim Santella
- Pump It Up by Craig W. Hurst
- Invitation to Openness by Germein Linares
Building a Jazz Library
- Invitation to Openness by C. Michael Bailey
Radio & Podcasts
- Free Association - Vol. 2 with Michael Blake
- New Releases + Some Soul, Electric Funk and a Hot California set of '50s Cool
January 19, 2015
Les McCann "Invitation To Openness" Reissued on Omnivore Recordings
January 28, 2013
October 23, 2008
Jazz This Week: Les McCann and Javon Jackson, Fran Landesman,...
October 19, 2008
STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: Les McCann and Javon Jackson
May 29, 2008
Les McCann & Javon Jackson to Replace McCoy Tyner at 2008 Telluride...
July 20, 2007
Eddie Harris and Les McCann - Composition Entitled "Compared to What"
Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson
Invitation to Openness
Les McCann Trio Live
Groove Hut Records
Pump It Up
Another Beginning /...
Twenty Special Fingers