Les McCann


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


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. McCann's main career began in the early 1960s when he recorded as a pianist with his trio for Pacific Jazz Records.

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. 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, but in 2002 he released a new album, Pump it Up. McCann has also exhibited as a painter and photographer.


As leader/co-leader

  • It's About Time (Pacific Jazz PJ-6, 1959 [rel. 1960]) — with Teddy Edwards
  • Les McCann Ltd. Plays the Truth (Pacific Jazz PJ-2, 1960)
  • Les McCann Ltd. Plays the Shout (Recorded at 'The Bit' on the Sunset Strip) [live] (Pacific Jazz PJ-7, 1960)
  • Les McCann Ltd. in San Francisco (Recorded Live at the Jazz Workshop) (Pacific Jazz PJ-16, 1960 [rel. 1961])
  • From the Top of the Barrel (Recorded Live) (Pacific Jazz PJ-10120, 1960 [rel. 1967])
  • "Groove" (Les McCann Presents the Dynamic Jazz Organ of Richard "Groove" Holmes) [also released as That Healin' Feelin' ] (Pacific Jazz PJ-23, 1961; CD reissue: Pacific Jazz 94473, 1990) — with Richard "Groove" Holmes, Ben Webster
  • Pretty Lady [also released as Django] (Pacific Jazz PJ-25, 1961; reissue: Sunset SUS-5214, 1968)
  • Les McCann Sings (Pacific Jazz PJ-31, 1961) — with orchestra under the direction of Gerald Wilson
  • Les McCann Ltd. in New York (Recorded Live at the Village Gate) (Pacific Jazz PJ-45, 1961 [rel. 1962]; CD reissue: Pacific Jazz 92929, 1989) — with Stanley Turrentine, Blue Mitchell
  • Les McCann Ltd. Plays the Shampoo (At the Village Gate) [live] (Pacific Jazz PJ-63, 1961 [rel. 1963])
  • New from the Big City (Recorded Live in New York City) (World Pacific ST-20173, 1961 [rel. 1970])
  • Stormy Monday (Capitol ST-1714, 1962; CD reissue: Blue Note 91441, 1990) — with Lou Rawls
  • Somethin' Special (Pacific Jazz PJ-51, 1962; CD reissue: Pacific Jazz 55452, 1997) — with Richard "Groove" Holmes
  • On Time (Pacific Jazz PJ-56, 1962) — with Joe Pass
  • The Gospel Truth (Pacific Jazz PJ-69, 1963)
  • Soul Hits (Pacific Jazz PJ-78, 1963) — with Joe Pass
  • Jazz Waltz (Pacific Jazz PJ-81, 1964) — with Jazz Crusaders
  • Spanish Onions (Pacific Jazz PJ-10097, 1964 [rel. 1966])
  • A Bag of Gold (Pacific Jazz PJ-10107, 1960—1964 [rel. 1966])
  • McCanna (Pacific Jazz PJ-84, 1964)
  • McCann/Wilson (Pacific Jazz PJ-91, 1964 [rel. 1965]) — with Gerald Wilson Orchestra
  • But Not Really (Limelight LS-86016, 1965)
  • Beaux J. Pooboo (Limelight LS-86025, 1965)
  • Live at Shelly's Manne-Hole (Limelight LS-86036, 1966)
  • Les McCann Plays the Hits (Limelight LS-86041, 1966)
  • Bucket O' Grease (Limelight LS-86043, 1966)
  • Live at Bohemian Caverns - Washington, DC (Limelight LS-86046, 1967)
  • More Or Les McCann (World Pacific ST-20166, 1969) — arranged & conducted by Gerald Wilson; this release adds new orchestral backgrounds to 8 tracks from 5 previous Pacific Jazz albums.
  • Much Les (Atlantic SD-1516, 1969)
  • Swiss Movement (Recorded Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland) (Atlantic SD-1537, 1969; CD reissue: Rhino 72452, 1996) — with Eddie Harris, Benny Bailey
  • Comment (Atlantic SD-1547, 1970)
  • Second Movement (Atlantic SD-1583, 1971; CD reissue: Collectables 6538, 2004) — with Eddie Harris
  • Invitation to Openness (Atlantic SD-1603, 1972)
  • Talk to the People (Atlantic SD-1619, 1972)
  • Live at Montreux (Atlantic SD2-312, 1973) 2LP
  • Layers (Atlantic SD-1646, 1973)
  • Another Beginning (Atlantic SD-1666, 1974)
  • Hustle to Survive (Atlantic SD-1679, 1975)
  • River High, River Low (Atlantic SD-1690, 1976)
  • Music Lets Me Be (ABC Impulse AS-9329, 1977)
  • Change Change Change (Live at the Roxy) (ABC Impulse AS-9333, 1977)
  • The Man (A&M SP-4718, 1978)
  • Tall, Dark & Handsome (A&M SP-4780, 1979)
  • The Longer You Wait (JAM [Jazz America Marketing] 012, 1983)
  • Les McCann's Music Box (JAM [Jazz America Marketing] 019, 1984)
  • Road Warriors (Greene Street GS-2002, 1984) — with Houston Person; produced by Creed Taylor
  • Butterfly (Stone STN-1900, 1988)
  • Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz with Guest: Les McCann (NPR series hosted by Marian McPartland) (The Jazz Alliance TJA-12031, 1989 [rel. 1996])
  • Les is More (Night/Virgin 91591, 1990; reissue: Hyena 9305, 2002)
  • Relationships: The Les McCann Anthology (Rhino 71279, 1993) 2CD
  • On the Soul Side (MusicMasters 65112, 1994)
  • Listen Up! (MusicMasters 65139, 1996)
  • Pacifique (MusicMasters 65174, 1998) — with Joja Wendt
  • How's Your Mother? (Live in New York 1967) (32 Jazz 32088, 1998)
  • Pump It Up (ESC 4906, 2002)
  • Vibrations: Funkin' Around Something Old Something New (Jazz Legend Project) (Leafage Jazz/Pony Canyon PCCY-30068, 2003 [rel. 2004])

As sideman

With Richard "Groove" Holmes

  • Tell It Like It Tis (Pacific Jazz PJ-10105, 1961—1962 [rel. 1966])

With Clifford Scott

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

With Stanley Turrentine

  • That's Where It's At (Blue Note BST-84096, 1962)
  • Straight Ahead (Blue Note BT-85105, 1984)

Appears on

  • Doldinger Jubilee '75 (Recorded Live Hamburg): various artists (Atlantic SD-18162, 1975) - McCann sings "Compared To What" with Klaus Doldinger's group
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain: The Blind Boys Of Alabama (Real World, 2003) - special guest vocal and piano on "White Christmas" by McCann


  • "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".


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