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Les McCann  

Last Updated: Sep 21, 2017 URL: http://libguides.library.ncat.edu/LesMcCann Print Guide RSS Updates

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Biography

American pianist and singer, Les McCann, was born in Lexington, KY in 1935. He grew up in a musical family and learned tuba and drums as a youth, but was largely self-taught on piano. While at school and in the navy, he sang with various groups and developed his skills as a pianist. After winning a navy talent contest as a singer in 1956 he appeared on Ed Sullivan's television show.

McCann settled in California following his discharge from the navy and from 1958 he began gaining recognition leading his own trio in nightclubs. He declined  an invitation to join Cannonball Adderley's quintet, preferring instead to work on his own music, and signed a contract with the Pacific Jazz label. His two albums of 1960, Les McCann Plays the Truth and The Shout, displayed the influence of gospel music and brought him considerable fame. He recorded frequently through the 1960s and his soulful funk style influenced many younger players. In 1969 he gave a performance with Eddie Harris at the Montreux International Jazz Festival; this was captured on the album Swiss Movement, which yielded a hit song, Compared to What, and years later a video of the performance was issued. The success of this album prompted McCann to emphasize his abilities as a singer. By the early 1970s he was experimenting extensively with electronic keyboards, and the album Live at Montreux (1972) offers excellent examples of his work. Later in the decade he gradually ceased playing jazz and concentrated on rhythm-and-blues and soul music.

McCann made few recordings in the 1980s, but toured internationally with his own group while reworking jazz into his stylistic mix. In 1986 he resumed touring with Harris and in 1994 they performed again at Montreux. He also worked with Herbie Mann. In 1995 he suffered a stroke. Although he recovered partially and resumed his career, he suffered difficulties with his right hand and began working with a second pianist; one of these was Joja Wendt, with whom he recorded an album of duos featuring his singing (1997). McCann is also deely involved in photography; a selection of his collection of more than 8,000 photographs was displayed at Montreux in 1999.

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Emily Bebber
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Reference Intern, Spring 2009
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North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

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John C. Teleha
 
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