To know Les McCann Is to Know Love.
Photography BERT SPANGEMACHER
Text VITTORIO CARETTI
Listen to him here
My personal journey with Les began as a young boy. A lonely childhood was soothed by his piano. A restlessness was caressed by his voice. After thirty years of listening to him, collecting his records, and watching him perform, his smile, graciousness, and inimitably talented voice continues to be the force that most strongly connects me to this beautiful thing we call jazz.
It was not until I met Les in person, armed with an original copy of “The Gospel Truth” that I finally knew why his music had been so important to me. Minutes before an upcoming show, a few thousand people, a grand piano and a sun setting Los Angeles night waiting, I met him in the corridor and asked him to sign my album. “Boy where did you get this…” he asked me as I fumbled around for a sharpie for him to sign an album he recorded somewhere around 1963. “Mr. McCann, I have everything you have ever recorded,” I remember saying. We shared a moment, and a smile that I will never forget.
As we walked out towards the stage, Les was greeted with a standing ovation… and this before he had even played a note. I watched him play that night, a little boy, clenching a piece of plastic, knowing that his smile, pure and genuine, poured into every note he was playing on his piano. So when people ask me what love is, I tell them it is Les McCann on the keys.
Les McCann is one of the greats. Through his extraordinary piano playing, composition, and silky voice, the jazz musician, now in his eighties, has built his career around his supernatural ability to connect with audiences like no other.
He started blending his unique sound right out of the US Army when he discovered the late night jazz clubs in San Francisco. He fell in love with jazz and spent the rest of his life making the music that has won him fans all across the world. Les McCann started his recording career at the age of 24 on the tiny Pacific Jazz label with his first recording, “The Shout.” A self-taught pianist, Les started working in studio sessions back then and produced a string of successful records in the 60s and 70s. Over the years, his music found a new audience with the Hip Hoppers that were looking for original beats to sample. His music has been sampled by everyone from Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Eric B. & Rakim and hundreds of others.
In 1969 at The Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Les along with Eddie Harris and Benny Bailey recorded “The Swiss Movement,” a hit album that went on to sell millions of copies. This year marks the 50th anniversary of what many jazz critics and fans alike consider one of the most influential jazz albums ever recorded. Les McCann will be at Montreux himself to commemorate this celebration.