Born in 1935 in Lexington, Kentucky, LES MCCANN is a self-taught musician (other than the four piano lessons he took as a youth from a nice old lady who lived in the neighborhood). While stationed in California in the Navy, he took every opportunity to visit San Francisco’s jazz clubs, where he first experienced Miles Davis’ music. After his discharge from the military, McCann moved to Los Angeles and formed a trio, Les McCann Ltd., which became a favorite on the Sunset Strip in the late ’50s.
Always fueled by his renegade spirit, Les McCann was recommended by Miles Davis to play with Cannonball Adderley – and turned it down to back pop vocalist Gene McDaniels (100 Pounds of Clay). In 1960, McCann was signed to the L.A.-based Pacific Jazz label owned by producer Nick Venet, who recognized Les’ signature soul groove that mothered an entire movement of back-to-the-roots jazz. McCann became the label’s top-selling artist, debuting with Plays the Truth (1960).
McCann’s laid-back personality has always created an opening for musicians to perform together. He has shared the stage with Ray Charles and Count Basie, toured Europe with Zoot Sims and Charlie Byrd, and his collaboration with Eddie Harris has become near-legendary. Throughout the 1960s, McCann travelled and toured constantly, playing in countless sessions with the greatest names in jazz. 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 (a subsidiary of Mercury Records which boasted Dizzy Gillespie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Art Blakey), McCann signed to Atlantic Records in 1967, his first major label deal.
In addition to the recent release of Listen Up! , the summer brings a rerelease of Swiss Movement (Rhino/Atlantic), featuring a new track and some new arrangements. Les is perpetually known as a grooveman, and as a result, his music has been sampled by the hottest hip-hop and jazz artists. For example, the latest smash hit “Right Back At You” (BMG/Loud Records) by hip-hop artists Mobb Deep, samples Les’ legendary tune “Benjamin.” McCann last appeared at the Bowl in 1993.