les mccann, Jazz

Jazz Pioneer Les McCann Who Was Sampled By Dr. Dre Passes Away At 88

Legendary pianist and vocalist Les McCann known for his influential role in soul-jazz and iconic performances passed away Dec. 29th.

According to NBC News, legendary pianist and vocalist Les McCann passed away on Dec. 29th. Known for his influential role in soul-jazz and iconic performances like “Compared to What,” he succumbed to pneumonia in a Los Angeles-area hospital, according to his manager, Alan Abrahams.

McCann, born in Lexington, KY, played a pivotal role in shaping the soul-jazz genre, bridging jazz with the counterculture’s protest music. Beyond his profound impact on jazz, McCann’s legacy extended to hip-hop, where artists like Notorious B.I.G., Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, Warren G., Slick Rick, Dr. Dre, and A Tribe Called Quest found inspiration in his music.

“He brought something from the Black church to jazz,” remarked Abrahams, reflecting on McCann’s unique contribution to the musical landscape.

For Quincy Jones, a super-producer, Les McCann was a force of nature since the early ’60s. In the liner notes for the recent release Never A Dull Moment! – Live from Coast to Coast (1966-1967), Jones stated, “Whenever I heard him live or on record, he always did the unexpected.”

McCann’s musical journey began when he taught himself to play the piano, and after joining the Navy, he landed in Los Angeles, attending Los Angeles City College, the outlet reported. His breakthrough came in 1968 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where his performance of “Compared to What” with Eddie Harris propelled the album Swiss Movement to gold status.

McCann’s musical innovation continued with his recognition of the growing importance of electronic influences, as seen in his 1972 electronic opus Layers. Despite critical and commercial success, McCann was known as a fearless musician who embraced unfamiliar territory, touring the globe well into his retirement.

Even in the face of a stroke in 1995 that paralyzed the right side of his body, McCann displayed resilience with humor. Abrahams shared an anecdote where McCann, alongside jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, joked about touring together as one good piano player, according to the outlet.

McCann’s multifaceted personality extended beyond music. He captured jazz culture and Black history through his lens, producing the photo book Invitation to Openness: The Jazz and Soul Photography of Les McCann 1960-1980.

“He didn’t play it safe,” Abrahams emphasized, highlighting McCann’s adventurous spirit.

In the wake of his passing, discussions are underway to organize a celebration of life in the coming weeks, possibly at Los Angeles City College, a place cherished by McCann.

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