Jazz icon Les McCann passes away at 88

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Les McCann, the celebrated jazz pianist and singer best known for his 1969 hit “Compared to What,” has died at the age of 88. Confirming the news, his long-time manager Alan Abrahams said McCann died at a Los Angeles hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, McCann's musical journey began with a self-taught approach to the piano. His breakthrough came when he won a singing competition while in the United States Navy, leading to an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Although he turned down an offer to join Cannonball Adderley's band, McCann's career gained momentum and he recorded as a pianist with his trio for Pacific Jazz Records.

His notable success came with the 1969 album Swiss Movement, with the hit “Compared to What”, a critical commentary on the Vietnam War. McCann's influence expanded as he became one of the pioneers of soul jazz, integrating jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms. He also adopted unconventional instruments like the electric piano and synthesizer.

McCann's career spanned Atlantic Records until 1976, during which he released albums like Invitation to Opening (1973) and Layers (1974). Despite suffering a stroke in 1995 that left him partially paralyzed, McCann made a comeback, recording albums such as Pump it up (2002) and A Time Christmas (2018). In 2023, Resonance Records released an archival collection, Never a dull moment! Live from Coast to Coast 1966-1967.

He made history in 1975 when he became the first artist in residence at Harvard University's Learning From Performers program. His talents also extended to photography, featured in the 2015 book “Invitation to Openness: The Jazz & Soul Photography of Les McCann 1960-1980.”

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