Les McCann, innovative jazz musician, dies at 88

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Les McCann, a prolific and influential musician and recording artist who helped found the soul-jazz genre and became a favorite source of sampling by Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest and hundreds of other hip artists -hop, died. He was 88 years old.

McCann died Friday in Los Angeles a week after being hospitalized with pneumonia, according to his longtime manager and producer, Alan Abrahams.

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, McCann was a self-taught singer and pianist whose career dated back to the 1950s, when he won a singing competition while serving in the U.S. Navy and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the most popular variety program. of his time. With admirers including Quincy Jones and Miles Davis, he toured the world and released dozens of albums, beginning in 1960 with “Les McCann Ltd.” Play the Truth.”

He was best known for “Compared to What,” a funky protest song on which he first teamed up with his future musical partner, saxophonist Eddie Harris. Written by Eugene McDaniels and recorded live at the 1968 Monteaux Jazz Festival, “Compared to What” blended jazzy riffs and McCann's gospel-style vocals. The song condemns war, greed and injustice with couplets such as “Nobody gives us rhyme or reason/Have a doubt, they call it treason.”

Among those who covered “Compared to What” was Roberta Flack, a protégé of McCann's whose career he helped launch by arranging an audition with Atlantic Records. McCann was a pioneer in fusing jazz with soul and funk. He would record with Flack and tour with popular musicians such as Wilson Pickett, Santana and the Staples Singers.

His other albums include “Talk to the People” (1972), “Layers” (1973) and “Another Beginning” (1974). Last month, Resonance Records released “Never A Dull Moment!” – Live from coast to coast (1966-1967).

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