• Pianist Les McCann has died at 88 years old
  • He was a major influence on several big artists
  • Details of his passing are still being revealed

Jazz enthusiasts and hip-hop heads alike are mourning the loss of a true musical pioneer, Les McCann, whose soulful keystrokes have resonated through generations. The legendary jazz pianist, who has left an indelible mark on the music industry, passed away at a Los Angeles area hospital, leaving behind a legacy that transcends genres.

Les left a big imprint of music

Born into a rhythm-rich family in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1935, McCann's self-taught piano skills and natural flair for music catapulted him from tuba and drums in his school's marching band to the spotlight of 'The Ed Sullivan Show' in 1956.

His naval victory in a singing contest was just the beginning of a storied career that would see him rub shoulders with jazz greats and influence the beats of hip-hop legends. And that is perhaps his biggest contribution of all.

As the ’60s rolled into the ’70s, McCann, who had always infused his music with a touch of soul from the Black church, became a pioneer of soul-jazz and was one of the first jazz musicians to incorporate electronic music into his work. 

McCann's fusion of jazz and R&B laid the groundwork for a new era of music. His tunes provided the backdrop for tracks by iconic artists like the Notorious B.I.G., A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and many more. His sound was not just music; it was a movement.

His 1969 hit, 'Compared to What,' performed with saxophonist Eddie Harris, became a protest anthem that still resonates today. It's a testament to McCann's impact that this song, among his vast discography, continues to be celebrated and covered by artists across the globe.

The outlet cites the liner notes for a reissue of the concert album, the Grammy-nominated Swiss Movement, in which McCann writes, "Just before we went onstage, and for the first time in my life, I smoked some hash. … [Onstage] I didn’t know where the hell I was. I was totally disoriented. The other guys said, ‘OK, play, man!’ Somehow I got myself together, and after that, everything just took off."

The jazz maestro's influence was felt far and wide, as evidenced by the heartfelt tributes from friends like Quincy Jones and Roberta Flack. His recommendation of Flack to Atlantic Records was pivotal, showcasing his role as not just a musician but a mentor and friend in the industry.

Also interesting:

"Her voice touched, tapped, trapped and kicked every emotion I’ve ever known," McCann wrote in the liner notes for 'First Take'.

"I laughed, cried and screamed for more … she alone had the voice." Unfortunately, McCann suffered a stroke in the mid ’90s onstage in Germany and ended up in a wheelchair but was ultimately able to keep performing.

Les McCann's journey may have come to an end, but his music lives on. With over 60 albums and countless live performances, his creative spirit will continue to inspire and entertain. The world has lost a giant, but the echoes of his piano will forever fill the halls of musical history.