Les McCann first gained some fame in 1956 when he won a talent contest in the Navy as a singer that resulted in an appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show . McCann reached the peak of his career in 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival, recording “Compared to What” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. After the success of Swiss Movement album, McCann — primarily a piano player — began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more. He became an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms. He was also among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music. In 1971 McCann and Harris were part of a touring group of soul, R&B, and rock performers which included Wilson Pickett,The Staple Singers, Santan and Ike & Tina Turner. McCann is also credited in discovering Roberta Flack and obtained an audition which resulted in a recording contract for Ms. Flack with Atlantic Records.
In the mid 90’s McCann suffered a stroke that weakened his keyboard playing but his powerful singing kept him on the road. McCann’s comeback was solidified in 2002’s with “Pump It Up” a guest-heavy celebration of funk and jazz released on ESC Records. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Swiss Movement album, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson brought veteran McCann and a young trio of musicians to the KC Jazz Club for Swiss Movement Revisited.
Jackson is used to working with legends he cut his musical teeth with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s. He went on to record with such greats as the late Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Cedar Walton and Stanley Turrentine. Jackson leads his own group, and his latest release (Once Upon a Melody) hit No. 1 on the jazz radio charts.
In a 2009 Kennedy Center performance the interaction between Jackson, his young talented musicians and the old lion at the keyboard, Les McCann, reminded the audience that the old lion can still roar with heart.