Les McCann, the iconic jazz pianist, who is renowned for the protest song `Compared to What`, passed away on Friday at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to his manager. He was 88 years old and had been hospitalized last week due to pneumonia, though no cause of death was given, as per Variety. McCann combined jazz and R&B in his work, laying the foundation for numerous early hip-hop hits, such as `10 Crack Commandments` by the Notorious B.I.G., `After Hours` by A Tribe Called Quest, `The Next Episode` by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, `Pet Rock and C.L. Smooth, and many more.
McCann was raised in a musical family and was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1935. He claimed to have only had a few weeks of piano instruction as a child, and he played the tuba and drums in the marching band at his school.
He participated in a singing competition while serving in the United States Navy, and the result was a 1956 performance on `The Ed Sullivan Show,` the most-watched show on television at the time. He moved to Los Angeles after being released from the Army and started a trio there, turning down an offer to play with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. In the 1990s, he suffered a stroke that limited his ability to play the keyboard, as per Variety. Over the course of his career, McCann published over 60 albums; the most recent being a reissue of his CD `Never a Dull Moment! Coast to Coast Live 1966-67.`
American record producer Quincy Jones wrote in its liner notes, “Les McCann has been a musical force of nature since he burst on the scene in the early 60s. Whenever I heard him live or on record, he always did the unexpected.” McCann`s longtime friend Roberta Flack added, “Les and I found each other in the musical world of the tumultuous `60s. Les heard deeply what I was saying and his recommendation of me to Atlantic Records was a pivotal moment in my career. He is a giant in my world of music, a limitless creator, inspiration and friend.”
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