Jazz innovator Les McCann, noted for ‘Compared to What,’ dies at 88.

Les McCann, a prolific and prominent musician and recording artist who helped develop soul-jazz and was sampled by Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, and hundreds of other hip-hop artists, died. He was 88.

After a week in the hospital with pneumonia, McCann died Friday in Los Angeles, according to his longtime manager and producer Alan Abrahams.

McCann, from Lexington, Kentucky, was a vocalist and self-taught pianist who began his career in the 1950s when he won a singing contest while in the Navy and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the greatest variety show of its time. 

With Quincy Jones and Miles Davis as fans, he toured the world and recorded dozens of records, beginning with “Les McCann Ltd. Plays the Truth” in 1960.The funky protest song "Compared to What," on which he first collaborated with saxophonist Eddie Harris, was his most famous. 

“Compared to What” (written by Eugene McDaniels) was recorded live at the 1968 Monteaux Jazz Festival with gospel-style vocals by McCann. The song attacked war, greed, and injustice with couplets such “Nobody gives us rhyme or reason/Have one doubt, they call it treason.”

McCann arranged up an audition with Atlantic Records for Roberta Flack, who covered “Compared to What”. 

McCann pioneered jazz-soul-funk fusion. He recorded with Flack and toured with Wilson Pickett, Santana, and the Staples Singers.

His other albums were “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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