Les McCann is an enthusiastic young man with a love of music. He is musically untrammeled! A self-taught musician in the main, he started playing drums, then bass, sousaphone for awhile; then finally discovered the instrument he'd been looking for, the piano.
But how do you describe Les McCann--musically, I mean? There are times when he is reminiscent of other pianists. Yet, there are undertones of something else. The flashing right hand sometimes suggests an early Tatum or Wilson. The rolling left hand sounds somewhat Garner-ish. There are moments when Les reminds me of some of the early "stride" pianists, Hines, Waller, or even early Ellington. But, Les had had no contact with this type of piano and would probably express little knowledge of it. Yet, if you listen, there it is. If you note what seem to be other influences, hear them out. You'll hear that they are not influences as much as interpolations of feelings that others have generated earlier.
When asked who his greatest influences are--if such there be--Les admits that he was most attracted to the late Carl Perkins, another self-taught pianist. Aside from Perkins, Les apparently has no strong feelings about other pianists. He'd rather play than listen to someone else. Les is caught up in an urgency to create; to try new ideas; to express the emotions that keep bubbling up, that insist on being heard.
As far as present day influences are concerned, Miles Davis is the one. When Miles was on the Coast recently, he played one evening at the Club Renaissance, a coffee house on the Sunset Strip. Les sat and listened. Later, he played a set. When he finished, Miles came over and asked: "Why didn't you play when I was on the stand? You're great!" Les was stunned. This recognition from Miles Davis is a fair indication of how musicians feel about Les McCann.
Leroy Vinnegar, who plays bass on this album, told me that he feels that Les is well on his way to being one of the truly great jazz figures. Reversing the situation, Les has told me of his feelings toward Leroy's playing: "Sometimes I get to listening to Leroy's bass so much I just forget to play myself. And then he plays something and I just gotta laugh--right out loud--cause he's playing something so right, and it kills me." There's a musical rapport that's seldom found!
In getting to know Les, I recorded several hours of conversation with him. Here are a few of the most interesting moments from those tapes:
- Les, your background is in the gospel music, isn't it?
- It's just that I love the gospel field . . . that's the kind of church I used to go to . . . in Lexington, Kentucky.
- I understand you had a music teacher there.
- For six weeks I had her . . . she died. She charged me 35¢ a lesson.
- Tell me about the title tune, "The Truth."
- When I was working at a club on Washington Boulevard in L.A., the people who'd come knew I'd play this tune about 11:30 every nite. And they'd all be there. I didn't have a name for it then . . . when a fellow I went to school with . . . Jordon Good . . . came over and said, "Why don't you call it 'The Truth?' . . . cause that's what it is."
- I noticed the gospel influence in some of the other tunes.
- I have a feeling about music . . . I don't care what kind of music it is . . . if it's good . . . and the guy means it when he plays it . . . then it can be religious or anything.
- How about "Fish This Week But Next Sunday Chitlings?"
- I wouldn't feel bad about playing this in church. But I'd like to say one more thing about the first one. In music it's mostly in a form . . . like "A-A-B-A" . . . and each of these has eight bars. But in this, when you get to the bridge . . . the "B" part . . . my thought was that whoever is taking the solo would be like the preacher preachin' . . . and he just keeps on as long as he wants to . . . the bridge can be 100 bars . . . and when he finishes he gives a signal and you play out the last eight bars. Then you start out all over again. Now about "Fish This Week" . . . to me this is a happy thing . . . like it's Sunday . . . and back home they used to have these suppers at the church and they'd have all kinds of food. Fish one week . . . chitlings next, you know. It's really like an answering choir sort of thing.
- Les, is there anyone that you would say is an influence on you and your playing?
- I like a lot of people . . . but there is no influence on my life. I think I'm mostly me. I honestly believe that I'm influenced by the people and things that happen to me. I don't believe that a musician must be influenced by another musician . . . even if he plays things that others play . . . I don't think that's a point of influence . . . I think that it's an agreement with them. Yet I guess if anybody has influenced me, it's Miles.
So we come back to the original question: How do you describe Les McCann? In such a problem you must have a frame of reference. Such a description is naturally based on your own past experiences and emotions. And so I can only say in all honesty that Les McCann is the most exciting young pianist that I've heard in years . . . inventive . . . emotional . . . searching . . . and musically honest. I'm happy that Dick Bock recorded him, and I hope he has a nice long contract. Because to quote Leroy Vinnegar again: "Les McCann is well on his way to being one of the truly great jazz figures."
To this I can only add . . . AMEN.
-- Frank Evans
Frank Evans is one of that handful of "Disc Jockeys" that gives his listeners credit for a great deal more than a twelve-year old mentality. And he manages this with an uncommon degree of taste and charm. His musical judgement and unusual sense of humor (he was the first to air entire uninterrupted albums by Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Shelly Berman) has created a special brand of FM radio, and at the same time established Evans as the most listened to personality in Southern California FM. For several years, Frank Evans has been affiliated with KRHM where he conducts at least three noteworthy shows, the best known of which is the seven-day-a-week, four-hour-a-day showcase called "Frankly Jazz." In addition to this, Evans conducts the course in American Jazz at UCLA, and MCs several dozen a year jazz concerts.