On June 21st, 1969 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, an impromptu performance was put together by the festival coordinators as well as the reps at Atlantic Records. They asked saxophonist Eddie Harris and vocalist/pianist Les McCann to perform a set featuring Benny Bailey on Trumpet, Leroy Vinnegar on Bass, and Donald Dean on Drums. This set produced a live recording of special and soulful jazz music that would become a staple of jazz music forever. The set was recorded and later released as “Swiss Movement.” The opening track was a gem written by the late songwriter Gene McDaniels called “Compared to What,” that became a war anthem and protest record that resonated with many people during the late 1960’s into the 70’s. The two would record another record in 1971 and play together live up until Eddie’s death in 1996. Over 40 years after the release of the classic “Swiss Movement” recording was released, the record has been hailed as one of the most important live jazz recordings of all-time.
Les is considered one of the pioneers of the ‘Soul Jazz’ movement where he and other musicians during the late 1960’s like Dr. Lonnie Smith, George Benson, Pat Martino, Houston Person, and Charles Earland took fused straight-ahead jazz and soul music and played to both the young and older music fans. Records like Les’s “Compared to What” to Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” dominated urban radio stations that mixed their records with the popular sounds of the day like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Sly and the Family Stone.
During the early 1960’s Les moved to Los Angeles, California where he formed his first group, Les McCann LTD. For a musician who wasn’t professionally trained, he was scouted by trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Cannonball Adderely. Les built his name around the club circuit and caught the attention of the President of Pacific Jazz, Richard Bock. Bock signed Les to his label and his debut recording “Les McCann Plays the Truth” became the best selling recording on the label. He went on to record and back other label-mates like Gerald Wilson, Ben Webster, The Jazz Crusaders, Richard “Groove Holmes, and Stanley Turrentine. One of Les’s most memorable collaborations is recording and co-producing vocalist Lou Rawls’s debut recording “Stormy Monday.”
When he left Pacific Jazz Records and Limelight Records, Les signed with Atlantic Records where he paired with a former disc-jockey, now producer, Joel Dorn. It was there that Les would become a visionary and record a whole cadre’ of ‘soul-jazz’ records like “Swiss Movement,” “Talk to the People,” and “Comment.” But it was his monumental “Layers” and “Invitation to Openness” recordings that hailed as the first to use electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizers as he composed and performed what was called ‘fusion’ jazz.
Les currently tours with saxophonist Javon Jackson in a unit called “Swiss Movement Revisited” where they perform selections from the colossal jazz recording. The two have been playing together off and on for the last 15 years and have a stellar band featuring: McClenty Hunter on drums, David Gilmour on guitar, and Gregory Jones on bass. For upcoming tour dates please visit Les on the web at lesmccann.com and Javon at javonjackson.com.