"The President, he's got his war
Folks don't know just what it's for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Makana plays at the MACC’s Yokouchi Pavilion Friday.
Have one doubt, they call it treason
Tryin' to make it real - compared to what?"
Les McCann in 1969 "Compared to What"
* The Maui Jazz & Blues Festival is presented at the Grand Wailea from 4 p.m. to 9 Saturday p.m. Artists performing include Les McCann, Javon Jackson, Delfeayo Marsalis, Tom Scott, Skip Martin, Brian Stoltz, the Brother Noland Blues Trio, David Choy & Slam, Henry Allen, Brittni Paiva, Benny Uyetake & the Kalama School Intermediate Ukulele Jazz Cats, and the Zenshin Daiko Taiko Drummers (at sunset).
General admission is $20, or $250 for a VIP table for 10.
On Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., a VIP Jazz Dinner featuring Jazz & Blues Festival guests and a band led by keyboardist Sal Godinez will be held under the stars at the Grand Wailea. Call 875-1234 for reservations.
Pre-fest performances include a Thursday Night Jazz Party at Stella Blues with David Choy & SLAM.
Festival tickets may be purchased at the door, or online at www.MauiJazzAndBluesFestival.com.
It's a sign of our times that one of the most potent anti-war protest songs from the 1960s, "Compared to What," made famous by jazz keyboardist/vocalist Les McCann and saxophonist Eddie Harris, was co-opted a few years back by Coca-Cola to push Coke with a "Real" commercial featuring rapper Common and vocalist Mya.
More recently John Legend and The Roots restored dignity to the song - whose lyrics are just as relevant today - on his latest soul protest covers project, "Wake Up!"
Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969, and featured on their acclaimed album "Swiss Movement," McCann and Harris' rousing, nine-minute version of "Compared to What" became an international hit, selling more than a million copies.
Composed by Eugene McDaniel, who died in July, this scathing critique - taking aim at preachers inciting fear and the torment of the Vietnam War - catapulted McCann to international jazz stardom.
About to headline the Maui Jazz & Blues Festival on Saturday, this master of jazz funk is still igniting audiences in his mid-70s with his irresistible grooves.
"McCann might as well be 25 for the effect the years have had on his playing and personality," praised a Kansas City Star review. "His pianism still takes the frenzied testifying of a Pentecostal church and plants it firmly in the red-light district, all funky double stops and rhythmic broadsides. The furious version of his classic 'Compared to What?' was perhaps the highlight of the entire festival."
In the last few years, McCann has toured with saxophonist Javon Jackson, who will also play in Wailea.
A former member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Jackson has performed with such other jazz luminaries as Freddie Hubbard and Elvin Jones.
In a Jazz Times interview Jackson talked about McCann's legacy.
"He's the godfather of what we know as funky jazz," Jackson explained. "And there are a ton of players that have come after him. Les is at the beginning of that gospel and jazz and the soul thing, and now you got a zillion people who come from that."
Asked about his own legacy, McCann suggests he's just one of many influential jazz artists.
"I get accolades from all kinds of people, but they're just opinions," he says.
"I may have had some influence, but so has every other musician who has had a record out that was heard on the radio."
A self-taught musician, in the early 1950s McCann joined the Navy, and while stationed in California, he gravitated to San Francisco's jazz clubs. After discharge, McCann moved to Los Angeles, and despite a recommendation from Miles Davis to join Cannonball Adderly's band, he preferred to form his own band.
McCann's infectious, soul jazz style can be heard on early albums such as "The Shout," "Les McCann Plays the Truth" and "Les McCann & The Jazz Crusaders."
And then came the remarkable teaming at the annual Montreux Jazz Festival. Without any rehearsal, and with some of the musicians playing together for the first time and not even familiar with the material, the Les McCann Trio with horn players Eddie Harris and Benny Bailey proceeded to deliver one of the most memorable sets ever heard at the legendary Swiss venue.
The recording of the event became a jazz classic that sounds as exhilarating today as when it was first heard 43 years ago.
"There is an immediacy, an electricity, about the music on this album," noted a review. "You can almost feel the adrenaline flowing. The musicians are out there on a high wire with no safety net."
The lead track, "Compared to What," captured the anger and frustration of the time, and became a crossover hit.
"I was so happy it became a hit," says McCann. "Even now it's hard for me to accept in many ways. I can't go anywhere without doing it. Some people think it's the only song we know. We don't need to hear nothing else, just play that and get off the stage. Play it over and over."
Maybe he could stretch it out to 45 minutes?
"I've done that," he says chuckling. "And they call you back for an encore. How could I be so blessed to have a song that people want to hear, and they want to hear it again. Some people have told me they play it every morning as their morning constitution. I love hearing that because I know then they're going to be awake and open for something new."
During the early 1970s, McCann helped pioneer the use of electric piano, clavinet and synthesizer. In 1971, he released "Invitation to Openness," hailed as one of the finest jazz fusion masterpieces of all time. Almost totally improvised it featured only three tracks, including the 26-minute opening opus, "The Lovers." Influenced by Miles Davis's groundbreaking "In a Silent Way," it built layers of electric pianos and synthesizers.
Two years later came "Layers," a revolutionary, improvisational album of two continuous suites, where he explored the sonic possibilities of the new ARP synthesizer. His ambition, he wrote in the liner notes, "was to be the entire orchestra he heard in his head."
"It was a new world and I was ready for it because those instruments were out there," he recalls. "And I was determined I could make them sound like music."
Over the years McCann's irresistible, funky grooves have caught the attention of many hip hop artists from Puff Daddy and The Notorious B.I.G. to Ice T, A Tribe Called Quest and Cypress Hill, who sampled songs like "North Carolina," "The Harlem Buck Dance Strut" and "Go On And Cry."
"It's up to about 75 times," he reports. "I have young people who let me know - I call them my angels. So I get paid. These rappers use many licks and pieces."
After recovering from a stroke, in 2002, McCann released "Pump It Up," a celebration of funk and jazz with guests like Diane Reeves, Billy Preston, James Brown's saxophonist Maceo Parker and Bonnie Raitt.
A Jazz Times review praised: " 'Pump It Up' is the title track of veteran keyboardist/vocalist Les McCann's latest release, but the song 'Tryin' to Make It Real' seems more appropriate. Through funk tunes 'I Can't Stand it,' 'So What' and 'You Just Can't Smile It Away,' the bodacious artist simply tells it like it is."
And throughout McCann excels at what he does best - keeping us happily grooving.
"I love to keep people moving, that's what it's about," he concludes. "Get up and dance and sing, make a joyful noise, and be thankful for your life."
Many of Maui's finest will celebrate the music of rock legends Led Zeppelin at a special "Zeptember" benefit show on Saturday at Mulligan's On the Blue.
The lineup features more than 30 musicians with bassist Shawn Michael and drummer Josh Greenbaum performing with Joette Burke, Ryan Rego, Marci Olson, Jessica Rabbitt, Murray Thorne, Mary Jane Babishoff, Nils Rosenblad, Phil Ellison, Chris Sendry, Kasi Nunez, Cheryl Rae, Jack Gist, Lia Live, Darrin Lenett, Pete Sebastian, John Carroll and Sabrina Barron.
"Last year's show sold out and this year we are going to be bigger and badder," says show organizer Scott Johnson of Dogtowne Design. "We have a custom Frank Rizzo stage and EPIC lighting will be providing concert lighting for this show. And we have a bad-ass lineup of Hawaii musicians."
So get ready to rock to "Battle of Evermore," "Ramble On," "Communication Breakdown," "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp," "Kashmir," and of course, "Stairway to Heaven."
A portion of the proceeds will benefit Erin Fulton, to help alleviate medical bills for breast cancer treatment.
* Advance tickets are $20, available from Mulligan's, 808 Deli in Kihei, Maui Coffee Roasters in Kahului, West Side Vibes in Lahaina, Colleen's at the Cannery, Paia's Alice in Hulaland and Requests Music in Wailuku. Tickets at the door are $25. Doors open at 6 p.m.
The Maui Arts & Cultural Center will inaugurate a new Moonlight concert series on Friday with Makana in the Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard.
Known for his self-described "high octane, intense, passionate" guitar style, Makana excels at fusing such diverse influences as bluegrass, flamenco and Arabic music into his unique slack key guitar playing.
His most recent CD, the sublime "Venus & the Sky Turn to Clay: the Instrumental World of Makana," finds the virtuoso guitarist continuing to creatively evolve and expand.
In recent years he has had the honor of reopening the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's legendary Monarch Room, and performing for the president at a White House reception.
* Makana launches the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's new Moonlight concert series at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Yokouchi Pavilion Courtyard. Lily Meola will open. Tickets are $30 for standard seating and $45 premium seating (plus applicable fees), available from the MACC box office, 242-7469, www.mauiarts. org. Upcoming Moonlight Series concerts include Joan Soriano on Oct. 6, Terence Blanchard on Oct. 7, Jake Shimabukuro on Nov. 2, Maceo Parker on Jan. 14 and HAPA on Jan. 20.