Les McCann Takeover!

In honor of jazz legend Les McCann’s beautiful new book of photography Invitation to Openness: The Jazz & Soul Photography of Les McCann 1960-1980, which we’re carrying on our site, this Monday, we hosted a Les McCann social media takeover! All day long, across all of our channels, we debuted Les’s photos, and accompanying quotes, of music and entertainment legends, such as the above shot of Mama Cass and the below shot of Duke Ellington. We’ve collected all of the photos and stories here.

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Jerry Lewis

I had met Jerry on the telethon and I was friends with his bandleader, so I made a book of the photographs I took of Jerry conducting the Count Basie orchestra – and I gave it to someone to give to Jerry.

Two or three hours later the phone rings. “This is Jerry Lewis. Hey, man, this book is unbelievable, thank you!” He said, “I’m making a movie. Why don’t you come be my photographer on the set?” I said, “OK, when does it start?” He said, “Tomorrow.”

So I go down to the studio, everybody’s there, I’m walking around doing my thing. This guy walks over to me and he says, “Hey man, what are you doing taking pictures in here?” I said, “I work for Mr. Lewis.” He said, “Well, you’re not in the union.” I said, “How would you know?” He said, “’Cause there ain’t no n*****s in the union.”

I said, “Jerry!” He said, “Yes?” I said [to the union rep], “Tell him what you just said.” The guy repeats it. Still couldn’t believe it. Jerry closed the whole set down.

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Nina Simone

On stage, one of the greatest ever. Off stage, she wouldn’t know what the hell was going on which probably is why she was unique.

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Mama Cass

Funniest person I think I’ve ever known. Funniest woman I’ve ever known.

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Louis Armstrong

When I was in the Navy, a youngster, in Memphis, Tennessee, it was announced on the bases that there was a big show in town: Louis Armstrong and Billy Eckstine. So, I went in town. I was fortunate enough to go backstage. It was beautiful. I loved talking to him, the inspiration, ‘cause I wasn’t really into music then but I loved his singing. But I finally started listening to him more and realized his contribution is monumental.


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Sammy Davis Jr.

Well…went to school with his sister so when I went to New York to go see him in Golden Boy, which was a big show on Broadway…when I mentioned to him that I went to school with his sister, he and I became friends and he gave us the “golden treatment.” Come down the back, come around here–and I met him when I was in the Navy in my uniform, so that was beautiful. Over the years we always spoke. He made a movie about a jazz musician and he used my name as his character.

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Tina Turner

I love lookin’ on her dress. When I was a youngster and she’d be working all through on the soul side of town in LA, me and my friend would run up on the stage, all star-crazed. We’d stand on the bottom of the stage. We was like…crazy, “Oh Tina! We love you! We love you!” “Oh, Les, get the hell away from me!”

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Duke Ellington

I was watching his band play Carnegie Hall and they were all talking to each other, reading books, looking at the newspaper. I thought it was the most disgraceful thing I’d ever seen. I was young, you know, and I was quite disappointed at the professionalism, you know, but years later I went to go see him at a couple of recording sessions. I think one was…I remember Frank Sinatra being there. Once I got into Duke’s music, I began to see that he was different from everybody else but he had no control with the band. Of my ten albums I would take on an island, his album Live at Newport would be one of them.

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Richard “Groove” Holmes

Damn! Biggest, blackest, fattest mofo ever! I was coming into town in Pittsburgh up in the Hill District – which is like, the hood of Pittsburgh, then – and I went into a restaurant, a famous restaurant there, called The Silver Pig. You know what that means: pork, cornbread, greens, black-eyed peas, pies, and everything. As I walk into the restaurant, I see this guy sitting at a table looking like he had the whole restaurant on his table. At least ten different items and as we were walking by, he was asking the lady for a Diet Coke and I bust out laughing, “Diet Coke?! Are you crazy?! With all that shit you got there?!

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Stevie Wonder

Motherf*cker. That’s all I got to say about him. [laughs] No… I did one of his songs once and he loved it. A couple years later I see him and he said, “How come you don’t do my songs anymore?” I said, “I’m waitin’ on you to do one of mine, mother*cker!” [laughs]