He was ranked among the top players in jazz history as an
alto saxophonist. His unique sound had a mesmerizing, raw, urgent edge to it.
One bar and you knew it was Jackie McLean. And no matter how varied or bold
his compositions might get, his music always had a vital emotional core, a
bright mix of soul and intellect, an upbeat feeling and total lack of
pretension that reflected his own personality.
— Owen McNally
His molten-metal sound has been, however, a more significant influence on
the evolution of postbop and free-jazz than is often credited, and he redeployed
the inspirational and liberating qualities of the music selflessly as a
counsellor and teacher.
— John Fordham
Jackie McLean was born in Harlem
, New York
on May 17th
1932. He died in Hartford, Connecticut on March 31st, 2006.
- Superb bebop, post-bop, neo-bop, soul jazz and free jazz interpreter,
innovator and educator.
- Lifelong protegé of Charlie "Bird" Parker.
- Recorded first with Miles Davis at age 19.
- Played and recorded with Charles Mingus in
the late '50s.
- Was a member of Art Blakey's "Jazz
Messengers" during the late '50s.
- Toured Japan successfully in 1965; over his
lifetime would become more famous there than in the U.S.
- Beat heroin addiction and embraced "do art,
not drugs" philosophy, educating and working to prevent drug addiction.
- Founded The Artists Collective in Hartford,
Connecticut, USA in 1970.
- Longtime jazz educator at Hartt School of
Music in West Hartford, Connecticut, and elsewhere. Mclean founded
African-American Music and Jazz Studies degree programs there.
- 2001 N.E.A. Jazz Master Award.
John Lenwood McLean Jr. was born into a musical family in Harlem in the early
1930s. He began playing the alto saxophone at age 15. By 19, he'd
appeared on his first recording, playing with trumpeter Miles Davis and his
ensemble. By the time of his death he'd achieved worldwide fame. McLean was a
trendsetter in the jazz genres of bebop, hard bop and soul jazz.
McLean's father, John McLean, was a guitarist who played with Tiny Bradshaw.
John McLean died when Jackie was only seven years old, however, Jackie continued
his musical studies with his Harlem neighbors Charlie Parker and Theolonius
Monk, among others.
Jackie McLean and Charlie Parker forged a strong, multifaceted relationship
that would endure until the end of Parker's life. Parker was McLean's mentor and
teacher. McLean provided Parker with friendship and more; even loaning his
precious saxophone to Parker when the often down-and-out jazzman had pawned his
own, for money to support his addiction to heroin.
In addition to Parker, Jackie worked extensively with jazz greats Sonny
Rollins (in the late '40s), Paul Bley, George Wallington and Charles Mingus
(in the late '50s).
He'd worked from time to time as a leader, and finally in 1958 formed a
Quintet that he recorded with extensively and took on tour. McLean's arrival in
Japan was very well-received. He would revisit Japan often during his lifetime,
and is actually more famous there than in the U.S. Years after his first
appearance in in Japan, he was walking down a Yokohama street when he spotted a
small nightclub called "The Jackie McLean Coffeehouse." The walls were lined
with the album covers from virtually all his recordings. He actually jammed with
a band there later on.
Like Parker, heroin addiction found McLean. Many bebop musicians fell prey
to hard drugs. Jackie, however, struggled with and eventually beat his
addiction. It was (by his admission) his wife of nearly fifty
years, Dollie, who helped him kick the habit.
His career was interrupted when his addiction led to the revocation of his
police cabaret card at the end of the 1950s. The 1960s, however, brought
extensive work, for the Blue Note record label, making dozens of recordings as
both leader and sideman and appearing with hard-bop stars including trumpeters
Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan, and saxophonists Hank Mobley and Tina Brooks. By the
time he made the classic Blue Note album Let Freedom Ring (1962), McLean was
already revealing an Ornette Coleman influence on both his sound and his
expanding harmonic horizons, and emerging as an eloquent writer of originals
too, in themes such as Melody for Melonae, and Rene.
McLean appeared in the
off-Broadway production of "The Connection," a play about jazz and drug abuse,
which ran from 1959 to 1960, and was adapted for the cinema in 1961. It was the
beginning of a lifetime effort to educate people, particularly minorities and
the underprivileged, about the dangers of drug abuse.
Jackie McLean knows first hand that the world of art can make
a world of difference. For young men like McLean in Harlem and other Black
communities in the 1940's, the abundance of heroin and hard drugs which flowed
into this country in the period immediately following World War II became a
stumbling block to achievements of many dreams especially for Black males not
only in poor communities. Through his art, he achieved his dreams, and music
also allowed him to see that he must use his great, God-given talent to help
others in similar circumstances.
— Website, The Artists' Collective
In 1968 McLean joined the faculty of the prestigious Hartt School of Music in
Hartford, Connecticut. His contributions to the school were myriad, including
the founding of the school's African-American Music program and Jazz Studies
degree program. Both programs were subsequently named after McLean.
Two years after Jackie joined Hartt, his wife Dollie, a dancer, and he
founded Hartford's The Artists Collective. It was their objective to combat
drugs by exposing underprivileged youth to the arts as an alternative to "street
life." By 1999, the Collective moved out of the old schoolhouse it occupied in
one of Hartford's most impoverished neighborhoods, and into its brand new space,
an architectural gem designed by Tai Soo Kim on Hartford's Albany Avenue.
The Artists Collective was founded in 1970 as an interdisciplinary arts
and cultural institution serving the Greater Hartford area. It is the only
multi-arts and cultural organization of its kind in Connecticut emphasizing the
cultural and artistic contributions of the African Diaspora. Artists Collective
programs expose students and the community at large to great and too often
overlooked artists of the past and present. The Collective continues to offer
the highest quality training in the performing arts-dance, theatre, music and
— Website, The Artists' Collective
Some of the Awards Garnered by The Artists Collective:
- Cited by Harvard University’s Project Co-Arts as one of six exemplary
community art centers in the nation included in the Safe Haven Report
published by Harvard University.
- Selected as one of twenty national jazz network sites to receive a special
grant through the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund for the support of “Jazz”
- Selected as one of 12 organizations nationwide to participate in JazzNet,
funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the National Endowment for
the Arts and administered by the Non-Profit Finance Fund to support jazz
- Essence Magazine – for excellence in serving the youth of Hartford.
- Visited by President Clinton, who on November 4, 1999, addressed local
business and community leaders about private/public cooperation in economic
development and highlighted the Artists Collective’s new facility as a prime
example of urban development.
- 2003 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Sojourner Truth Social Activism Award:
Founding Executive Director - Dollie McLean
- 2004 Bank of America Neighborhood Excellence - Neighborhood Builder Award
- 2004 Neighborhood Legends Award - Blue Hills Neighborhood Organizations
Jackie McLean & Dollie McLean
- 2005 Boy Scouts of America - Whitney M. Young Award Jackie McLean & Dollie
Often accompanied by son Rene, also a saxophone player, McLean took to
teaching and touring in Europe during the 1970s, recording hard-hitting albums
including Live at Montmartre with his old friend Kenny Drew, and working in
esteemed post-bop groups with musicians of the caliber of Gary Bartz and Dexter
He appeared at Carnegie Hall in 1994 in a celebration of the 50th
anniversary of Verve Records, and played a concert with Sonny Rollins and worked on
the PBS television show Jazz the same year. McLean took a band of his former
students into New York's Village Vanguard club in 1995.
British jazz critic John Fordham claims his later
recordings suggested the edge of his playing was softening, and the repertoire
becoming more uneven. Not true. Those who knew McLean knew he was a
perfectionist who was demanding of others but much more so of himself. He often
spoke of the importance of playing well, "as if it were your last solo."
Jackie left us very quietly and very peacefully at home, surrounded by his
wife and children. He gave so much in his life that he's still very much in our
spirits and always will be.
— Dollie McLean
"I'm so happy you brought him home."
— Rev. Calvin O. Butts, III; to the McLean Family
McLean was eulogized by Rev. Butts at the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in
Harlem's Sugar Hill neighborhood, the neighborhood Jackie first called home.
When McLean was fourteen years old, his godfather, Chief Norman Cobbs, gave him
his first instrument, a soprano saxophone. Cobbs played saxophone at the
Abyssinian Church, during the period the famous Adam Clayton Powell was
Over a thousand people attended the ninety-minute funeral service for McLean.
Attendees included educator and pianist Billy Taylor, trumpeter Freddy
Hubbard, saxman Gene Ghee, pianist Larry Willis, drummer Warren Smith, bassist
Nat Reeves, and trombonist Steve Davis.
A large contingent from Hartford, Connecticut, McLean's home since 1970, came
by bus and car to attend. Hartford's City Treasurer thanked McLean for the
"thousands of children whose lives he saved," presenting a proclamation from
Hartford mayor Eddie Perez.
Rev. Butts included in his eloquent eulogy, "There was something deep in
Jackie that caused him to spread his love through his music... There is evidence
of stewardship. A legacy we can look at, study and learn."
Saxophonist Jimmy Heath played Theolonius Monk's signature song, "'Round
Midnight." "Amazing Grace" was performed by vocalist Eunice Newkirk. Recordings
of McLean's music were also played during the service.
McLean was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Jackie McLean - Selected Leaders and Side-Men:
- Ammons, Gene
- Blakey, Art
- Bowler, Phil
- Brooks, Tina
- Burrell, Kenny
- Byrd, Donald
- Chambers, Paul
- Cranshaw, Bob
- Davis, Miles
- Davis, Steve
- Farmer, Art
- Galeta, Hotep Idris
- Garland, Red
- Getz, Stan
- Gordon, Dexter
- Haden, Charlie
- Hancock, Herbie
- Hargrove, Roy
- Hubbard, Freddie
- Jarvis, Clifford
- Jones, Willie
- Kenny Clarke
- Konitz, Lee
- Lewis, Herbie
- Lincoln, Abbey
- Mabern, Harold
- McFerrin, Bobby
- McPherson, Eric
- Mingus, Charles
- Mobley, Hank
- Morgan, Lee
- Onishi, Junko
- Parker, Charlie
- Redd, Freddie
- Reeves, Nat
- Roach, Max
- Rollins, Sunny
- Smith, Jimmy
- Suzuki, Isao
- Taylor, Art
- Terry, Clark
- Turrentine, Tommy
- Waldron, Mal
- Wallington, George
- Walton, Cedar
- Warren, Butch
- Washington, Kenny
(The entire Jackie McLean discography may be found at
1951: Miles Davis Conception (Prestige) The Miles Davis Sextet
1955: Jackie McLean The New Tradition (Adlib) The Jackie McLean
1956: Jackie McLean Lights Out! (Prestige) The Jackie McLean Quintet
1956: Charles Mingus Pithecantropus Erectus (Atlantic) The Charles
1956: Art Blakey Hard Bop and Drum Suite (Columbia) Art Blakey
and the Jazz Messengers
1956: Jackie McLean McLean's Scene (New Jazz) Jackie McLean Quintet
1957: Art Blakey Once Upon a Groove (Blue Note) Art Blakey and the
1959: Charles Mingus Blues and Roots (Atlantic) Charles Mingus Nonet
1961: Jackie McLean Bluesnik (Blue Note) Jackie McLean Quartet
1962: Jackie McLean Let Freedom Ring (Blue Note) Jackie McLean Quartet
1962: Jackie McLean Tippin' the Scales (Blue Note) Jackie McLean Quartet
1965: Jackie McLean Right Now! (Blue Note) Jackie McLean Quartet
1972: Jackie McLean Quartet Live at Montmartre (SteepleChase) Jackie
1973: Jackie McLean Featuring Dexter Gordon, Vol. 1 'The Meeting' and Vol.
2 'The Source' (SteepleChase) Jackie Mclean - Dexter Gordon Quintet
1990: Abbey Lincoln The World is Falling Down (Verve) Abbey Lincoln
1997: Jackie McLean Fire and Love (Somethin'else - Japan) The Jackie
- "Blues For Jackie" McNally, Owen et. al. The Hartford Courant, April
- The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988, 1995