Jackie McLean

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Jackie McLean
McLean at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, December 1982
McLean at Keystone Korner in
San Francisco, December 1982
Background information
Birth nameJohn Lenwood McLean
Born(1931-05-17)May 17, 1931
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedMarch 31, 2006(2006-03-31) (aged 74)
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
GenresJazz, jazz fusion, avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
InstrumentsAlto saxophone
Years active1951–2004

John Lenwood "Jackie" McLean (May 17, 1931 – March 31, 2006)[1] was an American jazz alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader, and educator, and is one of the few musicians to be elected to the DownBeat Hall of Fame in the year of their death.


McLean was born in New York City.[2][1] His father, John Sr., played guitar in Tiny Bradshaw's orchestra. After his father's death in 1939, Jackie's musical education was continued by his godfather, his record-store-owning stepfather, and several noted teachers. He also received informal tutoring from neighbors Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Charlie Parker. During high school McLean played in a band with Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins, and Andy Kirk, Jr. (the saxophonist son[3] of Andy Kirk).

Along with Rollins, McLean played on Miles Davis' Dig album, when he was 20 years old. As a young man he also recorded with Gene Ammons, Charles Mingus (for Pithecanthropus Erectus), George Wallington, and as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. McLean joined Blakey after reportedly being punched by Mingus. Fearing for his life, McLean pulled out a knife and contemplated using it against Mingus in self-defense, but later stated that he was grateful that he had not stabbed the bassist.[4]

McLean's early recordings as leader were in the hard bop school. He later became an exponent of modal jazz without abandoning his foundation in hard bop. Throughout his career he was known for a distinctive tone, akin to the tenor saxophone and often described with such adjectives as "bitter-sweet", "piercing", or "searing", a slightly sharp pitch, and a strong foundation in the blues.

McLean was a heroin addict throughout his early career, and the resulting loss of his New York City cabaret card forced him to undertake a large number of recording dates to earn income in the absence of nightclub performance opportunities. Consequently, he produced an extensive body of recorded work in the 1950s and 1960s. He was under contract with Blue Note Records from 1959 to 1967, having previously recorded for Prestige. Blue Note offered better pay and more artistic control than other labels, and his work for this organization is highly regarded and includes leadership and sideman dates with a wide range of musicians, including Donald Byrd, Sonny Clark, Lee Morgan, Ornette Coleman, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Redd, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Grachan Moncur III, Bobby Hutcherson, Mal Waldron, Tina Brooks and many others.

In 1962, he recorded Let Freedom Ring for Blue Note. This album was the culmination of attempts he had made over the years to deal with harmonic problems in jazz, incorporating ideas from the free jazz developments of Ornette Coleman and the "new breed" which inspired his blending of hard bop with the "new thing": "the search is on, Let Freedom Ring". Let Freedom Ring began a period in which he performed with avant-garde jazz musicians rather than the veteran hard bop performers he had been playing with previously. His adaptation of modal jazz and free jazz innovations to his vision of hard bop made his recordings from 1962 on distinctive.

McLean recorded with dozens of musicians and had a gift for spotting talent. Saxophonist Tina Brooks, trumpeter Charles Tolliver, pianist Larry Willis, trumpeter Bill Hardman, and tubist Ray Draper were among those who benefited from McLean's support in the 1950s and 1960s. Drummers such as Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Lenny White, Michael Carvin, and Carl Allen gained important early experience with McLean.

In 1967, his recording contract, like those of many other progressive musicians, was terminated by Blue Note's new management. His opportunities to record promised so little pay that he abandoned recording as a way to earn a living, concentrating instead on touring. In 1968, he began teaching at The Hartt School of the University of Hartford. He later set up the university's African American Music Department (now the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz) and its Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies program. His Steeplechase recording New York Calling, made with his son René McLean, showed that by 1980 the assimilation of all influences was complete.

In 1970, he and his wife, Dollie McLean, along with jazz bassist Paul (PB) Brown, founded the Artists Collective, Inc. of Hartford, an organization dedicated to preserving the art and culture of the African Diaspora. It provides educational programs and instruction in dance, theatre, music and visual arts. The membership of McLean's later bands were drawn from his students in Hartford, including Steve Davis and his son René, who is a jazz saxophonist and flautist as well as a jazz educator. Also in McLean's Hartford group was Mark Berman, the jazz pianist and broadway conductor of Smokey Joe's Cafe and Rent. In 1979 he reached No. 53 in the UK Singles Chart with "Doctor Jackyll and Mister Funk".[5] This track, released on RCA as a 12" single, was an unusual sidestep for McLean to contribute towards the funk/disco revolution of the late 1970s. Many people, at the time, in the clubs where it was played confused the female singers on the track with his name thinking he was actually female.

He received an American Jazz Masters fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001 and numerous other national and international awards. McLean was the only American jazz musician to found a department of studies at a university and a community-based organization almost simultaneously. Each has existed for over three decades.

McLean died on March 31, 2006, in Hartford, Connecticut after a long illness.[1] In 2006, Jackie McLean was elected to the DownBeat Hall of Fame via the International Critics Poll. He is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York City.

A. B. Spellman's 1966 study, Black Music, Four Lives: Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Nichols, Jackie McLean, still in print,[6] includes extensive mid-career reflections by McLean on his youth and career to date. Derek Ansell's full-length biography of McLean, Sugar Free Saxophone.[7] details the story of his career and provides a full analysis of his music on record.


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Album Rec. Rel. Label Notes
Complete 1955-1957 Quartet Quintet Sextet Sessions 1955-1957 2007 Jazz Connections comprises Presenting... Jackie McLean up to Fat Jazz
Presenting... Jackie McLean 1955 1955 Ad Lib
Lights Out! 1956 1956 Prestige
4, 5 and 6 1956 1956 Prestige
Jackie's Pal a.k.a. Steeplechase 1956 1957 Prestige "Jackie McLean Quintet Introducing Bill Hardman"
McLean's Scene 1956/57 1959 Prestige (New Jazz)
Jackie McLean & Co. 1957 1957 Prestige
Makin' the Changes 1957 1960 Prestige (New Jazz)
A Long Drink of the Blues 1957 1961 Prestige (New Jazz)
Strange Blues 1957 1967 Prestige
Alto Madness 1957 1957 Prestige co-led by John Jenkins
Fat Jazz 1957 1959 Jubilee
Jackie McLean Quintet 1957 1957 Jubilee
The Complete Jubilee Sessions 1957 2008 Lone Hill Jazz comprises Fat Jazz and Jackie McLean Quintet
New Soil 1959 1959 Blue Note
Swing, Swang, Swingin' 1959 1960 Blue Note
Jackie's Bag 1959 1960 Blue Note
Capuchin Swing 1960 1960 Blue Note
Street Singer 1960 1980 Blue Note co-led by Tina Brooks
Bluesnik 1961 1962 Blue Note
Inta Somethin' 1961 1962 Pacific Jazz co-led by Kenny Dorham
A Fickle Sonance 1961 1962 Blue Note
Let Freedom Ring 1962 1963 Blue Note
Tippin' the Scales 1962 1979 Blue Note
Hipnosis 1962/67 1978 Blue Note
Vertigo 1962/63, 1959 1980 Blue Note
One Step Beyond 1963 1964 Blue Note
Destination... Out! 1963 1964 Blue Note
It's Time! 1964 1965 Blue Note
Action Action Action 1964 1967 Blue Note
Right Now! 1965 1966 Blue Note
Jacknife 1965/66 1975 Blue Note
Consequence 1965 1979 Blue Note
Dr. Jackle 1966 1979 SteepleChase
Tune Up 1966 1981 SteepleChase
New and Old Gospel 1967 1968 Blue Note
'Bout Soul 1967 1969 Blue Note
Demon's Dance 1967 1970 Blue Note
Live at Montmartre 1972 1972 SteepleChase
Altissimo 1973 1973 Philips with Lee Konitz, Gary Bartz and Charlie Mariano
Ode to Super 1973 1973 SteepleChase featuring Gary Bartz
A Ghetto Lullaby 1973 1974 SteepleChase
The Meeting 1973 1974 SteepleChase featuring Dexter Gordon
The Source 1973 1974 SteepleChase featuring Dexter Gordon (Vol. 2)
Antiquity 1974 1975 SteepleChase with Michael Carvin
New York Calling 1974 1974 SteepleChase with the Cosmic Brotherhood
Like Old Times 1976 1976 Victor (Jp) co-led by Mal Waldron
New Wine in Old Bottles 1978 1978 East Wind (Jp)
Monuments 1978/79 1979 RCA
It's About Time 1985 1985 Blue Note co-led by McCoy Tyner
Left Alone '86 1986 1986 Paddle Wheel co-led by Mal Waldron
Dynasty 1988 1990 Triloka featuring René McLean
Rites of Passage 1991 1991 Triloka featuring René McLean
The Jackie Mac Attack Live 1991 1993 Birdology/Verve
Rhythm of the Earth 1992 1992 Antilles/Birdology
Hat Trick 1996 1996 Somethin' Else (Jp) with Junko Onishi
Fire & Love 1997 1997 Somethin' Else (Jp)/Blue Note
Nature Boy 1999 1999 Somethin' Else (Jp)/Blue Note

As sideman[edit]

The sortable table's default is the date of the recording session. An asterisk (*) behind the album's title signifies only a minor contribution by McLean to the recording.

Leader Album Session Release Label
Miles Davis The New Sounds and Blue Period (10"),
1951 1951/1953,
Blue Note
Miles Davis Young Man with a Horn (10"),
Miles Davis Volume 1, Volume 2
1952 1952,
Blue Note
Miles Davis (and Milt Jackson) Quintet/Sextet 1955 1956 Prestige
George Wallington Live at the Café Bohemia 1955 1955 Progressive
Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop Pithecanthropus Erectus 1956 1956 Atlantic
Gene Ammons Hi Fidelity Jam Session a.k.a. The Happy Blues 1956 1956 Prestige
Gene Ammons Jammin' with Gene 1956 1956 Prestige
Hank Mobley Mobley's Message 1956 1957 Prestige
Art Farmer and Donald Byrd 2 Trumpets 1956 1957 Prestige
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Hard Bop 1956 1957 Columbia
Art Blakey Originally 1956 1982 Columbia
Art Blakey Drum Suite 1956 1957 Columbia
Gene Ammons Funky 1957 1957 Prestige
Art Blakey Ritual 1957 1960 Pacific Jazz
Art Taylor Taylor's Wailers 1957 1957 Prestige
Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Raney 2 Guitars 1957 1957 Prestige
Art Blakey A Midnight Session a.k.a. Mirage 1957 1957 Elektra, Savoy
Ray Draper Tuba Sounds 1957 1957 Prestige
Art Blakey Tough! 1957 1966 Cadet
Art Blakey A Night in Tunisia 1957 1957 Vik
Gene Ammons Jammin' in Hi Fi with Gene Ammons 1957 1957 Prestige
Mal Waldron Mal/2 (and The Dealers) 1957 1957 Prestige (Status)
Sonny Clark Cool Struttin' 1958 1958 Blue Note
Donald Byrd Off to the Races 1958 1959 Blue Note
Charles Mingus Blues & Roots 1959 1960 Atlantic
Mal Waldron Left Alone* 1959 1959 Bethlehem
Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup 1959 1960 Blue Note
Donald Byrd Fuego 1959 1960 Blue Note
Freddie Redd The Music from "The Connection" 1960 1960 Blue Note
Jimmy Smith Open House 1960 1968 Blue Note
Jimmy Smith Plain Talk* 1960 1968 Blue Note
Lee Morgan Lee-Way 1960 1961 Blue Note
Donald Byrd Byrd in Flight 1960 1960 Blue Note
Freddie Redd Shades of Redd 1960 1961 Blue Note
Tina Brooks Back to the Tracks 1960 1998 Blue Note
Freddie Redd Redd's Blues 1961 1988 Blue Note
Kenny Dorham Matador 1962 1963 United Artists
Grachan Moncur III Evolution 1963 1964 Blue Note
Lee Morgan Tom Cat 1964 1980 Blue Note
Lee Morgan Cornbread 1965 1967 Blue Note
Lee Morgan Infinity 1965 1981 Blue Note
Lee Morgan Charisma 1966 1969 Blue Note
Jack Wilson Easterly Winds 1967 1968 Blue Note
Hank Mobley Hi Voltage 1967 1968 Blue Note
Lee Morgan The Sixth Sense 1967 1970 Blue Note
Mal Waldron Like Old Time 1976 1976 Victor (Jp)
Art Farmer Live in Tokyo 1977 1977 CTI (Jp)
All Star band One Night with Blue Note Preserved Vol. 2 1985 1985 Blue Note
All star band Birdology: Live at the TBB Jazz Festival (Vol. 1 & 2) 1989 1989, 1990 Verve (F)
All star band with Dizzy Gillespie The Paris All Stars - Homage to Charlie Parker 1989 1990 A&M
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers The Art of Jazz 1989 1989 In & Out
Abbey Lincoln The World Is Falling Down 1990 1990 Verve
Miles Davis Black Devil a.k.a. At La Villette (DVD)* 1991 1992, 2001 Beech Marten, JVC (Jp)
Dizzy Gillespie To Bird with Love 1992 1992 Telarc
Dizzy Gillespie Bird Songs: The Final Recordings* 1992 1992 Telarc



  1. ^ a b c Keepnews, Peter (April 3, 2006). "Jackie McLean, Jazz Saxophonist and Mentor, Dies at 74". The New York Times. Retrieved May 8, 2018. John Lenwood McLean was born in Harlem on May 17, 1931. (Many sources give his year of birth as 1932, but The Grove Dictionary of Jazz and other authoritative reference works say he was born a year earlier.)
  2. ^ "Jackie McLean - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  3. ^ Watrous, Peter (December 15, 1992). "Andy Kirk, 94, Big-Band Leader Known for the Kansas City Sound". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2020.
  4. ^ Liner notes to the album Dynasty
  5. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 341. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  6. ^ Spellman, A. B. (2004). Four jazz lives. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. pp. 179–236. ISBN 0472022644.
  7. ^ Ansell, Derek (2013). Sugar free saxophone : the life and music of Jackie McLean. London: Northway Publications. ISBN 978-0955788864.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]