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, hard bop, post-bop, jazz fusion, avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator
Instrument(s)Alto 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]

Recording date Title Label Year released Notes
1955-10 Presenting... Jackie McLean Ad Lib 1955
1956-01 Lights Out! Prestige 1956
1956-07 4, 5 and 6 Prestige 1956
1956-08 Jackie's Pal a.k.a. Steeplechase Prestige 1957 "Jackie McLean Quintet Introducing Bill Hardman"
McLean's Scene Prestige (New Jazz) 1959
1957-02 Jackie McLean & Co. Prestige 1957
1957-05 Alto Madness Prestige 1957 co-led by John Jenkins
Strange Blues Prestige 1967
Makin' the Changes Prestige (New Jazz) 1960
A Long Drink of the Blues Prestige (New Jazz) 1961
1957-12 Fat Jazz Jubilee 1959
1959-05 New Soil Blue Note 1959
1959-10 Swing, Swang, Swingin' Blue Note 1960
1960-04 Capuchin Swing Blue Note 1960
1960-06 Street Singer Blue Note 1980 co-led by Tina Brooks
Jackie's Bag Blue Note 1961
1961-01 Bluesnik Blue Note 1962
1961-10 A Fickle Sonance Blue Note 1962
1961-11 Inta Somethin' Pacific Jazz 1962 co-led by Kenny Dorham
1962-03 Let Freedom Ring Blue Note 1963
1962-09 Tippin' the Scales Blue Note 1979
Vertigo Blue Note 1980 LT series
1963-04 One Step Beyond Blue Note 1964
1963-09 Destination... Out! Blue Note 1964
1964-08 It's Time! Blue Note 1965
1964-09 Action Action Action Blue Note 1967
1965-01 Right Now! Blue Note 1966
1965-12 Consequence Blue Note 1979 LT series
Jacknife Blue Note 1975
1966-12 Dr. Jackle SteepleChase 1979
1966-12 Tune Up SteepleChase 1981
Hipnosis Blue Note 1978
1967-03 New and Old Gospel Blue Note 1968
1967-09 'Bout Soul Blue Note 1969
1967-12 Demon's Dance Blue Note 1970
1972-08 Live at Montmartre SteepleChase 1972 Live
1973-07 Altissimo Philips 1973 with Lee Konitz, Gary Bartz and Charlie Mariano
1973-07 Ode to Super SteepleChase 1973 featuring Gary Bartz
1973-07 A Ghetto Lullaby SteepleChase 1974 Live
1973-07 The Meeting SteepleChase 1974 Live featuring Dexter Gordon
1973-07 The Source SteepleChase 1974 featuring Dexter Gordon (Vol. 2)
1974-08 Antiquity SteepleChase 1975 with Michael Carvin
1974-10 New York Calling SteepleChase 1974 with the Cosmic Brotherhood
1976-04 Like Old Times Victor (Jp) 1976 co-led by Mal Waldron
1978-04 New Wine in Old Bottles East Wind (Jp) 1978
1978-11 –
Monuments RCA 1979
1985-04 It's About Time Blue Note 1985 co-led by McCoy Tyner
1986-09 Left Alone '86 Paddle Wheel 1986 Live co-led by Mal Waldron
1988-11 Dynasty Triloka 1990 featuring René McLean
1991-01 Rites of Passage Triloka 1991 featuring René McLean
1991-04 The Jackie Mac Attack Live Birdology/Verve 1993 Live
1992-03 Rhythm of the Earth Antilles/Birdology 1992
1996-01 Hat Trick Somethin' Else (Jp) 1996 with Junko Onishi
1997-07 Fire & Love Somethin' Else (Jp)/Blue Note 1997
1999-06 Nature Boy Somethin' Else (Jp)/Blue Note 1999


  • Complete 1955-1957 Quartet Quintet Sextet Sessions (Jazz Connections, 2007) – comprises Presenting... Jackie McLean up to Fat Jazz
  • The Complete Jubilee Sessions (Lone Hill Jazz, 2008) – combines Fat Jazz and Jackie McLean Quintet

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



  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]