Jackie McLean

Last updated

Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean.jpg
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.
Genres Jazz, 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

AlbumYear recordedLabelYear releasedNotes
Presenting... Jackie McLean 1955Ad Lib1955
Complete 1955-1957 Quartet Quintet Sextet Sessions1955-57Jazz Connections2007comprises Presenting... Jackie McLean up to Fat Jazz
Lights Out! 1956 Prestige 1956
4, 5 and 6 1956Prestige1956
Jackie's Pal a.k.a. Steeplechase1956Prestige1957"Jackie McLean Quintet Introducing Bill Hardman"
McLean's Scene 1956-57Prestige (New Jazz)1959
Jackie McLean & Co. 1957Prestige1957
Makin' the Changes 1957Prestige (New Jazz)1960
A Long Drink of the Blues 1957Prestige (New Jazz)1961
Strange Blues 1957Prestige1967
Alto Madness 1957Prestige1957co-led by John Jenkins
Fat Jazz 1957 Jubilee 1959
Jackie McLean Quintet1957Jubilee1957
The Complete Jubilee Sessions1957Lone Hill Jazz2008comprises Fat Jazz and Jackie McLean Quintet
New Soil 1959 Blue Note 1959
Swing, Swang, Swingin' 1959Blue Note1960
Jackie's Bag 1959–60Blue Note1961
Vertigo 1959-63Blue Note1980
Capuchin Swing 1960Blue Note1960
Street Singer 1960Blue Note1980co-led by Tina Brooks
Bluesnik 1961Blue Note1962
Inta Somethin' 1961 Pacific Jazz 1962co-led by Kenny Dorham
A Fickle Sonance 1961Blue Note1962
Let Freedom Ring 1962Blue Note1963
Tippin' the Scales 1962Blue Note1979
Hipnosis 1962-67Blue Note1978
One Step Beyond 1963Blue Note1964
Destination... Out! 1963Blue Note1964
It's Time! 1964Blue Note1965
Action Action Action 1964Blue Note1967
Right Now! 1965Blue Note1966
Jacknife 1965-66Blue Note1975
Consequence 1965Blue Note1979
Dr. Jackle1966 SteepleChase 1979
Tune Up1966 SteepleChase 1981
New and Old Gospel 1967Blue Note1968
'Bout Soul 1967Blue Note1969
Demon's Dance 1967Blue Note1970
Live at Montmartre 1972 SteepleChase 1972
Altissimo 1973 Philips 1973with Lee Konitz, Gary Bartz and Charlie Mariano
Ode to Super 1973 SteepleChase 1973featuring Gary Bartz
A Ghetto Lullaby 1973 SteepleChase 1974
The Meeting 1973 SteepleChase 1974featuring Dexter Gordon
The Source 1973 SteepleChase 1974featuring Dexter Gordon (Vol. 2)
Antiquity 1974 SteepleChase 1975with Michael Carvin
New York Calling 1974 SteepleChase 1974with the Cosmic Brotherhood
Like Old Times1976 Victor (Jp) 1976co-led by Mal Waldron
New Wine in Old Bottles 1978 East Wind (Jp)1978
Monuments1978-79 RCA 1979
It's About Time 1985Blue Note1985co-led by McCoy Tyner
Left Alone '86 1986 Paddle Wheel 1986co-led by Mal Waldron
Dynasty1988Triloka1990featuring René McLean
Rites of Passage1991Triloka1991featuring René McLean
The Jackie Mac Attack Live1991Birdology/Verve 1993
Rhythm of the Earth1992 Antilles/Birdology1992
Hat Trick 1996 Somethin' Else (Jp) 1996with Junko Onishi
Fire & Love1997Somethin' Else (Jp)/Blue Note1997
Nature Boy1999Somethin' Else (Jp)/Blue Note1999

As sideman

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.

LeaderAlbumYear recordedLabelYear 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
1952Blue Note1952,
Miles Davis (and Milt Jackson) Quintet/Sextet 1955 Prestige 1956
George Wallington Live at the Café Bohemia1955 Progressive 1955
Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop Pithecanthropus Erectus 1956 Atlantic 1956
Gene Ammons Hi Fidelity Jam Session a.k.a. The Happy Blues 1956Prestige1956
Gene Ammons Jammin' with Gene 1956Prestige1956
Hank Mobley Mobley's Message 1956Prestige1957
Art Farmer and Donald Byrd 2 Trumpets 1956Prestige1957
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Hard Bop 1956 Columbia 1957
Art Blakey Originally 1956Columbia1982
Art Blakey Drum Suite 1956Columbia1957
Gene Ammons Funky 1957Prestige1957
Art Blakey Ritual 1957 Pacific Jazz 1960
Art Taylor Taylor's Wailers 1957Prestige1957
Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Raney 2 Guitars 1957Prestige1957
Art Blakey A Midnight Session a.k.a. Mirage1957 Elektra, Savoy 1957
Ray Draper Tuba Sounds 1957Prestige1957
Art Blakey Tough! 1957 Cadet 1966
Art Blakey A Night in Tunisia 1957 Vik 1957
Gene Ammons Jammin' in Hi Fi with Gene Ammons 1957Prestige1957
Mal Waldron Mal/2 (and The Dealers )1957Prestige (Status)1957
Sonny Clark Cool Struttin' 1958Blue Note1958
Donald Byrd Off to the Races 1958Blue Note1959
Charles Mingus Blues & Roots 1959Atlantic1960
Mal Waldron Left Alone *1959 Bethlehem 1959
Walter Davis Jr. Davis Cup 1959Blue Note1960
Donald Byrd Fuego 1959Blue Note1960
Freddie Redd The Music from "The Connection" 1960Blue Note1960
Jimmy Smith Open House 1960Blue Note1968
Jimmy Smith Plain Talk *1960Blue Note1968
Lee Morgan Lee-Way 1960Blue Note1961
Donald Byrd Byrd in Flight 1960Blue Note1960
Freddie Redd Shades of Redd 1960Blue Note1961
Tina Brooks Back to the Tracks 1960Blue Note1998
Freddie Redd Redd's Blues 1961Blue Note1988
Kenny Dorham Matador 1962 United Artists 1963
Grachan Moncur III Evolution 1963Blue Note1964
Lee Morgan Tom Cat 1964Blue Note1980
Lee Morgan Cornbread 1965Blue Note1967
Lee Morgan Infinity 1965Blue Note1981
Lee Morgan Charisma 1966Blue Note1969
Jack Wilson Easterly Winds 1967Blue Note1968
Hank Mobley Hi Voltage 1967Blue Note1968
Lee Morgan The Sixth Sense 1967Blue Note1970
Mal WaldronLike Old Time1976 Victor (Jp)1976
Art FarmerLive in Tokyo1977 CTI (Jp)1977
All Star band One Night with Blue Note Preserved Vol. 2 1985Blue Note1985
All star bandBirdology: Live at the TBB Jazz Festival (Vol. 1 & 2)1989Verve (F)1989, 1990
All star band with Dizzy Gillespie The Paris All Stars - Homage to Charlie Parker1989 A&M 1990
Art Blakey's Jazz MessengersThe Art of Jazz1989In & Out1989
Abbey Lincoln The World Is Falling Down1990Verve1990
Miles DavisBlack Devil a.k.a. At La Villette (DVD)*1991Beech Marten, JVC (Jp)1992, 2001
Dizzy Gillespie To Bird with Love 1992 Telarc 1992
Dizzy Gillespie Bird Songs: The Final Recordings *1992Telarc1992


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles Mingus</span> American jazz bassist, composer and bandleader (1922–1979)

Charles Mingus Jr. was an American jazz upright bassist, pianist, composer, bandleader, and author. A major proponent of collective improvisation, he is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians and composers in history, with a career spanning three decades and collaborations with other jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Hancock. Mingus's work ranged from advanced bebop and avant-garde jazz with small and midsize ensembles – pioneering the post-bop style on seminal recordings like Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956) and Mingus Ah Um (1959) – to progressive big band experiments such as The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blue Note Records</span> American record label

Blue Note Records is an American jazz record label owned by Universal Music Group and operated under Capitol Music Group. Established in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, it derived its name from the blue notes of jazz and the blues. Originally dedicated to recording traditional jazz and small group swing, the label began to switch its attention to modern jazz around 1947. From there, Blue Note grew to become one of the most prolific, influential and respected jazz labels of the mid-20th century, noted for its role in facilitating the development of hard bop, post-bop and avant-garde jazz, as well as for its iconic modernist art direction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hard bop</span> Subgenre of jazz music

Hard bop is a subgenre of jazz that is an extension of bebop music. Journalists and record companies began using the term in the mid-1950s to describe a new current within jazz that incorporated influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues, especially in saxophone and piano playing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gene Ammons</span> American jazz tenor saxophonist

Eugene "Jug" Ammons, also known as "The Boss", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. The son of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, Gene Ammons is remembered for his accessible music, steeped in soul and R&B.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">René McLean</span> American jazz musician

René McLean is a hard bop saxophonist and flutist. He was born in New York City. He started playing guitar before receiving an alto saxophone and instruction from his father, the alto saxophonist Jackie McLean.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hank Mobley</span> American jazz saxophonist and composer (1930–1986)

Henry "Hank" Mobley was an American hard bop and soul jazz tenor saxophonist and composer. Mobley was described by Leonard Feather as the "middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone", a metaphor used to describe his tone, that was neither as aggressive as John Coltrane nor as mellow as Lester Young, and his style that was laid-back, subtle and melodic, especially in contrast with players like Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. The critic Stacia Proefrock claimed him "one of the most underrated musicians of the bop era." Mobley's compositions included "Double Exposure," "Soul Station", and "Dig Dis," among others.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ronald Shannon Jackson</span> American jazz drummer (1940–2013)

Ronald Shannon Jackson was an American jazz drummer from Fort Worth, Texas. A pioneer of avant-garde jazz, free funk, and jazz fusion, he appeared on over 50 albums as a bandleader, sideman, arranger, and producer. Jackson and bassist Sirone are the only musicians to have performed and recorded with the three prime shapers of free jazz: pianist Cecil Taylor, and saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tina Brooks</span> American jazz saxophonist and composer

Harold Floyd "Tina" Brooks was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and composer best remembered for his work in the hard bop style.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mal Waldron</span> American jazz pianist and composer (1925–2002)

Malcolm Earl "Mal" Waldron was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. He started playing professionally in New York in 1950, after graduating from college. In the following dozen years or so Waldron led his own bands and played for those led by Charles Mingus, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, and Eric Dolphy, among others. During Waldron's period as house pianist for Prestige Records in the late 1950s, he appeared on dozens of albums and composed for many of them, including writing his most famous song, "Soul Eyes", for Coltrane. Waldron was often an accompanist for vocalists, and was Billie Holiday's regular accompanist from April 1957 until her death in July 1959.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Doug Watkins</span> American jazz double bassist

Douglas Watkins was an American jazz double bassist. He was best known for being an accompanist to various hard bop artists in the Detroit area, including Donald Byrd and Jackie McLean.

<i>Quintet/Sextet</i> 1956 studio album by Miles Davis and Milt Jackson

Miles Davis and Milt Jackson Quintet/Sextet, also known as Quintet/Sextet is a studio album by trumpeter Miles Davis and vibraphonist Milt Jackson released by Prestige Records in August of 1956. It was recorded on August 5, 1955. Credited to "Miles Davis and Milt Jackson", this was an "all-star" session, and did not feature any of the members of Davis's working group of that time. Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean appears on his own compositions “Dr. Jackle” and “Minor Apprehension”.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Straight-ahead jazz</span> Genre of jazz

Straight-ahead jazz is a genre of jazz that developed in the 1960s, with roots in the prior two decades. It omits the rock music and free jazz influences that began to appear in jazz during this period, instead preferring acoustic instruments, conventional piano comping, walking bass patterns, and swing- and bop-based drum rhythms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wayne Escoffery</span> American jazz saxophonist

Wayne Escoffery is an American jazz saxophonist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Javon Jackson</span> American jazz musician (born 1965)

Javon Anthony Jackson is an American jazz tenor saxophonist, bandleader, and educator. He first became known as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1987 until Blakey's death in 1990. and went on to release 22 recordings as a bandleader and tour and record on over 150 CDs with jazz greats including Elvin Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden, Betty Carter, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Stanley Turrentine and Ben E. King.

<i>Back to the Tracks</i> 1998 studio album by Tina Brooks

Back to the Tracks is a hard bop album by tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks recorded in 1960 and released posthumously. The album was originally intended as BLP 4052, but, for some reason, it was shelved at the time. A song recorded during the session, "David the King", was rejected since it "never made it to releasable quality". The composition was later re-recorded for Brooks' final Blue Note session, eventually released as The Waiting Game. The tracks first appeared in a Mosaic 12" LP box-set (MR4-106) entitled The Complete Blue Note Recordings of The Tina Brooks Quintets. A Blue Note CD appeared in 1998, then reissued in 2006.

<i>A Fickle Sonance</i> 1962 studio album by Jackie McLean

A Fickle Sonance is an album by American saxophonist Jackie McLean recorded in 1961 and released on the Blue Note label. It features McLean in a quintet with trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, pianist Sonny Clark, bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins.

<i>New and Old Gospel</i> 1968 studio album by Jackie McLean

New and Old Gospel is an album by American saxophonist Jackie McLean recorded in 1967 and released on the Blue Note label. It features McLean in a quintet with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, pianist LaMont Johnson, bassist Scotty Holt and drummer Billy Higgins.

<i>Beauty Is a Rare Thing</i> 1993 compilation album by Ornette Coleman

Beauty Is a Rare Thing is a compilation box set collecting all the master recordings made for Atlantic Records between 1959 and 1961 by the American jazz composer and saxophonist Ornette Coleman. The set was released on Rhino Records in 1993, and reissued in March 2015.

<i>The New Sounds</i> 1951 studio album by Miles Davis

The New Sounds is the debut solo studio album by Miles Davis, released in late 1951 as a 10-inch LP. It is his first album as a leader and his first full album for Prestige Records. Davis had previously contributed three tracks to the Prestige compilation LP Modern Jazz Trumpets and appeared as a sideman on the 10-inch LP Lee Konitz: The New Sounds.

<i>Presenting... Jackie McLean</i> 1956 studio album by Jackie McLean

Presenting... Jackie McLean, also referred to as The New Tradition and Jackie McLean Quintet, is the debut album by American alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, which was recorded in 1955, becoming the first LP released by the Ad Lib label before being reissued on the Jubilee label in 1958. It features McLean in a quintet with trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Ron Tucker.


  1. 1 2 3 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