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Jackie McLean

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Title: Jackie McLean  
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Subject: Action Action Action, New Wine in Old Bottles, Vertigo (Jackie McLean album), Tina Brooks, One Night with Blue Note
Collection: 1931 Births, 2006 Deaths, African-American Musicians, American Jazz Alto Saxophonists, American Jazz Composers, Bebop Saxophonists, Blue Note Records Artists, Hard Bop Saxophonists, Inner City Records Artists, Jazz Messengers, Jazz Saxophonists, Mainstream Jazz Saxophonists, Miles Davis, Modal Jazz Saxophonists, Musicians from Hartford, Connecticut, Musicians from New York City, Post-Bop Saxophonists, Prestige Records Artists, Steeplechase Records Artists, The Hartt School Faculty, Verve Records Artists
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Jackie McLean

Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean at Keystone Korner SF 12/82 (Photo: Brian McMillen)
Background information
Birth name John Lenwood McLean
Born (1931-05-17)May 17, 1931
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died March 31, 2006(2006-03-31) (aged 74)
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Genres Bebop, hard bop, modal jazz, progressive jazz, mainstream jazz, post-bop, avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, composer, educator, community activist
Instruments Alto saxophone
Years active 1951–2004

John Lenwood "Jackie" McLean (May 17, 1931–March 31, 2006) 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.


  • Biography 1
  • Discography 2
    • As leader 2.1
    • As sideman 2.2
  • Filmography 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


McLean was born in New York City.[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 he played in a band with Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins, and Andy Kirk Jr. (the tenor saxophonist son of Andy Kirk).

Along with Rollins, he played on 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. He later stated that he was grateful that he had not stabbed the bassist.[2]

His 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 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 well-known 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 stepson René McLean, showed that by 1980 the assimilation of all influences was complete.

In 1970, he and his wife, 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".[3]

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.

After a long illness, McLean died on March 31, 2006, in Hartford, Connecticut. In 2006, Jackie McLean was elected to the DownBeat Hall of Fame via the International Critics Poll.

Derek Ansell's full-length biography of McLean, Sugar Free Saxophone (London: Northway Books, 2012), details the story of his career and provides a full analysis of his music on record.

McLean's track, "Jacknife", from the 1965 Blue Note album entitled Jacknife was used in the Sons of Anarchy episode, "Suits of Woe".


As leader

Ad Lib
  • Presenting Jackie McLean (1955)
  • Fat Jazz (1957)
  • The Complete Jubilee Sessions (Lone Hill Jazz, 2008)
Blue Note
  • The Great Jazz Trio – New Wine in Old Bottles (East Wind (J), 1978)
  • Monuments (RCA, 1979)
  • The Jackie Mac Attack Live (1991)
  • Rhythm of the Earth (Dreyfus, 1992)

As sideman

With Gene Ammons

With Art Blakey

With Kenny Burrell

With Donald Byrd

With Sonny Clark

With Miles Davis

With Walter Davis Jr.

With Kenny Dorham

With Ray Draper

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Charles Mingus

With Hank Mobley

With Grachan Moncur III

With Lee Morgan

  • Lee-Way (Blue Note, 1960)
  • Tom Cat (Blue Note, 1964)
  • Cornbread (Blue Note, 1965)
  • Infinity (Blue Note, 1965)
  • Charisma (Blue Note, 1966)
  • The Sixth Sense (Blue Note, 1967)

With Freddie Redd

With Jimmy Smith

With Art Taylor

With Mal Waldron

  • Mal/2 (Prestige, 1957)
  • Like Old Time (1976)
  • Left Alone '86 (1986)

With Jack Wilson

With Michael Carvin

  • Antiquity (1975)



  1. ^ Allmusic biography
  2. ^ Liner notes to the album Dynasty
  3. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 341.  

Further reading

  • Derek Ansell, Sugar Free Saxophone: The Life and Music of Jackie McLean. London: Northway Publications, 2012. ISBN 978-0-9557888-6-4
  • Guillaume Belhomme, Jackie McLean. Nantes: Lenka lente, 2014. ISBN 978-2-9545845-4-6

External links

  • Jackie McLean complete discography from Music City
  • Jackie McLean at Find a Grave
  • Allmusic
  • NEA Jazz Masters
  • Official history of the Artists Collective Inc.
  • History of the Artists Collective Inc.
  • Jackie McLean on the Hard Bop Home Page
  • (London) by John Fordham, April 3, 2006The GuardianObituary in
  • (Hartford, CT) April 1, 2006Courant"Blues for Jackie," Obituary by Owen McNally in Hartford
  • New England Jazz History Database – Audio Interviews
  • Jazz Portraits from the WGBH Archives: Jackie McLean a radio documentary from WGBH Radio Boston
  • Jackie McLean on Mars – the complete film
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