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John Lenwood (Jackie) McLean (May 17, 1931 — March 31, 2006) was an American jazz alto saxophonist, composer, bandleader and educator, born in New York Citymarker.


McLean's 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 Miles Davis' Dig album, when he was 19 years old. As a young man McLean also recorded with Gene Ammons, Charles Mingus, George Wallington, and as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. McLean joined Blakey after reportedly being punched by the volatile 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 did not stab the bassist.

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 withering, 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 Citymarker cabaret card forced him to undertake a large number of recording dates; 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, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Grachan Moncur III, Bobby Hutcherson, Mal Waldron, 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. Emblematic of his stylistic growth is the solo on his piece "Quadrangle" as compared to the version of the same tune on BST 4051, Jackie's Bag, recorded in 1959. 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. In early 1964, he served six months in prison on drug charges.

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 Hartfordmarker. 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.

In 1970, he and his wife, Dollie McLean, 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 stepson 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.

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, Connecticutmarker


Prestige Records
  • The New Tradition
  • 4, 5 & 6 (1956)
  • Lights Out!" (1956)
  • Jackie's Pal
  • McLean's Scene" (1957)
  • Jackie McLean and Co.
  • A Long Drink of the Blue" (1957)
  • Strange Blues
  • Makin' The Changes (1957)
  • Alto Madness
Blue Note
  • Swing, Swang, Swingin" (1959)
  • New Soil (1959)
  • The Connection (1960)
  • Capuchin Swing (1960)
  • Bluesnik (1961)
  • Jackie's Bag (1961)
  • Let Freedom Ring (1962)
  • One Step Beyond (1963)
  • Destination...Out! (1963)
  • Vertigo (1963)
  • It's Time! (1964)
  • Action (1964)
  • Jacknife (sic) (1965)
  • Right Now! (1965)
  • Demon's Dance (1967)
  • New and Old Gospel (1968)
  • It's About Time (1987)
  • Ode to Super (1973)
  • New York Calling (1974)
  • Dr. Jackle (1979; recorded in 1966)
  • Contour (1980)
  • Dynasty (1990)
  • Nature Boy (2000)

Other labels



  1. Allmusic biography
  2. liner notes to the album Dynasty

External links

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