Jackie McLean, A Master and His Legacy

May 18, 2017

May 16 was Jackie McLean's 86th birthday anniversary. The first time I met the great saxophonist he exclaimed, "I listen!" Then he pulled me in closer and said, "And we contribute." I was aware of pledges from the McLeans by then, but still, what a way to be greeted by the master. Over the years, I saw Jackie several times at venues in Cambridge, New York, the Cape Cod Lounge at UMass, and at the Artists Collective, the community-based cultural arts organization that Jackie, his wife Dolly, and the late Paul H Brown established in Hartford's North End in 1970. 47 years after its founding, the Collective has provided instruction in music, dance, theater, and visual arts to thousands, and it continues to thrive. So do countless musicians who were taught by Professor McLean at both the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, and the Collective. 

Jackie McLean and Josh Evans at the Artists Collective
Credit Tom Brown / The Hartford Courant

Jackie's legacy at Hartt was formalized a few years ago with the renaming of the jazz program there as the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz. Hartt has graduated many fine musicians who've been benefited from Jackie's guidance and gone on to substantial careers. I've also been impressed with the significant impact he had on the lives of young teens from the Hartford area whose lives were transformed under his mentorship at the Collective. Saxophonist Jimmy Greene, trumpeter Josh Evans, and bassist Dezron L Douglas are among the players who were shaped by his guidance and honor his legacy.

Jackie died in March 2006. I attended his funeral at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, and produced a feature on him for WFCR News. For the report, I spoke with two more of Jackie's great proteges, Nat Reeves and Steve Davis, and among the stories they told was an illustration of how he encouraged them as jazz players. As Stevie-D related to our listeners, McLean, who'd been schooled by Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, and Charles Mingus, said, "Now take those notes you play and put hoods on them." 

Jackie McLean and Miles Davis
Credit Francis Wolff / Blue Note Records

This Saturday, the Artists Collective will present a solo performance by pianist Randy Weston in the annual concert that celebrates Jackie's birthday and legacy. Here's Jay Mac with trumpter Woody Shaw, and a trio that I saw him with at the Village Vanguard: Cedar Walton, Buster Williams, and Billy Higgins. "Cool Struttin'" was composed by pianist Sonny Clark and was the title track of Clark's Blue Note album that Jackie played on in 1958.