Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy Birthday JMac

Alto sax legend, Jackie McLean would have been 78 years old on this day, May 17. A protege of Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, McLean had a wide ranging influence on the jazz idiom. His signature sound is a hard fast attack, with a clean, sharp sound. He played with Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins on the album Dig (of which he wrote the title track, though Miles co-opted the credit), Charles Mingus, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and many others. He was a leader on countless CD's with many more great jazz artists.

To those of us in the Hartford Connecticut area, where Jackie made his home in his later years, his influence is even deeper. He is responsible for mentoring many young jazz artists in the area. His standing in the jazz world attracted many great artists to travel from New York City to Hartford to perform with Jackie and give master classes at U of H (and they continue to this day to do so in his honor). In addition to being the Jazz director at University of Hartford's Hartt school of music, Jackie and his wife Dollie were the founders of the Artists Collective which fosters the performing arts-dance, theatre, music and visual arts in the urban areas of Hartford.

Linked to this post, is a podcast that pays tribute to Jackie McLean with several tracks recorded from the '50's through the 90's as well as works from artists that have studied and/or been influenced by Jackie's playing.

Jackie McLean Tribute podcast download (61 mb)

In the Groove, Jazz and Beyond podcast website


  1. McLean's horn was the real thing. His album "Let Freedom Ring" is a part of any respectable collection. But I can also recommend "4, 5 and 6." Listen to 'Why was I born', to learn why you were born.

  2. Miles Davis: " About a month or so later I took my band into Birdland. I had Sonny Rollins, Kenny Drew, Art Blakey, Percy Heath, and Jackie McLean. Bud Powell had told me that I ought to use Jackie because he knew Jackie and was high on him. I had seen Jackie around because he came from Sugar Hill up in Harlem. He knew Sonny Rollins well because they came from the same neighborhood, around Edgecombe Avenue. Jackie wasn't even twenty when he made that Birdland gig. But he could already play his ass off. That first night, he was so scared and high that after playing about seven or eight bars of his solo, he suddenly ran off the stage and out the back door. Now, the rhythm section is still playing, and the crowd's out there with their mouths open, wondering what the fuck was going on. I left the bandstand to go back and see what happened to Jackie, although in the back of my head I'm thinking that he might have become sick from heroin, because I already knew that Jackie was using. Oscar Goodstein, the owner of Birdland, follows me outside. There's Jackie puking his brains out into a garbage can, vomit all over his mouth. I asked him if he was all right and he nodded his head that he was. I told him to wipe off his horn and come on back and play. We could hear the rhythm section still walking. Oscar's standing there with this disgusted look all over his face and says to Jackie as he's passing him, "Here kid, wipe your face," and he threw him this towel and turned and walked back into the club ahead of us. Jackie went back in there and played his ass off. I mean he was something that night.


    We didn't have no time to rehearse, since I had just got back, and I think the playing showed that. But I remember Bird was in the audience one night and he kept applauding everything that Jackie played, even if it was wrong, which wasn't often because Jackie was playing his ass off during this engagement. One time, Bird ran over and kissed Jackie on the neck or on the cheek after we had finished a set. But all through this, Bird didn't say nothing to me, so I guess I might have gotten upset, but I don't think I did. It just struck me as kind of strange because I hadn't seen Bird act like that before. I was wondering if he was fucked up or something, because when he was doing all this applauding for Jackie, he was one of the only ones doing it. Jackie was playing good, but he wasn't playing that motherfucking good. I kept wondering why Bird was doing it and whether he was trying to psych me out or trying to make me look bad by cheering for Jackie and ignoring me. But Bird applauding Jackie like that made a whole lot of critics start paying more attention to what Jackie was playing. That particular night really put Jackie on the musical map.

    Although Jackie could play his ass off, he still had a problem with his discipline and learning to play certain tunes. A little while after the Birdland gig, we had a real big argument in the recording studio over the way he wasn't playing "Yesterdays," or "Wouldn't You." Jackie had a lot of natural ability, but he was lazy as a motherfucker back then. I would tell him to play a certain tune, and he would tell me he "didn't know it."
    "What do you mean you don't know it? Learn it," I would say.

    So he would tell me some shit about the tunes being from another time period, and that he was a "young guy" and he didn't see why he had to learn "all that old shit."
    "Man," I said, "music has no periods; music is music. I like this tune, this is my band, you're in my band, I'm playing this tune, so you learn it and learn a// the tunes, whether you like them or not. Learn them."

    One particular day in 1952 I was doing my first recording for Alfred Lion's Blue Note label (my deal with Prestige wasn't exclu¬sive). Gil Coggins played piano that session; J. J. Johnson, trombone;
    Oscar Pettiford, bass; Kenny Clarke—who had come over from Paris —was on drums; and Jackie was on alto. I really thought people played good on that album; I thought I played well also. I think we recorded "Woody 'n' You," Jackie's "Donna" (which was called "Dig" on the other album and was credited as my tune), "Dear Old Stockholm," "Chance It," "Yesterdays," and "How Deep Is the Ocean." Jackie pulled his same shit on me while we were recording "Yesterdays." I just blew the fuck up and cursed Jackie out so cold I thought he was going to cry. He never played it right so I just told him to lay out on that tune; that's the reason he wasn't on that tune on that album. I think this was the only album I made in 1952.
    One time we were down in Philadelphia playing a club, me and Jackie, Art Blakey, Percy Heath, and, I think. Hank Jones on piano. Anyway, in walks Duke Ellington, Paul Quinechette, Johnny Hodges, and some other members of Duke's band. I said to myself, "Man, we gotta hit it now." So I called out "Yesterdays." I start the melody with Jackie, and then I played a solo and motioned for him to play a solo. Now, usually on "Yesterdays" I didn't let Jackie play, but he had promised me again that he was going to learn it. I wanted to see if he had kept his word.

    He started playing around with the melody and fucked it up again, right? After the set was over and I'm introducing everybody in the band over the microphone—I used to do that shit back in the real old days—when I get to Jackie I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Jackie McLean, and I don't know how he got his union card, since he never does know how to play 'Yesterdays.' " Well, the audience didn't know whether I was joking or not, whether to applaud for Jackie or to boo the motherfucker. After the set, Jackie runs up to me in the alley behind the club where Art and I were getting high and says, "Miles, that wasn't right, man, embarrassing me like that in front of Duke, man, who is my fucking musical daddy, you motherfucker!" He was crying!

    So I said to him, "Fuck you, Jackie, you ain't nothing but a big, fucking baby! Always talking about some shit that you're a young cat and so you can't learn that old music. Fuck that and you too! I told you, music is music. So you'd better learn your music or you ain't gonna be in my fucking band for much longer, you hear me? Learn the music that's required of you in order to play. You talking about Duke being out in the audience and that I embarrassed you when I introduced you like that. Well, motherfucker, you embarrassed yourself when you didn't play 'Yesterdays' right. Man, you don't think Duke Ellington knows how that tune goes? Are you crazy? I didn't embarrass you, you embarrassed your motherfucking self! Now, fuck all that crying and let's go back to the hotel."

    Jackie just got quiet, then I told him a true story about how, when I was in B's band that first time, I had to run errands for B while he'd be sitting with some beautiful woman. Told Jackie how B would call out, "Where's Miles!" and make me go get his suits, or make sure his shoes were shined or send me out to get him some cigarettes;
    how B used to make me sit on a Coke box when I first joined the trumpet section. And all because he was the bandleader and I was the youngest guy in the band, a kid, and how this was making me pay some dues because he was the leader and could do this kind of shit to me. I told Jackie, "So don't be telling me nothing about what I say to you or about you, man, because you ain't even started paying no dues yet. You're just a spoiled brat and you're gonna learn how to play this music or you're gonna get the fuck out of my band."

    He was stunned, but he didn't say nothing. I think if Jackie had said something right then I would have kicked his motherfucking ass, because I was telling him some shit that was going to help not hurt him.
    Later, when Jackie was out of the band, every time that I would go to see him play he would play a couple of them older tunes, espe¬cially "Yesterdays." After the set he would come up to me and ask me how he did on them. By then he had become a master and could play the fuck out of anything! So I'd tell him, "You did all right for a young man," and he'd laugh his ass off. After a while, when they asked him where he studied music, he'd tell them, "I studied at the University of Miles Davis." I thought that said it. "

    Excerpts from "Miles, the Autobiography", by Quincy Troupe, Chapter 7. It's great stuff to read, these inside stories.


  3. I should have commented on this last month. Thanks again André, this is a great story.