Remembering alto saxophonist Jackie McLean on the anniversary of his death five years ago at the age of 74.
McLean grew up in Harlem in a musical neighborhood — Sonny Rollins was close in age and home — and his work was a constant in the early 1960s. From 1959-67 he produced almost 20 albums for Blue Note, and few complained that his volume was affecting the quality.
McLean’s output, was in part, because like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and others, he had lost his cabaret card, which entitled him to perform in New York. Jazz.com said McLean, befriended by Charlie Parker, was warned by Parker to avoid drugs, “even as he asked to borrow his horn so he could pawn it to buy a fix.” But McLean served six months in jail during the height of his production, in 1964, although he reportedly beat his addiction when he got out.
McLean became a teacher of music at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where today the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz is named for him.
“McLean’s playing was once described as hurt, lonely and, as a result, angry,” wrote Ira Gitler in the liner notes to 1961′s Bluesnik album. “This was true of an earlier Jackie. Today he is still very much a hard swinger but the anger has abated to a large degree. He has matured in many ways and this is reflected in his music.”