Blue Note Records is greatly saddened to announce the passing of Jackie McLean, the great alto saxophonist who recorded for the label over a span of 42 years. McLean died on Friday, March 31st, at his home in Hartford, Connecticut. He was 74 years old.
Born in 1931, Jackie was raised in Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood, a hotbed of bebop activity, with neighbors that included Bud Powell and Sonny Rollins. He became a prodigious talent on the alto saxophone early on, catching the ear of Miles Davis and joining his band while still a teenager.
Jackie’s first appearance on a Blue Note record was as a sideman on pianist Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’ session in 1958, and he made his own label debut as a leader in 1959 with Jackie’s Bag.
Jackie went on to record an amazing 31 sessions as a leader for Blue Note over the next four decades. His 1960s output epitomized the hard bop movement, with his unmistakably tart & soulful tone leading the charge on such hard swinging records as Bluesnik. He even made forays into the avant-garde, including his classic Destination Out! and New And Old Gospel (featuring Ornette Coleman on trumpet).
Jackie was a featured performer on One Night With Blue Note, the concert at Town Hall that celebrated the re-launch of Blue Note in 1985 with a remarkable line-up of the label’s original stars. Jackie went on to make several more records for Blue Note through the late-90s, including his last, Nature Boy, in 2000 with the Cedar Walton trio.
Jackie will not only be remembered as a legendary musician, but also a tireless music educator. After moving to Hartford in 1970, he began teaching at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music, founding their African-American music program as well as his own community cultural center in downtown Hartford called the Artists Collective, which he ran alongside his wife Dolly.