Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Jackie McLean (1931-2006)

By Josh Lamkin
Apparently all my blogs are going to be about death for a while.

Jackie McLean died last Friday (March 31st). If you're not a jazz fan or just don't know who he was, he played alto sax with the likes of Miles, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and so on.

I came to know about Jackie McLean a couple of years ago through an interview on NPR's Fresh Air. Hearing McLean in that interview I was immediately struck by how modest and generous he was, how willing to answer any question. He spoke so highly of Bud Powell, whom he credited with really giving him his fundamental "music education."

McLean seemed to be able to see no faults in his heroes. When asked if he got angry the time Charlie Parker took a sax McLean had rented and sold it for heroin, McLean said that Parker was a complex man with complex problems he couldn't begin to understand and that he could never be angry at Parker. Amazing. He seemed like he was like that all the time, just a chilled out, respectful, grateful, devoted musician.

I'm not sure what it was about Jackie McLean that got my attention when I heard that interview. He has a way of speaking slowly and deliberately almost like he's thinking about which words he's going to use and then listening to them when they come out of his mouth to make sure they sound right. It's kind of hypnotic to listen to him speak. I thought when I heard him play sax it would sound similar, maybe a Miles Davis kind of drawl, smooth, cool, sexy. But it's not. He's explosive and powerful and strong and can hit all the high notes that Miles with all his "cool" can't come close to.

I'm not the biggest jazz fan in the whole world. I know what I like, and I know what I love, and I know what I don't like. Usually I come by music through wanting to hear the other musicians Miles played with or whatever. It was cool to hear Jackie McLean speak and immediately want to hear his music.

Jackie McLean - "Jackie's Ghost"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a really nice blog about Jackie McLean - but why do you have a photo of Cannonball Adderly at the top?

3:10 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger Lamkini said...

Wow...I...uh...geez...(scratches head). Thank so much, man. I have to be honest, you could tell me Jackie McLean was a skinny Asian dude, and I'd have to believe you because I've never seen him. Thanks for the help. Problem solved.

3:25 PM, April 20, 2006  

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