Alto saxophonist, educator and activist Jackie McLean had a long career of quality hard-bop and post-bop jazz. He also played in modal settings and his alto sound could be as commanding as a tenor at times. His run on Prestige and Blue Note in the '50s and '60s is as classic as any of the hard bop era. He also made several appearances on albums by other Blue Note artists.
From NYC, his father was a professional guitarist with Tiny Bradshaw but he passed away while Jackie was a child. He soaked up the bebop scene, hanging with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell as a kid as they were in his neighborhood. In high school he was in a band with Sonny Rollins and Kenny Drew. He made his recording debut on Miles Davis' 1951 album Dig.
He played with Gene Ammons and Charles Mingus in his early career. After a violent altercation with Mingus he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. His prolific period ran from '55 to about '67 and he recorded several classics: Let Freedom Ring, Old & New Gospel (featuring Ornette Coleman), Swing Swang Swingin', Right Now!, Destination Out, Jackknife, 'Bout Soul and others. He also recorded with Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, McCoy Tyner and others. He also appeared in both the stage and film versions of Jack Gelber's The Connection, playing a junky jazz musician (something he knew much about in his early days) trying to score. Shirley Clarke's 1961 film is an underground classic.
On the Hartford scene as an educator for the last portion of his life, he was head of Afro-Am studies at Univ. of Hartford since '68 and was a cultural activist in the community. He rarely recorded after the '70s. Noted reedsman René McLean is his step-son.