April 03, 2006
Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean died Friday. In his youth, McLean played with nearly all of the jazz giants: Bird, Miles, Monk, Mingus, Bud Powell. He was one of the last remaining links to that magnificent era. Some others remain — Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock — but their numbers are dwindling.
I'm an alto player myself (strictly amateur), and Jackie McLean has always been one of my favorite players. He had a truly distinctive sound, making him one of those players (like Coltrane, say, or Stan Getz) whom you can identify after hearing only a note or two. He was a native of New York City, and his sound always seemed to me to be unmistakably urban — insistent, urgent, cutting, often aggressive, even tough — a true New York City sound. His playing always makes me want to jump to my feet. And man could he play the blues.
My favorite McLean recording is Let Freedom Ring, especially the cut "Melody for Melonae" that McLean wrote for his daughter. I remember one sunny summer vacation afternoon years ago, driving through Telluride, Colorado with my own daughter, Ali, the car windows open, the breeze blowing through, and "Melody for Melonae" on at top volume. The song starts with a somewhat funereal intro, but then McLean launches into a solo that begins with what for me are five of the most exciting notes in jazz. McLean's emphatic solo is propelled along by Billy Higgins' restless, kinetic drumming, and the result never fails to excite, even all these years later. That day in Telluride, Ali was still pretty young and she has doubtless forgotten all about it, but it was a moment I will always remember. Because of the song.
A nice tribute Jonathan. I put on Let Freedom Ring too.
Posted by: Charyn at April 4, 2006 04:20 PM