Category: McLean Jackie

Interview with Jackie McLean by Steve Lehman

photo by thomas.rome

photo by thomas.rome

Here is a 2000 interview with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean conducted by Steve Lehman in Jackie’s Connecticut home. The interview is posted on Ethan Iverson’s fantastic DoTheMath blog, which, if it isn’t part of your regular reading, should be. Much of the interview is about composing, like this:

JM:  The first person to make me feel as though I could write something and it would be worth something, was Miles. “Dig” was the second thing that I ever wrote. 

The first thing I wrote I’m ashamed to say was so corny, on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” when I was about 15. I’d been playing for about a year. And I’d started to learn about the tunes from going to Bud’s house all the time. Like that “What Is This Thing Called Love?” and “Hot House” were the same tune. 

“Oh, yeah, Tadd Dameron took ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’, which is like a standard, and wrote this other melody. So, I’m gonna write another melody on this.” You know. So, I wrote this little sad melody. 

And then I wrote “Dig” when I was about 17 and a half or 18. That’s when I went down to the Birdland and sat in with Miles, and then went to his house the next day. And he had asked me if I had any tunes and I told him yes, and I played “Dig” for him. 

And right away he said, “Oh, show me that.” You know? And I played it for him, and we played it together. And then I started working with him, and I started learning his repertoire. Of course then Sonny Rollins was in the band too, and Sonny had his tunes that he wrote. We used to do “Wee Dot” and “Conception.”

One night Miles told me to come down when he was working with Coleman Hawkins in Birdland. Miles said, “Come on down tonight, I want you to check out something.” I went down. And I looked up. And when Miles saw me come in and sit at a table he whispered something to Coleman Hawkins and he counted off. And I saw Coleman Hawkins play “Dig” with Miles.

Click here to read Interview with Jackie McLean by Steve Lehman

—Peter Blasevick

Smithsonian Oral Histories: Jackie McLean 2001

More interviews from the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program today. Established by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1992, the Program documents more than one hundred senior jazz musicians, performers, relatives, and business associates.  The interviews average six hours in length and cover a wide range of topics including early years, initial involvement in music, generally, and jazz specifically, as well as experiences in the jazz music world, including relationships to musicians. The transcriptions are complete, the audio are shorter clips from the interviews.

Here is the transcript of a 2001 interview with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Possessing one of the most recognizable alto saxophone sounds, McLean explored the cutting edge of jazz creativity. He grew up in a musical family in New York City: his father was a guitarist and his stepfather owned a record store. During McLean’s busiest period in the 1950s, he worked with pianist George Wallington, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and bassist Charles Mingus. McLean and his wife Dollie founded the Artists Collective, a community center and fine arts school, primarily for troubled youth. Here is Jackie on knowing and working with Dizzy Gillespie:

I first used to see Dizzy when I used to go down to see on 52nd Street and just run along the street and see who I can look in the window and see on the stage. Then I first saw Dizzy at the McKinley Theater in the Bronx with his big band. Bird was in that band as well. Then I eventually met Dizzy when I was about 16 or about 17 years old and sat in some place in the Bronx. But I just never had a chance to – I went with Miles’s band, and so I was with Miles [Davis] off and on for a number of years, and then after that had my own groups. I never got back to really having – Dizzy never called on me. Put it like that. He was never calling on me to play these gigs with him.

After a while, when I got really – 20 years went by. 25 years went by. I eventually went to Dizzy and said, “Hey, man, I’m out here. How come you’re not calling me, man? Every time you call the same cats. You either call Phil Woods or James Moody. Both of them are great, and you should, and I have nothing to say about that, other than, what about giving me a little bit? Let me wet my beak.”

So the first time he called me, he called me and Sonny Stitt, ironically, to come down to Wolf Trap and play with him. That was the first time he had called on me to come and be on the front line with him. Then after that, different times he would call me. I went to do a thing with him in Paris, and thank God I recorded with him, just before he passed, at the Blue Note one night. That was very important to me, to be able to play with Dizzy in that context. It was two altos and trumpet on the front line, Paquito D’Rivera and myself and Dizzy. A great rhythm section. So that was a very important recording, as well as when I got Dexter [Gordon] to record with me in Copenhagen. That was a very important recording for me.

Click here to read Smithsonian Oral Histories: Jackie McLean 2001

—Peter Blasevick