The great Jackie McLean was born on this day in 1931. And when I mean great I mean just a motherfucker, in the way Miles meant it.
I came relatively late to McLean. There was something about his playing that put me off for a time, he was saying something I didn’t understand and say it in a way that overpowered my thinking. But I stuck with it, and in particular I listened to Bluesnik and New Soil again and again and again and again. And I started to get it, the incredible toughness and soul and blues, the kind of swagger that comes from strength and clarity and a sense of oneself.
With those, One Step Beyond and Destination…Out! made complete sense to me, and they became profound—the sound of a musician trying to break out of himself, willing to take a chance on faltering and failing because he had more to say and need to find the means to say it. With that, New and Old Gospel, with Ornette Coleman, was a complete triumph.
For me, this is the most important and fulfilling kind of music making, musicians taking risks to get from where they are to where they want to be, and that destination itself is undiscovered territory. Jackie McLean is one of my titans.
I was glad to write a Lest We Forget piece on McLean for the May issue of the New York City Jazz Record. Didn’t get to fit in all the words I wanted, but I would just add that his run of Blue Note records in the 1960s is some of the greatest and most important discography in jazz, and nothing on Blue Note surpasses it. You should listen to all fo them. Again and again and again and again and