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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 133

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This is the grave of Jackie McLean.

Born in 1931 in Harlem to a jazz family, McLean became one of the premier alto saxophone players of his time. Knowing people such as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker as a child surely did not hurt and by the time he was in high school, he was in a band with Sonny Rollins, Andy Kirk Jr., and Kenny Drew. He instantly reached the pantheon of bands upon graduating from high school. He played on Miles Davis’ Dig album in 1951, though the album was not released until 1956. He joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, but only after a very brief stay with Charles Mingus, where Mingus punched him and McLean responded with a knife. Luckily, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, McLean undermined his own career through a heroin addiction, an all too common problem in the jazz scene of the 1950s. Yet he still recorded dozens of albums, often as a sideman, sometimes in his own band. Perhaps his well-known album is 1962’s Let Freedom Ring. As his version of hard bop went out of fashion in the late 60s, he lost his Blue Note recording contract. He moved to Hartford where he started a center to remember and foster the culture of the African diaspora and mentored young musicians. He had an unlikely and brief comeback in 1979, when he recorded a disco track that reached #53 on the British charts. He played to the end of his life, in 2006. Here’s some of his work:

Jackie McLean is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

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