Jackie McLean died March 31, 2006. He was 74.
I met Jackie in 1982 when I was 16 years old. I was seriously into being a jazz saxophonist by that time and it was a friend of mine from high school who brought me to a concert of Jackie’s students at the Hartt School.
I still remember that concert which featured Sue Terry and a bunch of Jackie’s other students but mostly I remember Sue; and Jackie shepherding his flock. I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to be.
I started listening to Jackie’s music around that time. One of the first albums was Swing, Swang, Swingin’ and his solo on “I Remember You”. The other one was Demon’s Dance with Woody Shaw and Jackie’s burning solo on “Floogeh”. The music touched my soul. There began my obsession with Jackie McLean.
I wrote him a letter that was half fan mail and half inquiry about his jazz degree program and he wrote me back. I still have that letter in a scrap book. He had this really off beat way he folded the letter into the envelope – I remember folding my letters exactly the same way for many years to come. I know that’s weird – but you see Jackie was THAT cool. All his students wanted to do almost everything just like him.
On his invitation I went up to Hartt and met with him, several albums in hand (New Wine In Old Bottles was one) for him to autograph, which he did graciously. One album he signed “To Charley – I’m Betting On Him Being One of the Best One Day” Imagine me – a 16 year old boy in the presence of one of the LEGENDS – a man who KNEW Bird and had recorded with Miles, Monk, Mingus and Art Blakey and he said that to me, in writing! Few people I’ve met in life have shown more grace than that.
After talking with him for a while that day he invited me to his home for a lesson. I began going to his house in Hartford for lessons about twice a month. I’d call Dollie (Jackie’s Wife) on the phone and ask for “Mr. McLean” (I must’ve sounded like a telemarketer). If he wasn’t busy with the Collective or practicing he’d come to the phone and we’d schedule another lesson. I’d go to Jackie’s house on Saturday mornings. He’d show me scales, patterns, ways to play long tones, and turn me on to recordings of Bird and Trane. We’d trade choruses to Jamey Abersold play-a-long recordings. He showed me how to play Giant Steps. A famous quote from Jackie, “It took me six MONTHS to learn Giant Steps… and I was in jail!”. When the lesson was over, he’d tell me to go home and memorize everything he had shown me and then call him back. I always did and within a week or two or three I was calling on the phone to make a date for more.
I remember the Saturday Penelope died – A lovely sweet dog whom Jackie adored. I remember Jackie placing a flower with her when they came to take her little body away.
I’ll never forget the day a student in one of Jackie’s history classes made a rather insulting and very disrespectful remark that I can’t or won’t remember. What I will NEVER forget is the look on Jackie’s face. His entire ESSENCE changed, like a master actor his posture changed, he cocked his head and he leaned on the podium pulling his lips back so you could see his teeth. His eyes shot pure penetrating rays of death in this kid’s direction. It was FRIGHTENING. A bitter chill filled the room. I don’t think he actually needed to say anything – The kid left without any additional drama. Jackie Mclean, for all his grace and patience, was not one to be messed with.
I remember the time Jackie took me out to lunch at a restaurant in Hartford’s North End. His intention was to introduce me to the whitefish sandwich. It was the best meal I ever had. I remember the first time I went with him to the Artists Collective in Hartford. We pulled up and parked along Clark Street where the old home of the Collective used to be. I got out of the car and it was the first time I’d heard West African style drumming. The entire building shook with energy. The sound filled the entire block. It was amazing.
IÂ remember Jackie’s little red Honda car. I remember when he bought the buff colored Caddy. Jackie told me how he and Rene had driven up to Cape Cod and taken the new car through it’s paces on the way.
I remember one time Jackie went to Japan for Blue Note and brought me back a Sake cup (because my name is spelled Socci). “Its a Sake cup for Charley Sock-ee”. Despite the creative pronunciation of my name I cherish my sake cup.
I remember when Sonny Rollins came and did a concert in Hartford at the Lincoln Theater, and Jackie took me and a handful of other students back stage. Jackie introduced me (at that point speechless) to Sonny. Sonny said (in his inimitable Marvin the Martian-like speaking voice) – “CHARLIE – that’s a very special name [as in Charlie Parker], do you know that?”. I still have the program Sonny autographed, writing “1968” instead of “1986” for the date. I always wondered if there were any kind of odd significance to the error.
Jackie was much more than a teacher or jazz legend to me. He had a profoundly powerful influence on me as a human being during my late teens and my years at Hartt. He was someone I am more than proud to have known. I will never forget Jackie McLean.