Festival A Fitting Honor For Jazz Master Jackie McLean
May 14, 2008
John Lenwood McLean, one of the greatest jazz masters of his time, called Hartford home.
So, it's only fitting that the city is throwing a party to honor the late alto sax maestro this weekend. The inaugural Jackie McLean International Arts Festival has the makings of an annual signature event with international appeal.
"It's a great way to perpetuate J-Mac's profound legacy through music and the arts," said Steve Davis, a McLean protege. He and other former J-Mac students teach music at the University of Hartford's Jackie McLean Institute. Many of them, including son Rene McLean, will perform Saturday night.
"I think the potential for this is unlimited. It's a great way to unify the Greater Hartford music and arts community and the entire community at large."
McLean, who died in March of 2006 at 74, had a global fan base.
He and wife Dollie co-founded the Artists Collective cultural arts nonprofit in 2000. Jackie also founded the African American Music Department at UHart's Hartt School, which in 2000 was renamed the Jackie McLean Jazz Institute.
Jackie McLean's links to the Collective and the nearby university, which will soon open a 71,000-square-foot performing arts center, provide synergy to make a dynamic cultural corridor along Upper Albany Avenue.
In cities across the country — New Orleans, Chicago, Newport, R.I. — marquee jazz fests attract thousands and become major tourist magnets. The Hartford area has several popular jazz events, including The Festival of Jazz, The Hartford International Jazz Festival and Paul Brown's Monday Night Jazz. The J-Mac shouldn't be seen as usurping these. But it does add stature to the mix because of McLean's renown and persona.
Last year, I lobbed an idea for the city to host an annual jazz bash in McLean's honor to raise money for the Collective. The e-mails churned. Folks wanted in. Some mistook me for the point person. I had to clarify that I'm not an event planner. I just play one now and then in the newspaper.
This coming event is a collaboration among the Collective, UHart, the city of Hartford's cultural affairs office and the Hartford Public Library.
In five decades of performing, McLean collaborated on more than 200 albums and played with legends such as Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Dizzy Gillespie.
Eventually, the curriculum at the McLean Institute should be expanded to include CDs, video, merchandise and samples of his work.
Raised in Harlem, the former heroin addict used his troubles and passion for music to teach those who would come into his orbit about life, discipline, African American history and respect for cultures.
"He helped a lot of people, aspiring musicians and artists, but also just regular people dealing with the challenges of life," said Melonae McLean, Jackie's daughter, who is a director at the Collective.
On Friday, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the library on Main Street, local artists from the Collective and the university will perform free. Saturday's event, at 10 a.m. at the Collective's Albany Avenue building, starts with a student musical performance, followed by a panel discussion from 3 to 5 p.m. on McLean's life, music and legacy.
At 8 p.m. there is a jazz concert at the Collective, showcasing a host of McLean's proteges and featuring a saxophone salute. Tickets are $15.
Hartford is jazzing it up this week.
The spirit of J-Mac is back.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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