May 20, 2007
By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN, Courant Staff Writer
It was seemingly a day for the blues in Hartford's Upper Albany neighborhood, with a shivering chill and a steady drizzle falling from Saturday's gray skies.
But there were only smiles and jazz at one street corner, as the city renamed a section of Woodland Street in honor of alto saxophone great Jackie McLean, one of the city's most accomplished and devoted sons, who died last year.
The block of Woodland running alongside the Artists Collective, the cultural institution McLean and his wife, Dollie, founded more than 30 years ago, is now known as "Jackie McLean Way" - with the "J" fittingly represented by a saxophone.
"He gave Hartford, and the world, the greatest gift imaginable: himself. The gift that Jackie gave was his humanity and his music," Mayor Eddie Perez told a crowd that gathered at the Artists Collective for the unveiling.
Friends said it was that dual legacy - as both a successful artist and a committed champion for young musicians - that earned McLean a permanent marker in the city.
McLean recorded dozens of albums, and performed with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and other jazz icons. But after settling in Hartford, he also built the Artists Collective and the jazz-studies program at the University of Hartford's acclaimed Hartt School. In 2000, the program was renamed the Jackie McLean Institute.
Dollie McLean continues to serve as executive director of the Artists Collective, which offers musical and other cultural training for more than 1,000 children a year. Today, both McLeans will receive honorary doctorates during commencement exercises at the University of Hartford.
As musicians beat on Djembes and other African drums Saturday, a costumed performer on stilts walked rhythmically toward a tall pole on the corner of Albany Avenue and Woodland Street, where a white tarp covered the new street sign. To the pounding beat, the performer pulled at the covering, as dozens of purple, yellow and orange balloons were released into the sky and the crowd cheered. In the center, family members craned their heads toward the pole, and beamed.
"I think it's wonderful - wonderful and touching. And I so appreciate it, I really do," Dollie McLean said after the unveiling.
Dollie McLean said her husband would have enjoyed Saturday's ceremony, which included several jazz and dance performances inside the Artists Collective. But James J. Amoroso, McLean's road manager and long-time friend, said McLean's humble side would have been evident, too.
"I know exactly what he would say," Amoroso said. "He would say: `Man! Come on, man!'"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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