July 4, 2007
By STAN SIMPSON, Courant Staff Writer
By now you know of my infatuation with the late, great Jackie McLean.
A jazz virtuoso, McLean conquered heroin, mastered the alto saxophone and used his street moxie, international renown and passion for music and history to mentor dozens of young musicians.
Last month, the city of Hartford recognized the section of Woodland Street abutting the Artists Collective - founded by Dollie and Jackie McLean - as "Jackie McLean's Way."
It was a small measure to honor a music giant, who died last year at 74. But it should be just the beginning.
Consider this an informal proposal for an annual Jackie McLean Jazz Festival in Hartford. We can even host it on the Fourth of July weekend for this American original who was born in New York but called Hartford home.
Picture a three-day jazz binge featuring live music at the Bushnell on Friday; a golf tournament at Keney Park and a black tie affair Saturday at the nearby Artists Collective, followed by a performance by Collective students Sunday.
The J-Mac Jazz Fest would be a signature event to celebrate the life, music and legacy of a legend.
Proceeds could go to the Collective, and to help establish the Jackie McLean Museum - which would showcase McLean's five decades of work, including his international performances, more than 200 albums and collaborations with such greats as Miles Davis, Art Blakely and Dizzy Gillespie.
Yes, the fest would be a bear to organize. But a partnership of the Collective, the University of Hartford (home to the Jackie McLean Jazz Institute), the city of Hartford and corporate Hartford would make this work. The folks at Bradley International Airport - now offering nonstop flights to Europe - might also want a piece of this.
"It could be a real international event because people would come from all over the world," Dollie McLean said when I bounced the idea off her last month. "Of course, it's a bit to organize. Somebody really has to lay their hands on it who knows what they're doing. But it would give Hartford that boost that it needs, if the right people understand the vision and what it can do. ... And it would fill the hotels downtown."
Hartford, with its evolving convention center, is in "Think Big" mode. Jazz is a genre that attracts an eclectic mix of people simply looking for a good groove and a good time. The city hosts other jazz events, including Paul Brown's Monday Night Jazz series that starts next week. The Festival of Jazz kicks off July 20-22 at Bushnell Park. The Hartford International Jazz Festival Oct. 5-7 is unique in that it features live band performances at more than 20 downtown restaurants.
"The key is to make it distinct," said Domingo Guerra, artistic director for the Hartford International Jazz Fest, now in its sixth year. "And the distinction with the Jackie McLean festival is that it would be a celebration of his life and music. If you put it together right and make it different from the other three [jazz events], you have a shot."
Hartford jazzman Steve Davis, a McLean protégé, said drawing big-name artists to celebrate McLean wouldn't be a problem.
"I absolutely think it would be fantastic and extremely viable for the city of Hartford," Davis said. "The Hartford area jazz community, I think, would respond very well. And you'd probably draw people nationally and internationally. ... The focal point being the Collective is the perfect scenario. You'd be raising money for such a good cause."
OK, so let's make the J-Mac Jazz Fest a reality. Who wants in?
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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