Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean passed away on this day in 2004 having been born in New York City in 1931. He recorded for Prestige in the second half of the 1950s before switching to Blue Note in 1959 where he recorded a string of albums including Let Freedom Ring, arguably the best of the bunch. Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s in Englewood Cliffs on 19 March 1962 it features Walter Davis on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass and drummer Billy Higgins. The cover of the album is yet another striking Reid Miles design with his innovative use of typography to make this LP stand out from the crowd.
“I am proud to say that my musical schooling has been at the universities of Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and of course Bird. Many of my early days in jazz were spent at Monk’s house. Monk has been a dear friend of mine for many years”. Jackie McLean, liner notes to Let Freedom Ring
*Three tracks are McLean originals and ‘I’ll Keep Loving You’ is a Bud Powell tune. All four are fabulous and the saxophonist’s playing is inspired, which is why this album is so justly revered. From the opening bars of ‘Melody For Melonae’, with Higgins’s drums sounding as though they are right there in the room, you know you are in for something special and significantly different from a Blue Note date of the period.
Throughout Let Freedom Ring there is evidence of the influence of Ornette Coleman. Higgins was a Coleman band alumnus, but this recording remains a unique post-bop album that has elements of the avant-garde on display and it feels like the link from the old to the new. Yet despite its modernist credentials, the music is also steeped in the blues: both tracks on side two of the original album are based on the old 12-bars.
McLean had already cut nine albums for Prestige before his 1959 Blue Note debut, New Soil, and this was his seventh record for the label – in spite of his prodigious output he was still only 30 when this album was recorded. His first Blue Note session had been in 1952 for Miles Davis, a week before his 21st birthday.
A comparative rarity among Blue Note albums from the period, this one features McLean’s own liner notes, and very good and informative they are, too. He was well aware of his position in the pantheon of jazz and the one thing that comes over clearly is his humility. McLean later became a teacher and founded his own musicians’ collective.