DATE April 7, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Jazz saxophonist Jackie McLean on his career and life
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The alto saxophonist and composer Jackie McLean, one of the stars of jazz
since the late '50s, died one week ago at the age of 74. We're going to
listen back to an interview I recorded with him in 2001 in which he shared his
memories of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Charles
McLean started off as a Charlie Parker disciple, soon found his own voice, and
emerged as one of the leaders of hard bop. In the late '50s McLean played
with the band most associated with hard bop, Art Blakey and the Jazz
Messengers. Several of the albums he recorded for Blue Note in the '60s
headed in a more avant-garde direction. In 1970, McLean founded the African
American Music Department at the University of Hartford, where he taught until
Let's start with a track from Jackie McLean's 1963 recording "Destination
Out." This is "Love and Hate." Bobby Hutchinson is featured on vibes.
(Soundbite of "Love and Hate")
GROSS: That's Jackie McLean recorded in 1963. In 2001 he told me how he got
his first alto saxophone.
Mr. JACKIE McLEAN: I got it on my 15th birthday, but I had been playing a
year. My godfather Norman Cobbs played the saxophone and he gave me a soprano
saxophone for my 14th, when I was 14. And then my mom and my stepfather
bought me an alto when I was 15.
GROSS: Why did they get you the alto? Did you want it? Had you asked for
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, yeah. You know, the soprano saxophone didn't excite me at
all. It was straight. It was silver. It wasn't curved. It wasn't gold and
all the things that I use to like to look at when I saw someone playing the
saxophone. So it was like an odd duck. I couldn't wait to get what I called
a real saxophone.
GROSS: You said you really preferred the sound of a tenor saxophone and you
tried to make the alto sound like a tenor. How come you didn't get a tenor?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, I didn't know that much about the instruments at that
particular time. All I wanted was a saxophone. My mother went out and, I
guess, bought the cheapest one. The tenor cost more than an alto, so she
bought me an alto. And that was good in a way because I took the alto, and
even though I loved Lester Young and the tenor players, Dexter Gordon, I just
tried to do the best I could on my alto to make it sound that way until I
heard Charlie Parker. And when I heard Charlie Parker play the alto
saxophone, that kind of settled it for me.
GROSS: Were there things that other guys your age were doing that you shut
out of your life so that you'd have more time to practice?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, yeah. My friends were running behind Zorro and Batman and
Superman and all those people. And I was running behind Charlie Parker,
Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. They were my heroes.
GROSS: Jackie McLean is my guest. Bud Powell was one of your friends when
you were still a teenager and you learned a lot from him. How did you meet
Mr. McLEAN: Well, his brother came to my dad's record shop and I was playing
a record with Bud playing the piano on one of Charlie Parker's recordings.
And he just happened to be listening to it, and I happened to tell the person
that was buying the record that this was Bud Powell on the piano. And when
the guy bought the record and left, he came to me and said that's my brother,
Bud Powell. And I said, `Really?' I said, `What do you play? Do you play
music?' And he said no. And I took a good look at him and said, `Sure,
right.' I don't believe Bud Powell is your brother. So he said he'll prove it
to me. He came back that Sunday and took me around to his house, where I met
Bud. And it frightened me to death when Bud came into that room and sat down
at the piano and started playing. I almost passed out. I mean I was sitting
in the room with this great master that I didn't believe was his brother. And
from that moment on Bud and I became friends.
Of course, there was a great deal of difference in our ages. Bud is, I guess,
was about seven or eight years older than me. But he used to let me come down
to the house and bring my saxophone and play. He would play with me. And it
was very helpful. It really helped me a whole lot to get myself together
musically. And he did that for Sonny Rollins, too. In fact, Sonny made a
recording with Bud, I think, when he was very young, maybe around 18.
GROSS: So when this guy told you that he was Bud Powell's brother, but that
he didn't play, was that Richie Powell, because Richie Powell eventually did
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. It was Richie. Yeah, he did. I'm the one that started
him playing because Bud didn't want him to play music, and he did everything
he could to keep Richard from learning how to play.
GROSS: But why? Why was he opposed to it?
Mr. McLEAN: I have no idea. I think he was kind of to be protective of
Richard because during those days it was a lot of things going on in clubs
amongst musicians. And, I guess, it was kind of a protection. But, at any
rate, I encouraged Richard to study with somebody else, a piano player named
Bob Bunyan that I knew. And Richard was another genius, I mean, he learned
how to play immediately, as soon as he sat at the piano. Everything that Bob
Bunyan taught him he absorbed immediately. And so he and I began to hang out
and play together, play the blues and "I Got Rhythm," some very basic things
that he was beginning to learn as he started to learn how to play the piano.
GROSS: Good. OK.
Mr. McLEAN: The day that Richard came to the record shop, he was dressed in
paint clothes. He had paint all over him. He had a painter's hat, coveralls,
paint all over his hands, you know. And so when he said he was Bud's brother
and he didn't play music, I just did not believe him. I mean, it's just young
kids, that's how we are.
GROSS: When Bud Powell walked into the room, did you recognize him and
realize, `OK, it really is Bud Powell.' Or was it not until he started playing
that you were sure?
Mr. McLEAN: It wasn't until he started playing because I had never seen him
in my life. He walked in and said, `You don't believe that I'm Bud Powell?'
And that, God, I couldn't answer. I just looked. And he stepped over to the
piano and sat down and started to play. And, oh boy, I knew it was him the
minute he touched the piano.
GROSS: Let's pause from our interview with Jackie McLean and listen to Bud
Powell. This is "Tempest Fugue-it" recorded in 1949.
(Soundbite of "Tempest Fugue-it")
GROSS: That's Bud Powell. Let's get back to our interview with Jackie
McLean. He was just talking about getting to know Bud Powell.
Mr. McLEAN: It was an incredible moment for me in my life, you know. I
mean, that time that I spent with Bud was, I guess, I was just 15 at the time.
For the next two years, I was down at his house every week. I'd go down and
spend the weekends. And sometimes he would play and sometimes he wouldn't.
But I also got a chance to--his mom used to let me take him to his jobs, go
with him and accompany him to different jobs that he had. So I was able to go
with him to clubs like the Royal Roost when they used to have afternoon
sessions, and take Bud down so, and watch him play, bring him back home.
Because he had just come out of the hospital. He had a lot shock therapy and
he needed someone as a chaperone with him all the time during these years. So
I was very fortunate that fate chose me to be the person to accompany this
great genius. It was like going into a place with Bach or Beethoven, some
real great master of music.
GROSS: What kind of mental illness was he diagnosed with? Was it
Mr. McLEAN: Well, he got beat up in Philly. The police beat him up when he
was with Cootie Williams' band, and they hit him in the head with a blackjack
and he was sick from that. And, I don't know how his--what his diagnosis was.
But I do know they did electronic therapy on him, shock treatment.
GROSS: Shock therapy.
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. And when he came home--I didn't know him before he had
this shock therapy. So when he would ask me who is Sonny Stitt or did I make
a record with Charlie Parker, I mean, it was because he was trying to get his
mind together. It was an incredible period in his life.
GROSS: Was it difficult to communicate with him or to be friends with him
because of that problem?
Mr. McLEAN: Not really. He was like, it was childlike sometimes. He was in
a state of grace. You know, he was just music. I mean, he would sit down to
the piano and play and it was just incredible. And then he would ask me did
he sound good. And I would say yes. Or when he was getting dressed to go to
a job, he would ask me, `Do I look OK?' And I'd say, `Oh, yeah, Bud, you look
great. Come on let's go.' I mean it was like being with my little brother in
a way, you know.
GROSS: Why don't we hear a composition of Bud Powell's that you recorded in
1962 on your album "Let Freedom Ring." And this is "I'll Keep Loving You." Do
you want to say anything about this before we hear it?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, it's a beautiful ballad. Not very many people play it, and
I love it. So I was very fortunate to be one of the few musicians from my
period that recorded this piece.
GROSS: Here it is. Jackie McLean, 1962.
(Soundbite of "I'll Keep Loving You")
GROSS: That's the Bud Powell composition "I'll Keep Loving You" from Jackie
McLean's 1962 recording "Let Freedom Ring."
Jackie McLean, what are some of the things you learned from Bud Powell? What
was his approach to teaching you?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, you know, in a way he kind of spoiled me because I would
ask him about chord progressions and things like that, and he would say,
`Don't worry about that, just use your ears.' And he would play chords on the
piano and teach me melodies, and I would play with him. And I did as he said,
I used my ears. And so I was very late in really learning the theory of
musics. By the time I started playing with musicians like Miles Davis, I had
to really turn around and start to do a serious study on chord progressions
and such because I was a little behind just playing by ear.
GROSS: We're listening to an interview from 2001 with alto saxophonist and
composer Jackie McLean. He died last Friday at the age of 74. We'll hear
more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Let's get back to our 2001 interview with the alto saxophonist,
composer and teacher Jackie McLean. He died Tuesday--Friday, that is, at the
age of 74.
When you called your 1962 album "Let Freedom Ring," I figured you had two
meanings there. One might have had to do with free jazz and the freedom in
the music, and the other having to do with the Civil Rights Movement.
Mr. McLEAN: That's exactly right, because I was performing in Washington
when Martin Luther King did his speech there at the Lincoln Memorial. And I
was leaving town that day to go back to New York after a week in Washington,
and I recorded that album a few days later. And I was still very moved by
what Martin Luther King had to say that day and what I thought it would bring
GROSS: How involved did you get with the Civil Right's Movement? And I'm
also wondering how that affected your sense of yourself as a composer and
Mr. McLEAN: I was very involved in it. I did a lot of raising money for the
Black Panthers and for SNCC. And when they had the riots in Jersey, I took my
band and went over there and performed all day to raise money to get the
people that were locked up in jail for rioting out on bail. So I was very
close to the movement. I raised a lot of money for the Panthers all over the
GROSS: Do you feel like your music took on a political tinge to it during
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. Most musicians always have some kind of hidden agenda for
things to be better. When Charlie Parker recorded "Now is the Time," he meant
that now is the time for things to change for people. That's just what that
meant. And there's a lot of history in that music and a lot of politics in
the music that was performed during those years.
GROSS: Jackie McLean is my guest. Let's hear a track from "Let Freedom
Ring," and this is your composition "Melody for Melonae." Do you want to say
anything about it?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, that's my daughter Melonae. And we were supposed to be a
quintet that day, but the trumpet player got sick and couldn't make the
recording, so we recorded as a quartet. And it just happened, you know, I had
that piece that I had worked on, "Melody for Melonae," and we just stretched
it out and played it twice as long because we lost one of our members.
GROSS: Well, it's 13 minutes and 20 seconds.
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. It's very long. Yeah.
GROSS: Well, let's hear an excerpt of it.
Mr. McLEAN: OK.
GROSS: And this is Jackie McLean recorded in 1962.
(Excerpt from "Melody for Melonae")
GROSS: Alto saxophonist Jackie McLean from his 1962 recording "Let Freedom
Ring." The drummer on that recording was Billy Higgins, who was very sick with
kidney and liver failure when I spoke with McLean in March of 2001. Higgins
died about six weeks later at the age of 64. Jackie McLean told me that Billy
Higgins was one of his favorite drummers of all time. I asked what made his
drumming so special.
Mr. McLEAN: His concept of time and his talent for listening. I mean, he's
a marvelous accompanist. He hears everything a musician plays and responds to
it quietly, without being overbearing or getting in the way. And he's got a
beat that is just the happiest thing on earth, you know. He's beat is just
incredibly marvelous. I mean, I can be depressed and feel like the weight of
the world is on my shoulders, and once I step up on the stage with Billy
Higgins and look back there and see him playing, I'm in good shape because
he's got such a marvelous feel.
GROSS: What happens when you're playing with a drummer who isn't very good?
Mr. McLEAN: I don't play with them too often. That only happens...
GROSS: I think that's true. Yeah.
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. I don't get a, I mean, I've been very fortunate. I have
played with some of the greatest drummers that have picked up sticks, you
know, from Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Max Roach, Jack DeJohnette, all the
marvelous. Billy Higgins, of course. And,I've been fortunate to have
performed with great, great drummers. Michael Carvin, one of my favorites.
GROSS: Jackie McLean recorded in 2001. He died Friday at the age of 74.
We'll hear more of the interview in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of jazz music)
GROSS: We're listening to Jackie McLean with Art Blakey and the Jazz
Messengers. Coming up more of our 2001 interview with Jackie McLean in which
he described working with Blakey, who he thought of as a big brother, playing
with Miles Davis, and being encouraged by his idol Charlie Parker.
McLean died last Friday at the age of 74.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview
I recorded with alto saxophonist and composer Jackie McLean in 2001, the year
that the National Endowment for the Arts gave him a Jazz Masters Award.
McLean died Friday, last Friday, at the age of 74.
After playing with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey, McLean became
one of the leaders of the kind of jazz known as Hard Bop. He headed the
African American music program at the University of Hartford from 1970 until
Your first record date, when you were 19, was with Miles Davis, and I'm
wondering how you got the date?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, you know, you don't get a date. You earn it. Bud called
me to the house one day and told me, he said, `Listen, Miles needs an alto
player. I want you to do down and sit in with him in Birdland, the club.' So
I'll never forget it. It was a Monday night. So I came in from school that
afternoon and practiced and headed down to Birdland where Miles had left my
name on the door. And I went in and sat in with his band. And I guess he
liked the way I played and he said, `Come out to my house tomorrow.' And he
gave me his address. I went to his house. We practiced the next day. Then I
started getting a few jobs with him. And Sonny Rollins was also working in
Miles' band, so we were together again in Miles' band.
GROSS: What was the advice or instructions that Miles gave you for this
Mr. McLEAN: Well, one of the things that he told me, he says, `You got to
learn something about the piano. You know nothing about the piano. You need
to learn, important, how to construct chords, and you've got to learn how to
play by chord progressions as well as by ear.' And so that was very helpful to
me. Miles was very encouraging to me during those years.
GROSS: Do you want to choose a track from this session with Miles Davis, the
"Dig" session, that you'd like to play?
Mr. McLEAN: Maybe the title track.
GROSS: Sounds good.
Mr. McLEAN: "Dig."
GROSS: Let's hear it.
(Soundbite of "Dig")
GROSS: That's "Dig" from the Miles Davis CD of the same name. It was the
first recording session that my guest Jackie McLean was featured on back when
McLean was 19 years old.
Did this date change your life?
Mr. McLEAN: It certainly did. It frightened me to death because the day
that I went into the studio to make the recording, Charlie Parker was there.
He was sitting in the room with the engineers. And when I walked in and saw
him sitting in there, I almost passed out because he was my idol, and I just
felt like I couldn't play with him there. But he came out of the booth. He
saw that I was nervous and came over and talked to me and calmed me down, and
I was able to do it.
GROSS: Did he say anything about what he thought of your playing?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, yeah. He always encouraged me to play and always told me he
thought I played well. You know, a guy like Charlie Parker could destroy a
young player by just saying, `You don't sound good at all. You need to go
home and practice.' Or something like that, and it could really crush somebody
who looked up and admired him as much as I did. So he--I imagine he could see
that, and he really encouraged me a lot. He did a lot for me in my early
GROSS: Was this the first time you met Parker?
Mr. McLEAN: No. Oh, my goodness. I used to run around behind him like a
puppy dog. We used to go down town and wait to see him come out of the subway
when he was going to work at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street. And we'd be
standing out there from 8:30 at night waiting for him to show up. Sometimes
he didn't show up until 9, 9:15. And when he'd come out of the subway, we'd
fall right in step with him and talk to him all the way around to the club,
and then he'd go inside. Just to be close to him. Just so that he would know
us and be one of my buddies.
GROSS: And was he flattered? Did he mind?
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah, he was, I think it knocked him out, especially when he
asked my friend and I if we lived in that neighborhood. And we told him, no,
we came down from Harlem to see him. So he said, `You guys live all the way
uptown?' We said, `Yeah.' `You come all the way down here.' `Yeah.' I'd say,
`Gotta get going to get home now, my mothers going to kill me.' Because I used
to have to be home before 10:30 at night, and so we'd go downtown at 8:30, see
Charlie Parker, walk him to the club, stand outside the club until about
quarter of 10, and make a mad dash for the subway so we could get home.
GROSS: What would happen if you didn't get home by 10:30?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, my mom would be very upset with me, you know, she would be
very angry with me and say, `Listen, when I tell you to be at 10:30, I don't
mean quarter to 11 or 11. I want you in here at 10:30 or you can't go out
next weekend.' So she was very strict on me that way.
GROSS: And would she actually have prevented you from getting out, or would
you have like walked out the window?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, no. My mom was--I was an only child. I knew how to hug and
kiss her and get her to let me go. Yeah.
GROSS: Now there were times when Charlie Parker had to hawk his saxophone in
order to get money in order to buy heroine. And he would sometimes borrow
your horn for dates. And I think there were one or two times when he actually
hawked your horn as well. How did you feel about giving it to him knowing
that that could happen?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, it wasn't quite that simple. Charlie and I used to rent
horns from off of 48th Street and 46th Street. And when he had the horn,
sometimes I needed to use it, he would loan it to me. And one time he came to
me and asked me to go rent the horn from the store, and I went and did that.
And then he came and borrowed the horn from me and pawned it. And so I had to
go back to the store and say the horn is gone. And the man was very upset
with me, you know, was angry at me for a number of years, but eventually
Charlie straightened it out.
GROSS: What did he do?
Mr. McLEAN: I think he went by the store and paid him $300 or whatever it
GROSS: Would you get angry with Parker for that or just kind of accept it as
part of who he was?
Mr. McLEAN: I couldn't get angry with him for anything. I mean, those
problems that he had, I didn't understand it at that particular time. I never
got really angry at him about anything.
GROSS: Now, how did knowing him and loving his playing as much as you did
change your idea of what to do on alto saxophone?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, it's like somebody teaching you the next step and showing
you the next direction to go in. I think that's what he did for all of us. I
mean, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, practically all of sax--I would say all us
saxophone players that came during that period. Charlie Parker was a person
that pointed in the direction and then everybody tried to develop their
playing style according to what he had done prior to 1945, '46. Because early
on he sounded very much like Lester Young. And it was much easier to copy
some of his ideas that he played when he was working with Jay McShann, but
from around 1945 on his playing became so intricate and technical that very
few young saxophone players could copy his stuff.
GROSS: We're listening back to our interview with alto saxophonist and
composer Jackie McLean. He died last Friday at the age of 74. We'll hear
more of the interview after the break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: We're remembering the alto saxophonist, composer and teacher Jackie
McLean. He died last Friday at the age of 74. Before we get back to the
interview we recorded in 2001, and hear his memories of playing with Charles
Mingus, let's hear McLean's solo on the Mingus composition of "My Jelly Roll
Soul" from the 1959 Mingus recording "Blues & Roots."
(Soundbite of "My Jelly Roll Soul")
GROSS: Jackie McLean with the Charles Mingus band in 1959. I asked McLean
what he learned from playing with Mingus.
Mr. McLEAN: He was determined for me to have my own voice. He used to get
really upset if I quoted any of Charlie Parker's ideas in my solos. He would
come to me after I maybe would have played a line that Charlie Parker played
on a record, and he'd come up to me and say, `Jackie, when are you going to
stop doing that? You've got your own sound. Play your own ideas, please.'
You know, he used to say that to me all the time. And it helped me a great
deal. I mean, I still quote Charlie Parker some time when I'm performing in a
club or somewhere in a concert, because it's like part of the language. But I
understood where Charlie was coming from. He was really determined for me to
get my own sound and my own style.
GROSS: Did he say that in a nice way or was he belligerent?
Mr. McLEAN: I--that's good. (Laughing) That was a good question. Sometimes
he would be mad. He would be angry. Other times he would be sweet. Charlie
was a very complicated man, very difficult person sometimes to perform with,
but a great genius of the music.
GROSS: And how did you take the criticism? Did you think, `Oh, it's nice to
be criticized. It will help me grow.' Or were you initially pretty upset or
mad that you were getting criticized?
Mr. McLEAN: No, I never got mad at Charlie for that because I knew at the
time that he had had the experience. He had worked with all the great
musicians. And he was a great genius himself, and his compositions were
great. I enjoyed playing them. And so, you know, I listened to him like a
big brother and took his counsel to heart.
GROSS: Do you think that part of the reason why his records are so great and
why musicians tend to sound so terrific when they played with him was that he
would push them, push them hard?
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. He was always looking for the new ground, you know,
always looking for a new feeling, a new sound. At the same time, he always
liked to maintain the blues and the roots of the music. And so you got all of
that with Charlie. You got the roots of the music from the gospel and the
blues. And you got the freedom to go out and experiment with new and fresher
sounds playing with Charlie.
I also learned a great deal from Art Blakey, the years that I spent in the
Jazz Messengers. That was some of my happiest years in a band, and Art Blakey
was a great leader and I learned so much from him.
GROSS: Though temperament wise he strikes me as the opposite of the really
mercurial and sometimes violent temper Charles Mingus, Blakey just seemed like
he was just such a nice guy.
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. He was a rough guy, too, though.
GROSS: Was he?
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah, he was tough, Art Blakey, but he was the big brother. He
was like my big brother. That's the best way I can say it. And I learned so
much from him about how to lead a band and how to keep a band, and how to deal
with other musicians in this business.
GROSS: But, like what?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, I learned how to keep a band rehearsed. I learned how to
talk to an audience from the stage, because I had never opened my mouth on a
microphone before I went with Art Blakey's band. And all of these things that
weren't important to me early on, suddenly became important. You know, he
used to say, `Look, man, one of these days you're going to have your own band
and you've got to go to the microphone and say something to your audience. So
I want you to, tonight, when we finish the first set, I want you to go to the
microphone.' And he use to say, `Turn us off.' And so I would go to the mike
and announce everybody's name and have the audience applaud for Art Blakey and
leave the stage.
GROSS: Were you mike shy?
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah, of course. I think most musicians that never talk into a
microphone but only play instruments in a mike are mike shy in the beginning.
I know I was. I didn't think I would have, you know, I was nervous. I didn't
want to go to a mike and talk to an audience. But Art kind of forced us to,
you know. Every night he would send a different person to the mike.
GROSS: Now, when you say that he was tough, what do you mean?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, because, I mean, he conducted his band like almost like a
unit, an army. You know? We had uniforms, and he had rehearsals set for a
particular time, and we traveled in two cars on the road. I rode with Art and
the other guys rode in the other car. And we traveled from city to city. And
he was a great leader, strong leader and somebody that I really admired and
loved all my life.
GROSS: Now, I think it was in 1970 that you started teaching and you founded
the Department of African American Music at the University of Hartford. Why
did you start teaching?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, it just happened. Some students came to a club I was
working in New York, a club called Slugs on the Lower East Side, and they
asked me to come up to the school to look at their program, and that they
wanted someone to teach some courses in African American music history. So I
went up and met the students, met with the students, and it just happened. I
started commuting to Hartford in 1968 one day a week, and one day led to two
days a week. And, it just slowly developed.
Max Roach and Archie Shepp were some of the first guys that went into the
schools to start to develop programs, and I followed in 1970 and built my
department from scratch, and had Jackie Bide up there with me and Paul
Jeffrey. And I had many, many master classes there with Dexter Gordon and
some of the fine--Duke Jordan--some of the finest musicians in the business.
And so it's a wonderful program at the Hartford School of Music. And just
recently, last November, they've changed the name of the department. Now it's
called the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz.
GROSS: No, no, really?
Mr. McLEAN: It's running very well.
GROSS: Do you feel like your playing is still changing?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, I hope so. I practice every day. And that's my whole
purpose, to practice, to work on things that I'm not doing musically, and work
on things that I'm trying to accomplish musically. So, sure. I spend some
time at the piano practicing compositions written by great musicians. This
morning I was playing some Thelonious Monk things on the piano, some Al
Waldren things, beautiful songs that these people have written. And before I
came to the studio today, I practiced for an hour on the saxophone. So I
still work at it every day.
GROSS: So when did you learn to play piano? You mentioned that when you were
19, Miles Davis suggested that you need to understand the piano and understand
chords on the piano, but you didn't own one so you couldn't really do that.
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. It really started in 1967, almost nine years after Miles
told me to get started. I finally got a piano and started to work out chord
progressions and to learn to play. And so I'm very happy that I did that
because it is very enjoyable.
GROSS: In what ways that it helpful?
Mr. McLEAN: Well, because you can see how a musician like Thelonious Monk
constructs a melody, or how he puts his chords together to get particular
colors that he gets out of the instrument. And his pallet is broad, you know,
I mean, some of the colors that he gets out of--the sounds he gets out of the
chords are dark, and some of them are old as ragtime and have a beautiful
tinge to them. And, yet, in still some of the other things that Thelonious
plays are like somebody throwing water on you. You know? It splashes off of
you. So it's interesting to sit down and analyze musicians, what they've
written and to try to play it on the piano yourself. You learn a lot.
GROSS: You actually wrote a book of, I think, practice exercises for
saxophonists. What kind of warm-up or daily practice do you do?
Mr. McLEAN: Just what's in that book. First, I start out with playing long
tones to try to develop my muscles in my mouth, the embouchure. And then I
play through a series of scales and chords just to get my fingers limbered up.
And I put it all in that book. It's called "The Jackie McLean Warm-up," and
it's really what I've trained all my saxophone players with, you know, playing
scales and chords chromatically, so that you're covering every key of the
GROSS: Do you have a good memory?
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. I do.
GROSS: Well, I think that's really important when you're playing in a lot of
different keys, no?
Mr. McLEAN: Oh, you know, very important. You know, one of the things that
I think is most important is--oh, I forgot.
Mr. McLEAN: Yeah. I have a good memory. I just had to say that.
GROSS: Well, thank you for being so corny.
Mr. McLEAN: Thank you for accepting that.
GROSS: Jackie McLean, it's been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you very
Mr. McLEAN: Thank you, Terry. It's been great. I had a wonderful time
talking to you.
GROSS: Alto saxophonist and composer and teacher Jackie McLean, recorded in
2001. He died one week ago at the age of 74.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews Nicole Holofcener's
"Friends With Money"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Nicole Holofcener had an indy hit in 2001 with her feature "Lovely & Amazing."
Her new film "Friends With Money" is an ensemble comedy that stars Jennifer
Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand. Film critic
David Edelstein has the review.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Humanist, female centric, socially conscious comedy
dramas with characters you want to talk about, played by 40-something
actresses you want to see, Hollywood doesn't make too many of them, or any
really. So even if Nicole Holofcener's "Friends With Money" doesn't quite
snap into focus, it feels vital and alive in ways that mainstream movies
In Holofcener's last film "Lovely and Amazing" the writer/director explored
women's estrangement from their own bodies, a theme so traumatic that most
commercial movie makers won't go near it.
"Friends With Money" revolves around another uncomfortable subject. It's
about what happens in an intensely materialistic culture when long-time gal
pals find themselves in vastly different economic brackets. No, that's not an
accurate description. You could see "Friends With Money," enjoy it immensely
and not fully register what it's about. It's about couple having dinner and
shopping and driving around Los Angeles. It's character driven, a slice of
Holofcener doesn't trumpet her big themes. It's more like she circles around
them. Here she juggles four female friends, three in couples and one between
beaus and at loose ends. Franny and Matt, played by Joan Cusack and Greg
Germann, are super rich with nary a care. Jane and Aaron, played by Frances
McDormand and Simon McBurney, are prosperous but have unspoken sexual
tensions. A lot of people think the effeminate clothes horse Aaron is gay,
and he might be, although spending money on clothes is a preoccupation of many
rich men in LA. Christine and David, played by Catherine Keener and Jeremy
Isaacs, are screen writers, doing fine money-wise. But David wants to one up
the neighbors by adding a story to the house.
The hub of the film is Olivia, played by Jennifer Aniston. She's a near
penniless, pothead ex-teacher who's reduced to caging free cosmetic samples
from department stores. She amazes her affluent friends by working as a maid.
When Cusack's Franny fixes her up with a crudely sexist fitness instructor,
she thinks maybe she could learn to be a trainer herself.
(Soundbite of "Friends With Money")
Ms. JENNIFER ANISTON: (As Olivia) So the course is $1800 and I pay it back
over a period of time.
Ms. JOAN CUSACK: (As Franny) That's a lot of money.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) But I make it back.
Ms. CUSACK: (As Franny) Why don't you just go back to teaching? Teach poor
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) That's not my calling.
Unidentified Actor: Miss Franny, I'm going home now.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) Hi, Teresa. Hey, you know what? I'm doing what
you do now.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) I'm a housekeeper.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) Cleaning houses.
Ms. CUSACK: (As Franny) OK, good night.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) Bye.
That's so stupid.
Ms. CUSACK: (As Franny) I'm just--I'm just sort of confused because you're
my only friend who doesn't like to exercise and you're going to be a trainer.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) But I don't--I don't understand, what's the, I
mean, do accountants have to love numbers? Do nannies have to love children?
Ms. CUSACK: (As Franny) Yeah.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) Franny, if you had to work, what would you do?
Ms. CUSACK: (As Franny) I feel like I work. I feel like taking care of my
kids is work.
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) But you have full-time help.
Ms. CUSACK: (As Franny) That's true. Are you trying to make me feel bad?
Ms. ANISTON: (As Olivia) No. I don't think.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: What an interesting subtext there must have been on the set,
given that Aniston probably has more money than all the other actors combined.
She's always been a non-starter on the big screen, but her rather mushy
passivity works really well for Olivia. She throws off little glints of
perversity. In one scene she avails herself of the vibrator of a woman she
works for. And it helps that she has a colorful ensemble to take some weight
The heart of all of Holofcener's movies, including her first, "Walking and
Talking," is Catherine Keener, whose persona strikes the perfect balance
between confidence and vulnerability. She's accommodating to men, but too
well defended and quick witted and prickly to surrender. Keener is so
refreshingly real that it's gotten to the point where any movie she's in, I'm
Just as terrific is Frances McDormand, who plays a standard Holofcener
character the injustice collector. Her Jane is a successful fashion designer
so angry at the world's indifference that she's on the verge of a breakdown.
And if Cusack's Franny seems a bit of a drip, money has fuzzed her head, the
actress makes her ether ethereally funny.
Holofcener builds scenes around motifs that resonant: Olivia's accumulating
face cream samples, the hopeless Jane's unwashed hair. And the screenplay on
which Christine and David collaborate a great metaphor for their relationship
in that she's writing a character for one kind of movie and he's writing one
for another. The characters don't mesh. That's not a metaphor for "Friends
With Money." It's digressive and not too sharply focused, but the characters
are wonderfully of apiece.
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.