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Jackie McLean And The Emotional Reaction To Jazz

Tom Brown
President, Jazz Audience Advocates



Tom Brown
President, Jazz Audience Advocates

When I was 16 years old, my parent (as they did for a number of years), dragged me along for a week at a small, inexpensive, and somewhat seedy mom & pop motel on the ocean just north of Ft. Lauderdale. After a swim or two in the ocean and a few hours amusing myself watching the guests and their dogs slam into the unmarked sliding glass door that led to the lobby, I was completely bored with the situation. On the third day of the stay, I walked a few miles south into town, found a record shop and began searching through the jazz section. At the time I was listening to the west coast folks such as Art Pepper and Bob Cooper; and as a young drummer, I thought jazz drumming began and ended with Buddy Rich. I found Miles Davis' “Dig;” and while I didn’t recognize any of the musicians, I liked the cover.

On a low flimsy wood table just inside the front door of the motel was a cheap record player with a worn out needle and a small speaker out by the pool. I put on my new record and my life changed.

I immediately connected with Miles, Art Blakey, and Sonny Rollins, but I had an overwhelmingly positive emotional response to Jackie McLean. I couldn’t believe how good he sounded. As I appeared at the pool each morning for the remainder of the week, the faces of the other guests dropped because they knew it was the beginning of another day of annoying, incomprehensible noise poolside. The album, a 33 rpm, 12 inch vinyl record, was worn out by the time we left for home.

Once home, I replaced the album with a fresh copy and bought everything I could find by Jackie. Without knowing it, I began to hard-wire his playing into my brain.  Within six months I was able to scat along with most of his solos. I grew to know his playing so well that as each new album came out, I could identify every new lick, in addition to new permutations of older ones. I began to emulate one of his favorite drummers, Art Taylor.

About a year later, for some reason I went back to listen to an album, a 10-inch vinyl record produced by Norman Granz that featured Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich in the rhythm section. Originally, I bought the album because Buddy was on it and I remember thinking that Parker, the alto player, had great chops and time, and I was impressed because he had the ability to keep up with Buddy on the up tempos.  Such was the state of my orientation and sophistication. But when I listened this time, two things happened: The fascination for Buddy Rich was gone; and suddenly I could hear Charlie Parker. I wasn't sure how, but Jackie showed me the way. I soon realized that Bird was the seminal player from whom not only sax players such as Jackie, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley, and Cannonball Aderley, but players of all instruments were derived. I was in awe of Parker and the monumental contribution he made to the development of the music and proceeded to transfect his playing into my brain in much the same way I did with Jackie’s playing a year earlier. However, during and after this time, my special love for Jackie's playing was not diminished.

Jackie McLean remains one of my jazz heroes. He directed my attention to a fascinating group of players that was crucial to my subsequent musical development and he did it in a most unusual and pleasant way. To me, it seemed that every lick, every run over the changes, and every solo he played possessed some irresistibly seductive emotional component, so while I repeatedly went back for these feel-good, Jackie fixes, unknowingly I was being taught to love and understand bebop. It was simple Pavlovian conditioning.

How might this apply to you?  I am convinced that, as a listener interested in developing your listening skills, you should do so while listening to those players to whom you respond in an emotionally pleasant way. If you stay with these people during the time that you apply the listening suggestions that we present in our instructional guides, your listening skills will develop much more quickly. Why?  Because you’re feeling good just listening, and that by itself will tend to keep you on track as you learn to listen in new ways—the ways we suggest.

Finally, the powerful emotional component of music is fundamental on a number of different levels.  I have touched on just one.  The general topic of music and emotion will be fully expanded in an essay on the function of music (in progress).

Copyright © 2013
Thomas R. Brown
All rights reserved.

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