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Jackie McLean's 1950's Prestige Recordings

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Between January 1956 and May 1957, Jackie McLean was in the studio more than 25 times — as a leader, as a Messenger, with Mingus, Gene Ammons, Mal Waldron ... and probably someone else I'm missing.

I've always liked Jackie's Prestige recordings just as much as his Blue Note recordings. Yes, the Blue Note records display a McLean breaking through Parkerisms and out of the hold of addiction, but the Prestige recordings, while not exactly groundbreaking (except for maybe the tuba quintet), are something special. Even when Jackie appears to be dialing it in, there's still that insatiable cry and unerring fluency.

Strictly for Prestige as a leader, there is:

1. Lights Out

2. 4, 5 & 6

3. Jackie's Pal

4. McLean's Scene

5. Jackie McLean & Co.

6. Makin' The Changes

7. A Long Drink of The Blues

8. Strange Blues

9. Alto Madness (co-led)

My two faves are Makin' The Changes and A Long Drink of The Blues. Jackie's short feature on tenor on the latter makes me wish he'd recorded more on the larger horn. I also really like the "blues" tunes from Strange Blues. Jackie's records for Prestige make me want to have a marathon listening session, one slab after the other. His Blue Note records I like to take one by one with time in between.

What's your personal favorite?

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I'd really like to see all this stuff boxed, because I don't know that any of the Prestige dates have yet to impact me as albums the way the later stuff did. Moments aplenty, but not that Side A, track One thru Side-B Track Z thing.

However, I do get that from a documentary standpoint, it's every bit as personal a journey, and in real time (as some here have mentioned before), it had to have been one helluva ride. But I would like an opportunity to go at it cohesively from start to finish without interruption.

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When I was making deep dive into jazz in the 90s I found the Penguin guide to jazz very useful and often agreed with Morton and Cook's assessments. They felt his Prestige work was good but not quite "there" like his Blue Notes were. I have at least 4 or 5 of his Prestige albums and tend to agree. They're good/nice but not particularly amazing like some of his 60s blue notes.

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So I suppose people don't get too enthusiastic about his dates for Jubilee (particularly "Fat Jazz") either? I heard it first before finding out about its place in McLean's opus but found it very nice to listen to. Surprisingly, "Fat Jazz" wasn't rated too badly in contemporary reviews either.

OTOH, I understand Jackie McLean tendend to distance himself from his Prestige dates (not enough/fair payment, in particular), and it sems to be "common wisdom" that the Prestige hard bop sessions from that period (not just McLean's) were regarded as thrown-together blowing sessions whereas the Blue Notes sessions allowed the musicians much more preparation time, better worked-out dates, etc.

Could this - which most will have heard about - have had an unintended influence on the way these sessions are generally perceived today?

Whereas contemporary reviews of the latest LPs from labels such as BN, Prestige and others would not so rarely end in some lukewarm "oh, not another blowing session that stretches out too much while the artist hasn't enough of substance to say to fill an entire LP", etc. Regardless of what label this was on. BN might be hit just as much as Prestige or others.

And given that recent BN history book (see that other thread), the dividing lines might be revised again. From "thrown-together Prestige blowing sessions with not enough pay vs well worked-out BN sessions with better pay" to "thrown-together Prestige blowing sessions with not enough pay vs BN sessions where the artists were paid in advance to finance their habit and hold them in "bondage" for more sessions of the same to work off their debts"? Might cause some interesting debate. ;)

Not that I would claim that there is invariably too much a tendency to listen to often-discussed recordings with that "common knowledge" in the back of one's minds but can and do we all go totally unaffected by all that has been said so often and approach the recordings from a really "tabula rasa" point of departure?

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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I'd really like to see all this stuff boxed, because I don't know that any of the Prestige dates have yet to impact me as albums the way the later stuff did. Moments aplenty, but not that Side A, track One thru Side-B Track Z thing.

However, I do get that from a documentary standpoint, it's every bit as personal a journey, and in real time (as some here have mentioned before), it had to have been one helluva ride. But I would like an opportunity to go at it cohesively from start to finish without interruption.

This box was a revelation to me when I got it (then very reasonably priced) several years ago. A lot of the Prestige albums mixed partial sessions, which was very unsatisfying.

41AAg9jGKLL._SX355_.jpg

Edited by felser

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I've always thought of this one as my favorite of his Prestige dates, probably due to Mal Waldron's imprint on the material and arrangements.

MI0000587871.jpg?partner=allrovi.com

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I've always thought of this one as my favorite of his Prestige dates, probably due to Mal Waldron's imprint on the material and arrangements.

MI0000587871.jpg?partner=allrovi.com

That's an interesting record that kind of serves as a counter-argument to the notion that all Prestige dates were slapdash affairs... clearly a great deal of thought was put into this album, the mood of which is almost unrelentingly bleak.

My personal favorite is the quintet date with Bill Hardman (JACKIE'S PAL), followed by the Waldron quartets that were spread out over several LPs.

Edited by Joe

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I've always thought of this one as my favorite of his Prestige dates, probably due to Mal Waldron's imprint on the material and arrangements.

MI0000587871.jpg?partner=allrovi.com

My favorite Prestige McLean, in part because I encountered it at the time it came out. The beginning of Jackie's solo on "Help"! And his solo on "Beau Jack." Never heard that kind of naked emotion before, with the possible exception of Pee Wee Russell. Also, FWIW this was the album whose cover photo stirred in some young minds (e.g. mine) the odd thought that Jackie might not be African-American. The disparity between his sound and that erroneous thought was momentarily quite provocative/confusing. Think I heard "Lights Out" before "& Co.," and while that one is strong too, the MOOD of this one is special. The Waldron pieces, the sound of Draper, and Bill Hardman (early, maybe first, encounter with him for me).

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Jackie's Pal is good. I like McLean's Scene a lot too. Gave 4, 5 & 6 a spin recently and it's got some strong playing. While not at the level of the BNs I think the Prestige dates certainly more than hold their own. The Jubilees aren't that hot IMO.

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4,5,6 is the only one I have. I was always holding out for a box set, but that looks unlikely. I should start grabbing the OJCs I suppose.

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Also, FWIW this was the album whose cover photo stirred in some young minds (e.g. mine) the odd thought that Jackie might not be African-American. The disparity between his sound and that erroneous thought was momentarily quite provocative/confusing.

There are MANY photographs in circulation that make you think so.

OTOH, if a young Earle Warren and, above all, Lena Horne, are found to be African American when looking at their pictures, then there is no reason why Jackie McLean isn't. ;)

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3e2eec800f.jpg

Like this one...

I think this my favourite

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Happy to see so much love for JACKIE'S PAL here.

And, Late, totally agreed... I'd love to hear more of Jackie playing tenor.

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I like them fine and am glad they exist, but they don't speak to me the way the BNs do. But I do think Big Beat Steve's point is well-taken: our listening is framed by the conventional wisdom.

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Of the several Messengers albums with Jackie, this is my favorite:

29274.JPG

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Also, FWIW this was the album whose cover photo stirred in some young minds (e.g. mine) the odd thought that Jackie might not be African-American. The disparity between his sound and that erroneous thought was momentarily quite provocative/confusing.

There are MANY photographs in circulation that make you think so.

OTOH, if a young Earle Warren and, above all, Lena Horne, are found to be African American when looking at their pictures, then there is no reason why Jackie McLean isn't. ;)

Yes, but I'm talking about the one photograph of Jackie that made me think so, before I found out otherwise. ;)

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Big Beat Steve's point is well-taken: our listening is framed by the conventional wisdom.

Agreed — and that's the impediment (I think) listeners often have in particular when assessing the merit of McLean's Prestige work. It almost can't not be viewed through the prism of what came only a few years later.

There's a fair amount of fire in those Prestige solos, even in warmed-over standards (e.g. "What's New?"). There are also times when, just when you think he's churning out a predictable bop line, he stretches it further, four or five more bars, and then avoids all the ending-phrase notes that bop commonly programs into your ear. Bird did this too, of course, but when Jackie does it, you can really hear him think, which leads me to believe that he often wasn't on auto-pilot.

Food for thought at least.

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4,5,6 is the only one I have. I was always holding out for a box set, but that looks unlikely. I should start grabbing the OJCs I suppose.

The OJCs, I think, are well transferred to disc. If I were in your position, however, I'd be very tempted to pick up the fairly recent Japanese SHM-CD editions. Of those I've heard (only one with McLean though — Ray Draper's Prestige date), all sound excellent. A lot of "air" around the horns.

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Yes, but I'm talking about the one photograph of Jackie that made me think so, before I found out otherwise. ;)

I did understand that and just wanted to point out this your reaction was not an isolated one - I had the same reaction, though with a different photo, and upon checking others of JMcL I found there are quite a few where you can be misled. ;)

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What I've always liked in those Prestige dates is the fiery, keening, naked quality of Jackie's sound. It's just so pure and intense. So youthful, really, a sort of swaggering Romeo. At least that's the way I've heard them.

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Also, FWIW this was the album whose cover photo stirred in some young minds (e.g. mine) the odd thought that Jackie might not be African-American. The disparity between his sound and that erroneous thought was momentarily quite provocative/confusing.

There are MANY photographs in circulation that make you think so.

OTOH, if a young Earle Warren and, above all, Lena Horne, are found to be African American when looking at their pictures, then there is no reason why Jackie McLean isn't. ;)

Wow! - I never realised that Earle was African American

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The comparisons of the Prestige and Blue Note "styles" is interesting. Weinstock (like Norman Granz) valued "spontaneity" and Lion preferred a more controlled format. Some artists flourished in one format and some in the other. Lockjaw would not thrive in the BN world and Wayne flourished in that format.

The drug thing is a red herring. Both labels gained and suffered from the artist's addictions BUT what would have become of the artists without the labels?

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Big Beat Steve's point is well-taken: our listening is framed by the conventional wisdom.

Agreed — and that's the impediment (I think) listeners often have in particular when assessing the merit of McLean's Prestige work. It almost can't not be viewed through the prism of what came only a few years later.

There's a fair amount of fire in those Prestige solos, even in warmed-over standards (e.g. "What's New?"). There are also times when, just when you think he's churning out a predictable bop line, he stretches it further, four or five more bars, and then avoids all the ending-phrase notes that bop commonly programs into your ear. Bird did this too, of course, but when Jackie does it, you can really hear him think, which leads me to believe that he often wasn't on auto-pilot.

Food for thought at least.

Agree with you there, Late, after going back to these dates recently.

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I really enjoy the atmosphere on the Prestige dates. Cool and relaxed, no pressure.

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