Jazz at 100 Hour 73: Jackie McLean & Tina Brooks (1960 – 1963)

Tina Brooks

Fate could not have treated Blue Note saxophonists Tina Brooks and Jackie McLean more differently. While McLean released nine LPs for Prestige and two dozen for Blue Note between 1956 and 1967, only one of Tina Brooks’s four Blue Note sessions was released in his lifetime. Yet their collaborations on McLean’s Jackie’s Bag and the unreleased Brooks session Back To The Tracks, are among the highlights of the hard bop era. McLean went on the record a series of avant garde leaning hard bop sessions with trombonist Grachan Moncur III in 1963. Tina Brooks, Jackie McLean and Grachan Moncur III in this hour of Jazz at 100.

Freddie Redd, The Connection.
In 1959, pianist Freddie Redd composed the music for a Living Theater production about drug addiction, The Connection. “[The] music isn’t just a set of incidental cues; instead it’s a rigorously conceived suite of tunes that mark the steps to a familiar dance of death. When ‘O.D.’ comes along, it strikes with tragic inevitability, but the opening ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ has a strutting faux-confidence and ‘(Theme for) Sister Salvation’ is worthy of Horace Silver. For all sorts of reasons, good and bad, Jackie McLean was the only possible casting for the alto part and his bop wail carries much of the music.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Who Killed Cock Robin? Freddie Redd Quartet
(Jackie McLean-as, Freddie Redd-p, Mike Mattos-b, Larry Ritchie-d). From Music From The Connection. 2/15/1960

Tina Brooks, True Blue.
McLean’s understudy in The Connection was tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks. In 1960, he recorded the only disc under his name to be released in his lifetime, True Blue.

“The saxophonist’s lyrical way of building a solo in flowing, organically structured fashion, and his expressive, rather plaintive tenor sound have a liquid quality which is a little reminiscent of Lester Young, although Brooks does not directly imitate him, and has a tougher tone.” – Kenny Mathieson

“On True Blue, Tina [Brooks]’s [second] date as a leader… Tina also sounds bolder and more sharply defined. Drawing on his R & B background, he uses slurred notes, honks, and other vocal inflections in counterpoint to a supple rhythmic sense that makes his solos seem to soar above the rhythm section. The combination, enriched by his mournful tone, works especially well on ‘Theme for Doris.’ On this cut Tina reaches a pitch of sorrowful eloquence, vertebrated by Art Taylor’s driving beat, that lifts him for the first time to the level of the great jazz storytellers. Freddie Hubbard, then the brightest young trumpet star in New York, is an exuberant, brassy foil to the leader’s musings.” – David Rosenthal

Theme For Doris. Tina Brooks Quintet
(Freddie Hubbard-tp, Tina Brooks-ts, Duke Jordan-p, Sam Jones-b, Art Taylor-d). From True Blue. 6/25/1960

Tina Brooks & Jackie McLean, Back To The Tracks.
“‘Street Singer,’ cut at the [same Jackie McLean – Tina Brooks Sextet session that produced Jackie McLean’s Jackie’s Bag] turns out, [when released] more than two decades after the fact, to have been an authentic hard-bop classic, comparable to ‘Caribbean Fire Dance’ or ‘Us.’ Here pathos, irony, and rage come together in a performance at once anguished and sinister… Tina weaves a tapestry of extended lines that lean into the beat, punctuated by soulful licks delivered in an unexpectedly keening tone. After a … Blue Mitchell interlude, McLean steps forth with one of his most whiplike statements ever, followed by an equally “mean” contribution from Drew with a rhythmic edge comparable to Bobby Timmons’s best work. Drew’s style, combining funky touches with highly individual runs and figures, is one of this side’s major assets. – David Rosenthal

Street Singer. Jackie McLean – Tina Brooks Sextet
(Blue Mitchell-tp, Jackie McLean-as, Tina Brooks-ts, Kenny Drew-p, Paul Chambers-b, Art Taylor-d). From Back To The Tracks. 9/1/1960

Jackie McLean, Let Freedom Ring.
“To call Let Freedom Ring McLean’s most scorching album is to say a lot, considering the incandescent quality of most of his playing; but this recording seemed to catch him on a day when he was especially ready to blow his heart out. Of the four tracks, three are dedicated to members of his family… and one to Bud Powell, Jackie’s first mentor, who had been caught in the toils of madness since the early 1950s. This tune is one of Bud’s most poignant compositions, the minor-keyed ballad ‘I’ll Keep Loving You.’ In a moving tribute to its composer, McLean plays a solo as concentrated and free of extraneous clutter as any Ben Webster recorded. The tune is topped off by a breathtaking out-of-tempo rendition of the theme in which McLean first blows hard, using the “freak” upper register to build intensity, and then softens his sound to a wispy sob.” – David Rosenthal

I’ll Keep Loving You. Jackie McLean Quartet
(Jackie McLean-as, Walter Davis Jr.-p, Herbie Lewis-b, Billy Higgins-d). From Let Freedom Ring. 3/19/1962

Jackie McLean & Grachan Moncur III, Destination Out.
“McLean, a Parker acolyte who had proven his bop precocity in the ’50s with pungent timbre and razor-sharp acumen, got caught up in and animated by the turbulence of the ‘60s. On one of his most dramatic albums [Destination Out!], he recorded three works by trombonist Grachan Moncur III (whose [LP] Evolution is something of a companion disc). ‘Love and Hate’ is the most ardent and compelling. It opens with a mourning gait, accented by Bobby Hutcherson’s tamped vibraphone chords. After the memorable theme, McLean’s caustic alto saxophone commences with a provocative phrase and then explores the harmonically spare terrain with wounded resolve. He sustains absolute emotional pitch, which is extended by Moncur and Hutcherson, while bassist Larry Ridley and drummer Roy Haynes steer a steady course. One way or another, almost everyone was responding to the new avantgarde.” – Gary Giddens

Love and Hate. Jackie McLean – Grachan Moncur III Quintet
(Grachan Moncur III-tb, Jackie McLean-as, Bobby Hutcherson-vib, Larry Ridley-b, Roy Haynes-d). From Destination Out!. 9/20/1963

Jackie McLean & Grachan Moncur III, Evolution.
“Around the same time that he cut Let Freedom Ring, McLean formed a working unit that included three of the most talented younger musicians around: vibist Bobby Hutcherson, trombonist and composer Grachan Moncur III, and the remarkable seventeen-year-old drummer Tony Williams. All of them were firmly rooted in modern jazz—Moncur via J.J. Johnson, Hutcherson via Milt Jackson, and Williams via Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones—but they were also attracted to the “new thing,” which they both played and drew upon in their work as hard boppers…The band recorded three albums for Blue Note—One Step Beyond, Destination Out, and Evolution (this last under Moncur’s name). All were very good, but Evolution was perhaps the best, partly because Lee Morgan was added to the quintet…. All four tunes on Evolution are Moncur originals.” – David Rosenthal

“Moncur handles the players with great skill. The looseness of Evolution reflects more a desire to imbue the idea with the new freedom than any lack of arranging skills. He liked to treat the rhythm section as an independent unit… Moncur had debuted with Jackie McLean’s band earlier the same year for One Step Beyond and that title seems even more relevant here as Jackie plays some very untypical stuff. Recorded a day before JFK was shot in Dallas (was there something in the air in America?), the whole record has a dark, misterioso quality that the lowering trombone sound (not prominently featured, but always there in attendance) strongly accentuates. ‘The Coaster’ subordinates strict metre to pulse, a device typical of Thelonious Monk, who is celebrated on the fourth track, ‘Monk In Wonderland’. It’s the most rigorous of the tracks, completing an invigorating and intellectually satisfying set.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Monk In Wonderland. Jackie McLean – Grachan Moncur III Sextet
(Lee Morgan-tp, Grachan Moncur III-tb, Jackie McLean-as, Bobby Hutcherson-vib, Bob Cranshaw-b, Tony Williams-d). From Evolution. 11/21/1963

Tina Brooks passed away in 1974 having never again reached the musical heights of his brief success at Blue Note. Jackie McLean cleaned up finally and had an important career as an educator to complement a highly-respected and prolific recording output. The African American Music Department which he founded at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford was renamed the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz upon his death in 2008. Grachan Moncur III was slowed by health issues in the late 1970s but still records periodically.

Nurtured in the seminal recordings of Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor in the mid to late 1950s, the jazz avant-garde came into its own in the 1960s with their continuing creations, those of John Coltrane already featured in this program and those of next generation players, Joe Harriott and Albert Ayler. Defining statements of the free jazz movement in the early 1960s by Coleman, Taylor, Harriott and Ayler in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Freddie Redd. Music From The Connection. Blue Note BLP 4027
Tina Brooks. True Blue. Blue Note BLP 4041
Tina Brooks. Back To The Tracks. Blue Note BLP 4052
Jackie McLean. Let Freedom Ring. Blue Note BLP 4106
Jackie McLean. Destination Out!. Blue Note BLP 4165
Grachan Moncur III. Blue Note BLP 4153

Giddins, Gary. 2004. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 118. Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945-2001)
Mathieson, Kenny. 2002. Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65. Canongate Books.
Booker Ervin / Tina Brooks / Gigi Gryce
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Freddie Redd. Music From The Connection
Grachan Moncur III. Evolution
Rosenthal, David. 1992. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Power of Badness
Chapter 9. Changes

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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