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One of the finest US jazz soloists

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Derek Ansell stakes a claim to be one of the great jazz chroniclers of modern times with his biography of saxophone supremo Jackie McLean.
In terms of story arc McLean has the lot; tutored by jazz legends the young upstart came to be seen as a soloist with few equals, with a life of drug addiction and violence giving way to redemption as pupil-turned-teacher.
Sugar Free Saxophone, The Life and Music of Jackie McLean is a hugely informative and entertaining look at a man who became a jazz Hall of Fame inductee, plunging the reader into the post-war jazz explosion of 1949 New York, profoundly capturing the blues, squalor, hope, despair, seediness, and genius of the scene.
Crucially, Ansell, who lives in Wash Common, involved the family of McLean in the process and gained deeper access to the man’s life and is able to paint a more vivid picture of a complicated man with a uniquely uncomplicated talent.
Through the life of McLean we get a different perspective of the lives of some of the other stars of the time. His relationship with Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker is explored in detail and Ansell pulls `no punches in showing how the elder jazzman became a disruptive father figure as well as guiding light to McLean, who lost his dad, aged just eight years old.
McLean followed Parker into a life of drugs, only willing to see the good about his hero and wanting to emulate him, despite all the problems it caused with money and the shared substance abuse that followed.
Sugar Free Saxophone is a must-read for jazz fans, as through McLean we get new snapshots of the lives of other some other stars of his time; not just Parker but Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.
An anecdote in which Davis snaps at the 21-year-old upstart McLean in the studio after the younger man complains of being forced to play “old” songs during the recording session, illustrates how McLean bridged a gap between two generations of jazz performers, but was forever looking forward and attempting to explore. It was a characteristic he carried into later life when he became the tutor figure to the youth coming through.
In addition to the stories, Ansell takes the reader through all the music McLean put to record and gives detailed insight not only to what was going on around the sessions, but how it reflected the whirlwind existence of the rare musical talent as he evolved from a hard bop background to modal, progressive and more mainstream jazz sound.
It has been noted that McLean never finished penning his autobiography, but Ansell'’s study goes a long way to compensating as his encyclopaedic knowledge of the world of jazz helps add luscious colour and exhaustive context to an already remarkable tale.
Sugar Free Saxophone, published by Northway Publications, can be ordered in any bookshop, from Amazon or from

Price £18.

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