[JPL] Funeral of Jackie McLean

Tom Reney tr at wfcr.org
Sat Apr 8 16:52:33 EDT 2006

I attended the funeral of John Linwood "Jackie" McLean in New York yesterday.  J Mac died on Friday, March 31 at age 74. The Abyssian Baptist Church was nearly full to capacity for a service that included eulogies by Jackie's daughter-in-law Thandiwe January McLean, who is the South African Ambassador to Portugal; television producer Gilbert Noble; and Abyssian's pastor, the Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts III.  Jimmy Heath played "'Round Midnight," and Eunice Newkirk sang "Amazing Grace."  A proclamation in Jackie's memory was offered by a representative of the City of Hartford.  Jackie's recordings of "You Taught My Heart to Sing" and "I'll Keep Loving You" accompanied the Processional and Recessional, respectively.  The funeral was a subdued celebration of the life of an uncompromising jazz artist and a survivor of drug addiction who turned his life around and became a devoted teacher and mentor to two generations of musicians.
Gil Noble's eulogy described the odyssey of two black men whose lives and sensibilities were shaped by a succession of personal experiences and historical events. Noble, the veteran producer of "Like It Is" on ABC-TV in New York, and a lifelong friend of J Mac, recounted boyhood pranks, including Jackie's mischievous skills as a "ventriloquist;" their adolescent discovery of "big foot" music by jump blues stars like Louis Jordan and Jimmy Liggins; the profound impact of hearing an early Charlie Parker "yellow label" Dial recording on a neighborhood juke box; of Jackie exposing him to the horrors of a shooting gallery such that Noble stayed clean of drugs; of hearing the stirring rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr. in an address to a Baptist congregation in Harlem; and of the challenging message of Malcolm X.  

As a pioneering African-American in the world of network television, Noble's career paralleled Jackie's trailblazing work in bringing jazz to the music curriculum at the University of Hartford.   His remarks were peppered with a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor.  And his call for a special moment of recognition for Jackie's widow Dolly brought the cheering congregation to its feet.
The Reverend Butts recalled an encounter with Jackie in a hotel lobby in Pittsburgh, where Butts had traveled to conduct a wedding ceremony for a church member.  J Mac walked by him several times before stopping to say, "Reverend Butts, right?"  Butts was so impressed with the all-star group that Jackie was appearing with that night at the University of Pittsburgh that he wished he could have been in two places at once.  

His eulogy centered around the question, "How can you sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" "You can if you know the Lord," Butts answered, then expounded an eloquent appreciation for the unique song that African Americans have sung and played in this strange land called America.  He thanked Dolly for bringing the Harlem native "home" for the funeral and burial (in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx) and acknowledged their enduring marriage as a key ingredient in bringing them through numerous trials and tribulations.
Among dozens of familiar faces, I recognized Billy Harper, Larry Ridley, Mulgrew Miller, Steve Davis, Jimmy Greene, Billy Taylor, James Carter, Stanley Crouch, Larry Willis, Mary DePaola Davis, and Cameron Brown.  A memorial service for Jackie will take place in Hartford at a later date.

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