Born in New York City, René McLean, world renowned multi-reed instrumentalist (alto, tenor, soprano saxophones, flutes, ney, shakuhachi), composer, band leader, educator and producer, began his musical training at the age of 9 under the tutelage and guidance of his father, world renowned alto saxophonist and educator Jackie McLean. René made his debut with Jackie McLean's band in the mid-1960s as well as leading his own bands. René McLean's debut as a band leader and producer began at the age of 16 in 1963.
René continued his studies with his father as well as with the Jazz Arts Society, HARYOU ACT Cultural Program under Julian Yule, Rheet Taylor, Jackie McLean and Kenny Dorham; the Clark Terry Youth Band, Jazz Mobile and later at the New York College of Music (N.Y.U.) and the University of Massachusetts. In addition he studied privately with such luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Frank Foster, George Coleman, Kenny Dorham, Jackie Byard, Barry Harris and Hubert Laws.
René has performed and recorded as a leader and featured sideman with the crème de la crème of Black Musical tradition, to name a few -- Jackie McLean, the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, Lionel Hampton - All Stars, Tito Puente Orchestra, Horace Silver, Woody Shaw, Dr. Bill Taylor, Baba Olatunji, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, Dexter Gordon, James Moody, Yusef Lateef, Jaco Pastorius, Jerry Gonzales' Forte Apache Band, Hamza El Din, as well as in collaboration with premier poet-activist Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones).
McLean has performed, conducted workshops and lectured at numerous universities and cultural programs in the U.S. and Caribbean (including Cuba), as well as in South America, Europe, Lebanon, Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mauritius.
McLean's teaching experience is unique and diverse. From 1970 to 1973 he was Bandmaster for the N.Y. State N.A.C.C. Melrose Community Center in the South Bronx. From 1984-85 René was Artist-In-Residence at the University of Hartford's The Hartt School, Department of African American Music. Since 1985 McLean has been living in South Africa, where he has been performing, teaching and researching musical traditions. As consultant to the Mmabana Cultural Center he developed the foundation for the Center's music program and curriculum, subsequently heading the music program from 1987-90. From 1991-1992 he was a visiting member of the New School Jazz program. From 1994 to 1998 McLean was a Lecturer in Jazz Studies at the University of Cape Town.
He has been the recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts grants and fellowship awards, including the prestigious Creative Artist Fellowship by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts to reside in Japan to research traditional Japanese music culture as well as to perform and teach. He has also spent time researching musical traditions and performing in Bali, Indonesia.
René McLean draws inspiration and insight from the rich diversity of the African American tradition and various world music genres with particular emphasis on Eastern and African traditions. René McLean defines his music as "transcending socio-political and cultural boundaries - it's a universal language."