Rising Star: Mecadon McCune

August 1, 2023

Mecadon McCune has been immersed in music since he was born. His father is veteran jazz pianist Brandon McCune; his mother, Christine Clemmons-McCune, is an opera singer. “My dad made sure that I was learning piano since I was about four years old,” he said, “but growing up I really did not like learning the piano. When I would go to gigs with my dad, I would always be watching the drummer – Jaimeo Brown, who recently moved to California; Alvester Garnett when my dad played with Regina Carter; Lenny White when my dad played with Buster Williams.”

Brandon McCune was a frequent performer at the now defunct West Orange jazz club, Cecil’s, run by drummer Cecil Brooks III, and Mecadon recalled, “At Cecil’s, there was a picture of me on my dad’s lap when I was seven months old, while he’s playing piano. I was at Cecil’s all the time, and Cecil Brooks was like an uncle to me. I love that guy.”

The move from piano to drums became official four years ago when McCune was a freshman at Science Park High School in Newark. “I was in the jazz band playing piano my freshman year,” he recalled, “but Mario Banks, the school’s Band Director, advocated to my parents that I be allowed to play drums. He knew that’s where I wanted to be. He’s the actual reason that I play drums. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I would even be doing music right now. He supported me musically and in so many more ways as well.”

In June, McCune was awarded the $10,000 James Moody Scholarship to study Jazz Performance at Montclair State University. It is co-presented by Moody’s widow, Linda Moody, and Jazz House Kids and administered by the Community Foundation of New Jersey. The judges were: bassist and JHK Artistic Director Christian McBride, pianist Renee Rosnes, alto saxophonist Mark Gross, and trumpeters Ted Chubb and Nathan Eklund.

Chubb, who is Jazz House Kids Vice President of Arts Education and Director of the Jazz House Summer Workshop, said, “We had some incredible applicants this year, which made the final decision that much more difficult, but Mecadon checks every single box of what this prize is meant to embody, what a musician is supposed to be, and what a citizen is supposed to be.”

Eklund, who directs the Jazz House Big Band, of which McCune is a member, described McCune to me as “an extremely talented and hard-working young musician that I am so excited to hear every time I get the opportunity. It has been a true pleasure working with him over the past year and watching him inspire and be inspired by his peers at Jazz House! It’s clear his childhood was filled with growing up around all kinds of music, and his instinct for playing the drums shows a deep connection to jazz and its history. I’m always looking for musicians who want to present their own personality in the music while recognizing the tradition that has come before them; and Mecadon is truly developing as a musician that embodies that mindset.”

In August 2022, McCune was part of a quartet that performed as the Rising Stars opening act at the New Jersey Jazz Society’s Jersey Jazz LIVE! concert in Madison, NJ. All four members of that quartet won awards at the 15th annual Charles Mingus High School Competition & Festival held in February at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. McCune, alto saxophonist Ginger Meyer, and trumpeter Alvaro Caravaca won Outstanding Soloist awards; and bassist Sam Konin won the Charles Mingus Electric Bass Award for his performance of Mingus’ “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines”.

Konin, from Lawrenceville, NJ, will be performing with McCune and Maplewood pianist Ben Collins-Siegel at the West Orange Jazz Festival on September 23. And, McCune will be performing with some past James Moody Scholarship winners at the Montclair Jazz Festival on September 9.

The 18-year-old drummer was also busy in August. On August 17, he led a quartet in an outdoor concert in Scotch Plains. Konin was on bass; Ben Sherman, a high school student from Brooklyn, was on saxophone; and the pianist was James Bally, a William Paterson jazz student from Elizabeth. On August 19, McCune’s parents hosted a graduation recital for him at Newark’s Akwaaba Art Gallery. Once again, his “go-to bassist” was Konin. The tenor saxophonist was Birsa Chatterjee, “an amazing tenor player based in New York right now,” and the trumpeter was Eklund.

Classes at Montclair State began on August 28, and McCune was “very excited” about getting started with his college music studies. Drummers Alvester Garnett and Billy Hart are on the MSU faculty, and another drummer, Jerome Jennings, teaches jazz history. “I’ve met all three,” he said, “because they’re instructors at Jazz House Kids. And, Alvester is my personal instructor.” -SANFORD JOSEPHSON


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