McLean, a contemporary of some of the 20th century's most famed jazz musicians, died at his Hartford home after a long illness, family members told The Hartford Courant.
McLean was founder and artistic director of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford's Hartt School.
He and his wife, actress Dollie McLean, also founded the Artists Collective, a community center and fine arts school primarily for troubled youth in inner city Hartford.
University President Walter Harrison said that despite his many musical accomplishments, McLean was a modest man whose connections with his students lasted for decades after they left his classroom.
"He fully understood the way that jazz as an art should be passed down to students," Harrison said. "He saw his role as bringing jazz from the 1950s and '60s and handing it down to artists of today."
McLean, a native of Harlem in New York City, grew up in a musical family, his father playing guitar in Tiny Bradshaw's band. McLean took up the soprano saxophone as a teen and quickly switched to the alto saxophone, inspired by his godfather's performances in a church choir, he told WBGO-FM in Newark, N.J., in an interview in 2004.
McLean went on to play with his friend Rollins under the tutelage of pianist Bud Powell, and was 19 when he first recorded with Miles Davis.
He drew wide attention with his 1959 debut on Blue Note Records, "Jackie's Bag," one of dozens of albums he recorded in the hard-bop and free jazz styles.
"I never really sounded like Bird, but that was my mission," McLean said in the radio interview. "I didn't care if people said that I copied him; I loved Bird's playing so much. But Mingus was the one that really pushed me away from the idea and forced me into thinking about having an individual sound and concept."
After Blue Note terminated his recording contract in 1968, McLean began teaching at the University of Hartford. McLean taught jazz, African-American music, and African-American history and culture. He received an American Jazz Masters fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001, and toured the world as an educator and performer.
McLean, a heroin addict during his early career, also lectured on drug addiction research.