- Modern Jazz Quartet
Modern Jazz Quartet
Milt Jackson, Village Jazz Lounge with the Bubba Kolb Trio, late 1970's.
Background information Also known as MJQ, Milt Jackson Quartet Genres Jazz Years active 1946–1974, 1981–1993 Labels Savoy, Prestige (UK Esquire), Atlantic, Apple, Douglas Records Members Milt Jackson
Past members Kenny Clarke
The Modern Jazz Quartet was established in 1952 by Milt Jackson (vibraphone), John Lewis (piano, musical director), Percy Heath (double bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Connie Kay replaced Clarke in 1955. The quartet performed in several jazz styles, including bebop, cool jazz, and third stream.
Milt Jackson, John Lewis, and Kenny Clarke had originally played together in a quartet while in the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra from 1946 to 1950. Together with Ray Brown they played during interludes designed to give the trumpeters time to recover from the challenging upper register trumpet parts. This line-up recorded as the Milt Jackson Quartet in 1951.
Bassist Percy Heath joined the line-up in 1952 and the group became known as The Modern Jazz Quartet after John Lewis took over as Musical Director, a position which Jackson and Lewis had previously shared.
In their middle years the group often played with classical musicians, but their repertoire consisted mainly of bop and swing era standards. Among the original compositions from the band's book are "Django" by Lewis (a tribute to the Belgian jazz guitar player Django Reinhardt), "Afternoon In Paris," also by Lewis, and Jackson's "Bags' Groove", the latter borrowing its composer's nickname.
The group was first signed by Prestige and later in the fifties with Atlantic. In the late 1960s, in between their two periods with Atlantic, they signed with Apple, the Beatles' label (the sole jazz group on the label), and released two albums: Under the Jasmine Tree (1968) and Space (1969). Both Apple albums were re-released on one CD at the end of October 2010, with a previously unreleased rendition of the Beatles' "Yesterday" (recorded during sessions for Space) added as a bonus track. The MJQ came to Apple through the first head of the label, Ron Kass. Kass was a jazz fan, and Under The Jasmine Tree was recorded in America prior to signing with Apple. The second Apple album Space was recorded at London's Trident Studios under the supervision of Apple A&R man, Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon).
Jackson left the group in 1974 partly because he liked a freer flowing style of playing and partly because he was tired of playing for little money (compared to rock and roll stars). As there could be no Modern Jazz Quartet without the two principals Lewis and Jackson, the group disbanded after going out with a rollicking concert in November at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. In 1981 the MJQ reorganized to play festivals and later on a permanent six months per year basis. The MJQ's last recording was issued in 1993. Heath, the last surviving member, died in 2005.
The enigma of the MJQ's music-making was that each individual member could improvise with an exciting vibrancy but in toto the group specialised in genteel baroque counterpoint. Their approach to jazz attracted promoters who sponsored "jazz packet" concerts during the 1950s. One show would consist of several contrasting groups. The MJQ were ideal participants because no other group sounded like them. They provided a visual contrast as well, formally attired in their customary tuxedos.
The group played blues as much as they did fugues, but the result was tantalising when one considered the hard-swinging potential of each individual player. Their best-selling record, Django, typified their neo-classical approach to polyphony.
- 1952: The Quartet (Savoy Records - Nippon Columbia)
- 1952: M.J.Q. (Prestige Records)
- 1955: Concorde (Atlantic Jazz)
- 1956: Django (Atlantic Records), recorded 1953-55
- 1956: Fontessa (Atlantic Records)
- 1956: At Music Inn - Guest Artist: Jimmy Giuffre (Atlantic Records)
- 1958: The Modern Jazz Quartet Plays One Never Knows - Original Film Score for "No Sun in Venice"
- 1957: Modern Jazz Quartet: 1957
- 1958: At Music Inn - Guest Artist: Sonny Rollins (Atlantic Records)
- 1958: The Modern Jazz Quartet Live
- 1959: Odds Against Tomorrow
- 1959: Longing for the Continent
- 1960: Pyramid (Atlantic Records)
- 1960: Third Stream Music (Atlantic Records) with The Jimmy Giuffre 3, the Beaux Arts String Quartet and Gunther Schuller
- 1960: Immortal Concerts
- 1960: European Concert (Atlantic Records)
- 1960: Modern Jazz Quartet in Concert, recorded in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, May 27, 1960
- 1960: Modern Jazz Quartet Live and at Its Best
- 1960: Patterns (United Artists)
- 1961: Compact Jazz
- 1961: The Modern Jazz Quartet & Orchestra
- 1962: Lonely Woman (Atlantic Records)
- 1962: The Comedy (Atlantic Records)
- 1963: In a Crowd [Live]
- 1964: The Modern Jazz Quartet with Laurindo Almeida: Collaboration (Atlantic Records)
- 1964: The Sheriff (Atlantic Records)
- 1966: Place Vendôme The Modern Jazz Quartet and The Swingle Singers (Philips Records)
- 1966: Blues at Carnegie Hall
- 1966: Plays George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
- 1969: Under the Jasmine Tree (Apple Records)
- 1969: Space (Apple Records)
- 1971: Plastic Dreams
- 1972: The Legendary Profile (Atlantic Records) 
- 1973: The Art of The Modern Jazz Quartet/The Atlantic Years, 2-LP Anthology (Atlantic Records)
- 1973: In Memoriam (Little David Records)
- 1973: Blues on Bach (Atlantic Records)
- 1974: The Complete Last Concert
- 1981: Paul Desmond with The Modern Jazz Quartet, The Only Recorded Performance, recorded live 1971 at Town Hall, NYC (Finesse)
- 1981: Reunion at Budokan
- 1982: Together Again! Modern Jazz Quartet Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1982 (Pablo Records)
- 1984: Echoes
- 1987: Three Windows - The Modern Jazz Quartet with The New York Chamber Symphony (Atlantic Jazz)
- 1988: For Ellington (EastWest)
- 1988: The Best of The Modern Jazz Quartet
- 1994: MJQ & Friends - A 40th Anniversary Celebration (Atlantic Jazz)
- 1995: Dedicated to Connie, released 1995, recorded live in Slovenia in 1960
- 2001: Ben Webster and The M.J.Q.: 1953: An Exceptional Encounter (The Jazz Factory), live recording
- 2001: A Night at the Opera (Jazz Door)
- 2006: La Ronde: A Proper Introduction to the Modern Jazz Quartet
- 2009: Monterey Jazz Festival (Douglas Records)
- 2005: The Modern Jazz Quartet: 35th Anniversary Tour
- 2007: 40 Years of MJQ
- 2008: Django
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