Over to Germany this week for a broadcast concert given at Tübingen on June 22, 1986 by The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). Probably one of the most distinctive ensembles in Jazz, MJQ enjoyed one of the longest runs of any Jazz group and were universally hailed by critics and audiences all over the world for their innovative style and influential contribution. The individual members were highly regarded soloists in their own right, working with some of the greatest names in Jazz. As a quartet they were unequaled and this set, recorded later on in their careers, still gives ample evidence of what a truly unique and mesmerizing group they were.
The Modern Jazz Quartet was established in 1952 that played music influenced by classical, cool jazz, blues and bebop. For most of its history the Quartet consisted of John Lewis (piano), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Percy Heath (double bass), and Connie Kay (drums). The group grew out of the rhythm section of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band from 1946 to 1948, which consisted of Lewis and Jackson along with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke. They recorded as the Milt Jackson Quartet in 1951 and Brown left the group, being replaced on bass by Heath. During the early-to-mid-1950s they became the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis became the group’s musical director, and they made several recordings with Prestige Records, including the original versions of their two best-known compositions, Lewis’s “Django” and Jackson’s “Bags’ Groove”. Clarke left the group in 1955 and was replaced as drummer by Connie Kay, and in 1956 they moved to Atlantic Records and made their first tour to Europe.
Under Lewis’s direction, they carved their own niche by specializing in elegant, restrained music that used sophisticated counterpoint inspired by baroque music, yet nonetheless retained a strong blues feel. Noted for their elegant presentation, they were one of the first small jazz combos to perform in concert halls rather than nightclubs. They were initially active into the 1970s until Jackson quit in 1974 due to frustration with their finances and touring schedule, but re-formed in 1981. They made their last released recordings in 1992 and 1993, by which time Kay had been having health issues and Mickey Roker had been his replacement drummer while Kay was unavailable. After Kay’s death in 1994, the group operated on a semi-active basis, with Percy Heath’s brother Albert Heath on drums until the group disbanded permanently in 1997.
Here’s what’s on the player:
The Modern Jazz Quartet
Something to take the weekend down a few notches. Enjoy.