Search

THE "MODERN JAZZ QUARTET" (1st Edition, 1951-1955)

The MJQ originated in the rhythm section of the 1946 Gillespie Big Band, which would play jazz standards in entr'actes between sets of the Big Band, and comprised John Lewis (piano), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Ray Brown (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums).


They first recorded as a separate entity on August 18, 1951 (ten days after Clarke's studio date with Charlie Parker and John Lewis) as the "Milt Jackson Quartet", after which Brown left (to work with his wife, Ella Fitzgerald) and was replaced by Percy Heath.  The quartet was formally "incorporated" on January 14, 1952, as the "Modern Jazz Society, Inc.", with the "Modern Jazz Quartet" (MJQ) as its commercial name. During Clarke's tenure (August 1951 - February 1955), the group had seven other studio recording dates as the MJQ, in addition to four live recordings at Birdland (with Charlie Parker on November 1, 1952; with Ben Webster in February 1953; and as the MJQ in October 1953 and January 1955). The group also recorded four tracks for an album with Sonny Rollins ("Sonny Rollins With The Modern Jazz Quartet", Prestige) in October 1953.


With John Lewis as its musical director, the MJQ specialized in restrained, orchestrated and baroque-inspired music, while still grounded in the blues, and was among the first jazz small groups to perform in concert halls as well as nightclubs. Bassist Percy Heath (quoted by Gary Giddins) recalls that: "We had a hard time getting people to quiet down and listen. At that time in nightclubs, people were talking about hanging out. In order to break that down, instead of trying to play over the conversation, we'd use reverse psychology and play softer. Suddenly, they knew we were up there and realized the conversation was louder than the music. Of course, if it got too loud, we'd come off – just stop playing and walk off. It didn't take long for them to realize they were wasting their time because we weren't going to entertain them in that sense. We didn't have funny acts, we didn't have any costumes. We were conservatively dressed, we played conservative music, and if you didn't listen you didn't get it. We were four instruments going along horizontally, contrapuntally. There was no backup and soloist, the concept was changing."


On the last night of the group's January 1955 Birdland engagement, Clarke announced that he was quitting, later explaining his concern that: "I wouldn't be able to play the drums my way again after four or five years of playing eighteenth-century drawing-room jazz". According to Heath, the group "had to change, because there is no other Kenny Clarke. Kenny didn't want to have such orchestrated music because he was an innovator and didn't want his part dictated." Monte Kay, one of the earlier jazz promoters at the "Royal Roost" and the MJQ's manager, recommended Connie Kay (no relation) as Clarke's replacement, completing the lineup that would continue, with a hiatus in the 1970s, until Kay's death in 1994.


QUARTET RECORDING DATES (08/1951-02/1955)

1. Milt Jackson Quartet ("Modern Jazz Quartet")

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

NYC, August 24, 1951

2. Milt Jackson Quintet ("Wizard of the Vibes", with Lou Donaldson)

Lou Donaldson, alto sax*; Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums. WOR Studios, NYC, April 7, 1952

3. Milt Jackson Quartet ("Modern Jazz Quartet")

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

NYC, April 1952

4. The Modern Jazz Quartet ("Modern Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson Quintet")

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

NYC, December 22, 1952

5. The Modern Jazz Quartet ("Django")

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

NYC, June 25, 1953

6. The Modern Jazz Quartet (Live recording)

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Live at "Birdland", NYC, October 31, 1953

Compositions: Vendome; Lily; The Queen's Fancy; Bag's Groove; All The Things You Are; La Ronde


7. Milt Jackson Quintet ("Modern Jazz Quartet, Milt Jackson Quintet")

Henry Boozier, trumpet; Milt Jackson, vibes; Horace Silver, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums. Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, June 16, 1954

8. The Modern Jazz Quartet ("Django")

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, December 23, 1954

9. The Modern Jazz Quartet ("Django")

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, NJ, January 9, 1955

10. The Modern Jazz Quartet ("Classic Concepts", live recordings)

Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.: same personnel.

Live at "Birdland", NYC

  • January 20, 1955: What's New; I'll Remember April; Django (as Old Django)

  • January 23, 1955: Concorde; Yesterdays; One Bass Hit

  • January 30, 1955: Bags' Groove; What's New; One Bass Hit; Django; Concorde; Milt Meets Sid

  • February 6, 1955: D & E; Yesterdays; Bluesology; Autumn In New York; Autumn Nocturne; Milt Meets Sid; Summertime

Sources: American National Biography (Barry Kernfeld); Modern Jazz Quartet - The First 40 Years (Gary Giddins); https://www.jazzdisco.org/milt-jackson/discography/

+420 776 666 408

©2020 by The "Bohemia After Dark" Project. Proudly created with Wix.com