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date: 15 November 2019

Modern Jazz Quartet, the [MJQ]locked

  • Wolfram Knauer



American jazz group. The Modern Jazz Quartet was incorporated in late 1952 but was based on a continuous collaboration of the four original band members since they formed the rhythm section of the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra in 1946. At that time the quartet sometimes served as a respite in Gillespie’s fiery concert programs, as can be heard on “Emanon” (1946). The four original members, the vibraphonist Milt(on) Jackson, the pianist John Lewis, the bass player Ray(mond Matthews) Brown, and the drummer Kenny Clarke, played together under various names, among them the Milt Jackson Quartet, which recorded in 1951. In 1952, with Percy Heath having replaced Brown as the group’s bass player, the band made its first recordings under the new name: the Modern Jazz Quartet. The drummer Connie Kay replaced Clarke in 1955, and the personnel stayed the same until the quartet broke up in 1974. The MJQ’s first recordings proved to be a popular success due to Lewis’s use of European forms, such as invention and fugue, which contrasted well with the swinging virtuoso improvisations of Jackson. In contrast to Jackson’s exuberant virtuosity, Lewis played deliberately restrained solos and accompaned with riffs deeply rooted in the blues. Heath had a reliable and highly recognizable bass voice and an elegant sound, and Kay added many small percussive instruments to the usual drum set to create atmosphere....

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