Modern Jazz Quartet

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Modern Jazz Quartet

Comprising vibraharpist Milt Jackson, pianist-composer John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay, the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) epitomizes the style that came to be known as "cool jazz." Although grounded in the fiery bebop style of the late 1940s, its repertory is characterized by elegant ensemble precision, a restrained emotional atmosphere (aided by the relatively cool timbres of the vibraharp and piano), and a self-conscious attempt to bring compositional techniques derived from European art music into a working relationship with jazz improvisation.

Jackson and Lewis were originally members of Dizzy Gillespie's big band and occasionally performed as a quartet in the late 1940s with Kenny Clarke on drums and Ray Brown on bass. The Modern Jazz Quartet proper made its recording debut in 1952 for the Prestige label. Wearing tuxedos on stage, members of the MJQ brought jazz to audiences accustomed to European chamber music. Such early Lewis compositions as "Vendome" (1952) and "Concorde" (1955) attracted attention for their use of fugal textures, while later projects such as The Comedy (1962) made more ambitious use of a modern compositional idiom derived in part from contemporary European "classical" music and were associated with the Third Stream movement.

The music of the MJQ has nevertheless remained firmly rooted in African-American culture, through the soulful improvising of Jackson and a continuous exploration of the bluesfor example, the album Blues at Carnegie Hall, 1966. In 1974 the group disbanded, only to reform for tours and recordings in 1981.

See also Gillespie, Dizzy; Jazz; Lewis, John


Williams, Martin. "John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet: Modern Conservative." In The Jazz Tradition, rev. ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, pp. 172182.

scott deveaux (1996)

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Modern Jazz Quartet

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Modern Jazz Quartet