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Modern Jazz Quartet – “European Concert 1960” – a classic

tue 21 dec 2021
Theme: Jazz

Saturday 25th Dec, 14:00 – Concertzender Live. On the podium the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). Not in a club  but in a concert hall, the musicians in dinner dress. They play stylish, elegant chamber jazz. In America  people discuss whether this is really jazz?  But in Europe the quartet can already reckon on a large and enthusiastic public.

In 1960 the quartet came to Europe for the third time for a concert series. This resulted in the live album European Concert, with recordings from Stockholm and Göteborg. The lineup: John Lewis piano, Milt Jackson vibraphone, Percy Heath bass and Connie Kay drums.

Lewis, founder and leader of the MJQ, was responsible for a large part of their repertoire. In his pieces he used elements from classical music such counterpoint, imitation and organ points. As well as improvisation there is room for tightly arranged passages. Lewis piano playing is introvert, thoughtful, cool, rarely fast or virtuoso. His accompaniments during Jackson’s solos are mostly melodic. Lewis is completely in control of the total quartet’s playing.
Vibraphone player Milt Jackson on the other hand is prolific with his notes and plays very fast during the improvisations.

Django is one of the standards of the MJQ. Composer John Lewis dedicated it to his friend, the guitarist Django Reinhardt. The piece comprises several repeated passages with an ” organ point ” – the bass player plays one long note while the chords change.

Vendome contains a number of characteristic Baroque ( Bach ) elements. The piano imitates the opening melody of the vibraphone like a fugue. The harmonic design and modulations are both classical. And another Baroque reference – the piece starts in the minor key but ends in the major.

Bags’ Groove is a blues by vibraphone player Milt Jackson. (‘Bags’ was his nickname, referring to the bags under his eyes.) Right from the start the vibraphone and piano play polyphonically: Jackson plays the theme, Lewis simultaneously plays a counter melody.  Further on Lewis adopts a strong bluesy attack. Three quarters of the way through the piece comes a surprise which transforms into the finishing start theme.

(Never heard music by the MJQ ? Give it a try!, this is polished and high quality cool jazz.)

Concertzender Live – a programme by Jaap van de Klomp