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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Four Classic Albums

Avid AMSC 945




Tracks 1-7: The Modern Jazz Quartet

1. Medley: They Say It’s Wonderful, How Deep Is The Ocean, I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You, My Old Flame, Body And Soul
2. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea
3. La Ronde: Drums
4. Night In Tunisia
5. Yesterdays
6. Bags’ Groove
7. Baden-Baden
Tracks 8-18: Django

8. Django
9. One Bass Hit
10. La Ronde Suite Part 1: Piano
11. La Ronde Suite Part 2: Bass
12. La Ronde Suite Part 3: Vibes
13. La Ronde Suite Part 4: Drums
14. The Queen’s Fancy
15. Delaunay’s Dilemma
16. Autumn In New York
17. But Not For Me
18. Milano

Tracks 1-7: Fontessa

1. Versailles
2. Angel Eyes
3. Fontessa
4. Over The Rainbow
5. Bluesology
6. Willow Weep For Me
7. Woody'n You
Tracks 8-16: Modern Jazz Quartet At Music Inn

8. Oh, Bess, Oh, Where’s My Bess
9. A Fugue For Music Inn
10. Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West
11. Serenade
12. Fun
13. Sun Dance
14. The Man That Got Away
15. A Morning In Paris
16. Variation No. 1 on "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
John Lewis - Piano
Milt Jackson - Vibes
Percy Heath - Bass
Connie Kay - Drums (except on CD1, tracks 8-19)
Kenny Clarke - Drums (CD1, tracks 8-19)
Jimmy Giuffre - Clarinet (CD2, tracks 9, 11, 12)

The Modern Jazz Quartet started as a kind of spin-off from the Dizzy Gillespie band, where John Lewis met Milt Jackson and Kenny Clarke (replaced as the MJQ's drummer in 1955 by Connie Kay). Originally called the Milt Jackson Quartet, the group changed its name to the Modern Jazz Quartet when it became a co-operative. Yet the power behind the band was always John Lewis, who not only played piano but wrote the arrangements and many of the tunes, including such trademark MJQ numbers as Django and La Ronde.

It was Lewis's approach to jazz which in many ways determined the direction the quartet took. This is particularly clear in pastiche baroque pieces like The Queen's Fancy and the suite Fontessa (which was inspired by the Commedia dell'arte). Lewis introduced classical devices like counterpoint and fugue into the band's performances. This led some critics to damn the group for its classical influences - and the associated fact that the MJQ members dressed in posh suits and adopted a generally serious demeanour, like musicians in a symphony orchestra.

These criticisms were unjustified, because the MJQ had great success and introduced many people to a love of jazz, as well as showing that jazz could be dignified as well as fun. Besides, Milt Jackson's playing was firmly based on the blues, so his solos often have a down-home quality which dissipates any tendency towards solemnity.

Another factor in their success was the group's integration: they sounded like a united quartet rather than four men just playing at the same time. Classic tracks like Django demonstrate their togetherness and precision - and John Lewis's tune has a tasteful mixture of seriousness and bluesy swing (the latter most evident in Percy Heath's famous double-bass figure). Jimmy Giuffre's understated clarinet melds perfectly with the quartet in three tracks on the second CD. As Giuffre said: "We both like the subtle aspects".

Now that the MJQ is no more, perhaps we can put aside the controversies of the past and recognise that the group was unique, as well as making a lasting contribution to the jazz canon. And the Avid label has worked wonders again: squeezing four original LPs from the 1950s onto a double CD at a bargain price.

Tony Augarde


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