Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The Classical Elegance of MJQ
I was taken to task by commenter Bartek for not including the Modern Jazz Quartet in my best 50 jazz recordings.I can only rely on the mercy of the court on this one. I have long admired MJQ. I vaguely recall an album cover from the LP age. The four, John Lewis (p), Milt Jackson (v), Percy Heath (b), and Connie Kay (d), were all dressed in very elegant suits. That small thing imparted a dignity to their whole enterprise. This was a group that thought it could stand next to any string quartet. Indeed, it could, and that is something in the long adversarial relationship between jazz and "serious music."
Milt Jackson, or Bags if you want to be formal, was the most famous of the four. I think that John Lewis probably had more influence on the group. MJQ stood for a kind of professionalism that is often lacking in jazz. For some odd reasons that I won't mention, my collection is sadly lacking in MJQ recordings. But this evening I purchased The Complete Last Concert. It wasn't the last concert, but it is complete. Listening to it tonight, I wonder how I got along without it. It is one of the core collection entries in the Penguin Guide (may its name be praised). I am going to have to squeeze it into the list when next I revise it.
Here is a sample, a version of one of my favorite standards.