Modern Jazz Quartet – Blues On Bach (1974)

FrontCover1Blues on Bach is an album by American jazz group the Modern Jazz Quartet recorded in 1973 and released on the Atlantic label. The album includes five John Lewis arrangements of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, interspersed with four original blues pieces “on” [the name] “Bach” — in keys (and with titles) that spell out in order the name B-A-C-H.

The five pieces arranged from Bach originals are: “Regret?” from “The Old Year Has Now Passed Away”; “Rise Up in the Morning” from “Sleepers Wake”; “Precious Joy” from “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”; “Don’t Stop This Train” from a selection in “Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach”; and “Tears from the Children” from the Prelude 8 in E-flat minor from Book I of the “The Well-Tempered Clavier”).

For the four blues pieces, the “spelling” of the titles follows the system Bach and his German contemporaries used, in which the letter B indicates B-flat, and the letter H is B-natural. So, the four blues pieces that spell the name B-A-C-H are in the keys of B-flat (major), A (minor), C (minor) and B (major). (by wikipedia)


This album has an interesting concept, alternating four original blues with five adaptations of melodies from classical works by Bach. The Modern Jazz Quartet had long been quite adept in both areas, and despite a certain lack of variety on this set (alternating back and forth between the two styles somewhat predictably), the music is largely enjoyable. Vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianist John Lewis (doubling here on harpsichord), bassist Percy Heath, and drummer Connie Kay were still all very much in their musical prime during the 21st year of the MJQ’s existence. (by Scott Yanow)


Do not neglect hearing this recording especially “Blues in H” as one of the better performances by this group. Creativity in composition by John Lewis is what makes the recording so good for me. Compare this with their recording in Sweden in 1960’s for a live performance. You had to see and hear this group rather than merely listen to it. I was privileged to have had that chance in 1990. “Blues on Bach” will change your mind about the relevance of this group’s contribution to jazz – it was much more lasting than many others say. Interplay with the double bass and piano with Mr. Milt Jackson was worth the time. Read the obituary for Mr. Jackson in the New York Times. This group made an introduction to world music if you want to say something profound about it. (by Freddie Frumko)


Percy Heath (bass)
Milt Jackson (vibraphone)
Connie Kay (drums)
John Lewis (piano, harpsichord)

Alternate frontcovers:

01. Regret? (Lewis) 2.07
02. Blues In B Flat (Lewis) 4.58
03. Rise Up In The Morning (Lewis) 3.25
04. Blues In A Minor (Lewis) 7.54
05. Precious Joy (Lewis) 3.15
06. Blues In C Minor (Jackson) 8.00
07. Don’t Stop This Train (Lewis) 1.48
08. Blues in H (B) (Jackson) 5.47
09. Tears From The Children (Lewis) 4.25

Music inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach




More from the Modern Jazz Quartet:

Modern Jazz Quartet – A Night At The Opera (1993)

FrontCover1The Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) was a jazz combo established in 1952 that played music influenced by classical, cool jazz, blues and bebop. For most of its history the Quartet consisted of John Lewis (piano), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Percy Heath (double bass), and Connie Kay (drums). The group grew out of the rhythm section of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band from 1946 to 1948, which consisted of Lewis and Jackson along with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke. They recorded as the Milt Jackson Quartet in 1951 and Brown left the group, being replaced as bassist by Heath. During the early-to-mid-1950s they became the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis became the group’s musical director, and they made several recordings with Prestige Records, including the original versions of their two best-known compositions, Lewis’s “Django” and Jackson’s Bags’ Groove”. Clarke left the group in 1955 and was replaced as drummer by Connie Kay, and in 1956 they moved to Atlantic Records and made their first tour to Europe.

Under Lewis’s direction, they carved their own niche by specializing in elegant, restrained music that used sophisticated counterpoint inspired by baroque music, yet nonetheless retained a strong blues feel. Noted for their elegant presentation, they were one of the first small jazz combos to perform in concert halls rather than nightclubs. They were initially active into the 1970s until Jackson quit in 1974 due to frustration with their finances and touring schedule, but reformed in 1981. They made their last released recordings in 1992 and 1993, by which time Kay had been having health issues and Mickey Roker had been his replacement drummer while Kay was unavailable. After Kay’s death in 1994, the group operated on a semi-active basis, with Percy Heath’s brother Albert Heath on drums until disbanding permanently in 1997.

MJQSixties.jpgIn July 1974, Jackson quit the group, later citing frustration with their finances as his primary reason. He was also unhappy with the group’s touring schedule, which by then had become year-round rather than the previous arrangement in which they had vacations during the northern hemisphere summer. Jackson had previously used the downtime to play and record music that was not in the style of the Modern Jazz Quartet, but felt saddled in the group after they also began playing at summer jazz festivals in 1969 or 1970.[2] The jazz magazine DownBeat compared their breakup to “the abrupt disintegration of Mt. Rushmore”. In November 1974 they performed a farewell concert at Avery Fisher Hall, later released as a series of two albums and then as a complete package, The Complete Last Concert (1988). They had occasional reunion concerts, never going more than eighteen months without playing together, before reuniting in 1981 for a tour of Japan, recorded as Reunion at Budokan 1981 for Pablo Records. They recorded three more albums for Pablo, Together Again: Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival ’82 (1982), Echoes (1984), and Topsy: This One’s for Basie (1985), before returning to Atlantic, recording Three Windows (1987, with the New York Chamber Symphony) and For Ellington (1988).


Kay had a stroke in 1992 and during his recovery was replaced by drummer Mickey Roker, who performed on some tracks on the group’s last released recording, MJQ & Friends: A 40th Anniversary Celebration (recorded 1992–1993, released1994). Kay died in November 1994, after which the group operated on a semi-active basis; the 1995 album Dedicated to Connie, a recording of a 1960 concert in Slovenia, was released in his memory. In February 1995, Albert Heath, Percy Heath’s brother, became the quartet’s percussionist. Percy Heath had become tired of touring by 1997 and the group permanently disbanded in that year after a final recording date. In October 1999, Jackson died, followed by Lewis in March 2001 and Heath in April 2005. (by wikipedia)

And here´s one of their last recorded live performance … and this is a very beautiful legacy of a real unique jazz band !

Recorded live at the Opera of Philadelphia, 1992


Alternate frontcover

Percy Heath (bass)
Milt Jackson (vibraphone)
John Lewis (piano)
Mickey Roker (drums)

01. Don’t Stop This Train (Lewis) 5.47
Blues In B (Lewis) 5.21
03. Blues In A Minor (Lewis) 7.11
04. Blues In C Minor (Jackson) 5.39
05. Alexander’s Fugue (Lewis) 5.40
06. Minor Love (Lewis/Jackson) 5.03
07. Legendary Profile (Jackson) 4.18



The Modern Jazz Quartet – Germany 1956-1958 – Lost Tapes (2013)

FrontCover1Taken from the original liner-notes:
Who would have thought this quartet would confound revolutions in fashion and survive for 40 years? And how many are aware that its popular breakthrough came in Europe in 1957? The conquest of the general public by these four gentlemen was more an act of seduction. The rhythm section of the Dizzy Gillespie Band formed the basis of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) in 1952. At the time of these recordings, John Lewis was still in the process of developing the unique concept of MJQ as a jazz chamber group and to use a wide variety of sources to create a style of jazz free of cliche. “Change your attitude” was the MJQ motto. Jazz to them was more than mere chance music, loose jamming and a lot of swing: it required new and innovative approaches. Change was also tangible in terms of the group’s physical appearance – the four musicians wore tuxedos – and in the way they filed onto the stage. Everything was choreographed and exuded dignity.

The fact that Lewis, the man of ideas, was every inch an equal to his partner Jackson, the great improviser, is clearly audible in “Ralph’s New Blues” (written by Jackson for the critic Ralph J. Gleason in 1955), where he leads in and out of his own solo with great formal sophistication. During a studio break following TV recordings, Joachim-Ernst Berendt, the dedicatee of “J.B. Blues”, asked vibes player Milt Jackson to record a piece for the first time without rhythm section, mentioning the famous unaccompanied solo of Coleman Hawkins, “Picasso”. And that is how the version of “Tenderly” came about. Each track exemplifies how John Lewis, to quote Andre Francis, turned four musicians into “a sensitive instrument which vibrates in the same universe of sound, achieving a communion unique in the world of jazz.” (by Karl Lippegaus)

MJQ1956Modern Jazz Quartet in 1956

 “This is the stuff collectors dream of. The numbers induce salivating: a literal trove of never-before-released live jazz recordings dating back to 1947, some 3.000 hours of music. In all, there are 1,600 well-preserved, German-made audio recordings and 350 TV broadcasts by more than 400 artists and groups… That’s three down, 1,597 to go. Bring ’em on!” (by Jeff Tamarkin, JazzTimes)

Percy Heath (bass)
Milt Jackson (vibraphone)
Connie Kay (drums)
John Lewis (piano)
Harald Banter Ensemble (on 05.)
Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra (on 06., 07.)

01. Ralph’s New Blues (Jackson) 4.38
02. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Traditional) 5.03
03. Willow Weep For Me (Ronell) 4.07
04. I’ll Remember April (DePaul) 4.12
05. Midsömmer (Lewis) 8.22
06. Bluesology (Jackson) 5.53
07. Django (Lewis) 7.03
08. Sun Dance (Lewis) 4.11
09. Cortège (Lewis) 8.08
10. You Go To My Head (Coots) 5.14
11. I Can’t Get Started (Duke) 3.03
12. Tenderly (Gross) 3.07
13. J.B. Blues (Lewis) 5.11