The 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.
In 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. 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
Percy Heath (bass)
Milt Jackson (vibraphone)
John Lewis (piano)
Mickey Roker (drums)
01. Don’t Stop This Train (Lewis) 5.47
02. 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