ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home   ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)  


In the mid-to-late fifties all you had to write was “MJQ” and jazz heads would acknowledge that this was a major band that set many standards: the MJQ

excelled at merging European forms with blues and swing



Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


*   *   *   *   *




Modern jazz Quartet: 1957  /  Dgango / Fontessa  /  The Complete Last Concert Blues on Bach No Sun in Venice


Celebration / Pyramid / Dedicated to Connie


*   *   *   *   *


Modern Jazz Quartet

At the Forefront of Experimental Jazz

By Kalamu ya Salaam


For jazz, the sixties started in the fifties. 1959 especially. Ornette Coleman hit New York and Miles gifted Kind of Blue to us. Both of these events were the culmination of a number of experiments. Ornette did away with standard chord progressions while Miles explored modal harmony. Things had changed, drastically. But whereas many people see 1959 as a beginning, that year might better be appreciated as a breakthrough of a long line of musical explorations.

Cecil Taylor, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach, Lennie Tristano and others were looking for new structural forms for jazz. The reliance on the twin keystones of blues and swing was not sufficient. Musicians began to borrow new tonalities both from classical music and from non-Western music. Standard 4/4 swing shifted to odd time signatures; and, under the influence of African and African-heritage music (especially Afro-Cuban) 3/4 and especially 6/8 became more and more common.

During that period, the Modern Jazz Quartet was at the forefront of experimental jazz. I know the MJQ sounds old-fashioned and rather conservative today but in the fifties the idea of using European musical forms in jazz was radical. I’m not talking about simply adding strings or playing softly. I’m talking about fugues and extensive use of counterpoint. 

In the mid-to-late fifties all you had to write was “MJQ” and jazz heads would acknowledge that this was a major band that set many standards: the MJQ excelled at merging European forms with blues and swing. They also performed mainly in concert halls, dressed formally and performed tightly arranged, original compositions as well as fresh, albeit reverent, interpretations of bebop-era standards.

The MJQ was a direct outgrowth of the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra. Between 1946 and 1950, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke (who was to be the first drummer with the MJQ) often played interludes and intermissions for Gillespie.

The MJQ functioned like a classical string quartet. The piano, vibes, bass and drum were a cool sound. Never harsh, seldom loud, and even when they played a straight blues there was a singular dignity and pride evident. They never sounded like they were from a juke joint or nightclub. Moreover, in 1955 once drummer Connie Kay joined the band (John Lewis— piano and chief composer; Milt Jackson—vibes; Percy Heath—bass), the personnel did not change for nearly two decades (Milt Jackson left the band in 1974).

Indeed, the unique synergy was so strong that Jackson returned and the band reassembled in 1981. Eventually the MJQ would perform for six months during any given year up to the early nineties. Their first recording had been in 1951. As the Milt Jackson Quartet, the MJQ did their last recording in 1993. Their longevity as a stable working band was also a major and unequaled accomplishment. All of their experimentation (and some would say regimentation) notwithstanding, they also swang hard and in Milt Jackson the MJQ had a master blues-based soloist. The secret of MJQ music was that no matter how much they used European forms, blues and swing were a signature element of their music.

The MJQ produced a number of jazz classics, chief among them “Django” (a homage to Django Reinhardt, a famous, Gypsy, jazz guitarist) and “Bags’ Groove” (“Bags” was Milt Jackson’s nickname). The version of "Django" in the jukebox is taken from The Complete Last Concert, a 1974 concert recording that ended the first period of the MJQ forty-some year existence. The version of "Bags’ Groove" in the jukebox also features tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, one of only a few non-MJQ musicians to record as a featured soloist. While noted for their fine interpretation of jazz standards, many people were surprised that John Lewis and the MJQ were supporters of Ornette Coleman’s radical musical experiments. The MJQ even named one of their albums Lonely Woman (an Ornette Coleman composition).

Once Miles and Trane blossomed, jazz went in different directions, but before the sixties it was the MJQ who seemed to be pointing the way ahead and who were one of the most lionized ensembles in jazz music.

Source: BoL -- Music Commentary by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya Salaam

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.The Economy

*   *   *   *   *

Cover Image

Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music

By Amiri Baraka

For almost half a century, Amiri Baraka has ranked among the most important commentators on African American music and culture. In this brilliant assemblage of his writings on music, the first such collection in nearly twenty years, Baraka blends autobiography, history, musical analysis, and political commentary to recall the sounds, people, times, and places he's encountered. As in his earlier classics, Blues People and Black Music, Baraka offers essays on the famous--Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane--and on those whose names are known mainly by jazz aficionados--Alan Shorter, Jon Jang, and Malachi Thompson. Baraka's literary style, with its deep roots in poetry, makes palpable his love and respect for his jazz musician friends. His energy and enthusiasm show us again how much Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and the others he lovingly considers mattered.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)  






update 5 May 2012




Home  Kalamu ya Salaam