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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)

 

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MJQ CDs

 

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

 

Celebration / Pyramid / Dedicated to Connie

 

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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

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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#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

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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

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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.

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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)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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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

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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

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update 5 May 2012

 

 

 

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