The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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The Small Combos
Since this role was filled by Charles Mingus and later by Red Mitchell the group never lacked any pulsating drive.
The Modern Jazz Quartet has stirred up even more contro­versy. Organized by the pianist and arranger John Lewis, one of the bop soloists in the Gillespie band of the mid-40s, it is com­posed entirely of bop musicians (vibraphonist Milt Jackson and bassist Percy Heath are also Gillespie alumni) but is dedicated to a fragile style in which the audience's attention is directed to the ingenuity and complexity of the arrangements more fre­quently than to the nature and quality of the solos. Kenny Clarke, a bop pioneer who was the group's original drummer but left because of the restrictions it imposed on him, later said: "At first the Modern Jazz Quartet was a sympathetic, swinging group, but John Lewis soon took over, and although he can play terrific jazz himself when he wants to, basically he hates jazz; he prefers Bach and Chopin. You can't imagine how boring it was, working in the Modern Jazz Quartet, wanting to play jazz and having to play those damn arrangements. So I quit . . . Milt Jackson is a great jazzman whose hands are tied in this group; he'll wind up by quitting too."
A less vehement attitude was expressed by Andre" Hodeir, who, while acknowledging that Lewis deserves unqualified praise for "having faced up to the problem of the relationship between theme, arrangement and solo," bridled at the "allusions to classi­cal and pre-classical European forms" and adds: "There is a certain gratuitousness about Lewis' eflEorts, I'm afraid." On the other hand, Ralph Gleason has written that "The Modern Jazz Quartet is one of the relatively few groups in recent jazz history that have achieved the submersion of the individual talents into a group sound, feeling and existence that is actually more than the sum of its parts." The Quartet has been similarly praised from time to time by Nat Hentoff, Whitney Balliett and John S. Wilson.
Late in 1952, Gerry Mulligan startled the jazz world by demon­strating in an unprecedented manner that a small combo could fulfill 3ie normal jazz functions without any rhythm instrument to furnish the substructure of chords on which the improvisations are based. Normally a piano and/or guitar had supplied this