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Milton Jackson
Milt Jackson
October 9, 1999
Age 76 
Liver Cancer
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 NY TIMES 

Milt Jackson, Jazz Vibraphonist, Dies at 76

          By BEN RATLIFF 

Milt Jackson, the jazz vibraphonist who was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet for 40 years and was one of the premier improvisers in jazz with a special brilliance at playing blues, died on Saturday at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. He was 76 and lived in Teaneck, N.J.  

The cause was liver cancer, said his daughter, Chyrise Jackson.  

All the best jazz musicians know how to take their time, and Jackson was no different. Originally a singer in a Detroit gospel quartet, he created a new sound in the 1940's by slowing down the motor on his Deagan Vibraharp's oscillator to a third of the speed of Lionel Hampton's; a result, when he chose to let a sustained note ring, was a rich, warm, smoky sound, with a vibrato that approximated his own singing.  

"He came closer than anyone else on the instrument to making it sound like the human voice," said the young vibraphonist Stefon Harris yesterday.  

"It's a collection of metal and iron, and we don't have the ability to bend notes and make vocal inflections like a saxophone. But Milt played the instrument in the most organic way possible -- with a warm, rich sound. He set a precedent that this instrument can speak beautiful things, and that it's not just percussive."  

Jackson, who was born in Detroit, had become an impressively broad musician by the middle of his teen-age years. He had perfect pitch, and he began teaching himself guitar at the age of 7, started piano lessons at 11 and in high school played five instruments: drums, tympani, violin, guitar and xylophone; he also sang in the choir. By the age of 16, he had picked up the vibraphone as well, encouraged by a music teacher, and sang tenor in a popular gospel quartet called the Evangelist Singers as well as beginning his jazz career, playing vibraphone with Clarence Ringo and the George E. Lee band.  

Out of high school, he almost joined Earl Hines's big band, but his draft notice intervened. In 1944, back in Detroit after two years of overseas military service, he set up a jazz quartet called the Four Sharps. (He admitted that he got his nickname, Bags, from the temporary furrows under his eyes incurred by a drinking binge after his release from the Army.) Dizzy Gillespie saw the quartet at a Detroit bar on a swing through the Midwest, and called upon Jackson in 1945 to join his band in New York.  

Jackson's style, then and later, came from Charlie Parker, rather than Hampton, his most prominent precursor on the instrument; he not only tried to achieve a hornlike legato with his mallets, but he adopted many of Parker's rhythmic traits as well. He was the first bona fide bebop musician on the vibraphone, and became one of the prides of Gillespie's own band.  

Gillespie also brought him to Los Angeles to fill out his sextet at Billy Berg's club, hedging against the probability that Parker, who was in the band and at the low point of his heroin addiction, would fail to show up.  

Back in New York in 1946, Jackson recorded some of bebop's classics with Gillespie's orchestra -- "A Night in Tunisia," "Anthropology" and "Two Bass Hit." Jackson, the pianist John Lewis, the bassist Ray Brown and the drummer Kenny Clarke were the rhythm section of Gillespie's band. "Dizzy had a lot of high parts for the brass in that group," remembered Brown. "So he said, 'I have to give these guys' lips a little rest during concerts, and while they're resting, you should play something.' " The development of this rhythm section's relationship led to some recordings for Gillespie's own label, Dee Gee, by a new band known as the Milt Jackson Quartet.  

Jackson left Gillespie and came back to him again for a period in the early 1950's. And in 1951, with Thelonious Monk, he made recordings that would further the idiom again, weaving his linear improvisations around Monk's abrupt, jagged gestures on pieces including "Criss Cross"  and "Straight, No Chaser."  

Lewis, the pianist, began to have ideas about forming a new group, one that would go beyond the notion of soloists with a rhythm section. He had an extensive knowledge of classical music, had been involved in the sessions with Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan that would become known as "Birth of the Cool," and he envisioned a more deliberately formal feeling for a small band.  

In 1952 the Modern Jazz Quartet began, with Clarke as drummer and Percy Heath as bassist. Connie Kay replaced Clarke in 1955. After a while, Lewis became the group's musical director.  

The group wore tailored suits and practiced every aspect of their public presentation, from walking on stage to making introductions to the powerfully subdued arrangements in their playing. They wanted to bring back to jazz the sense of high bearing it had been losing as the popularity of the big bands was slipping and jazz became more of a music predicated on the casual jam-session.  

Through two decades of immaculately conceived and recorded albums on Atlantic Records, beginning in 1956, their vision was borne out. Initially, they found that audiences were somewhat startled by the authority of their quietness; eventually the group would be one of the few jazz bands embraced by an audience much wider than jazz fans.  

Lewis economized, playing small chords and creating a light but sturdy framework for the music, and Jackson was the expansive foil, letting his tempos crest and fall, luxuriating in the passing tones and quick, curled runs of bebop. It was often supposed that he grew frustrated with his role in the band; in a recent interview Jackson said he felt that Lewis suppressed the group's sense of swing. In 1974 he left, dissolving the band until it reunited for the first of several tours in the 1980's.  

Kay died in 1994, and the Modern Jazz Quartet, with Mickey Roker sitting in for him, gave its last performance the following year.  

Besides being widely acknowledged as one of the music's greatest improvisers, Jackson wrote a lot of music -- most famously the blues pieces "Bags' Groove," "Bluesology" and "The Cylinder." He recorded widely. He made small-group and orchestral records in the early 1960's, collaboration albums with John Coltrane and Ray Charles, and a large number of records on the Pablo label during the 1970's and 1980's with Brown on bass, as well as Gillespie, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and others. In 1992 he began a series of albums produced by Quincy Jones for the Qwest label; the most recent, from this year, was "Explosive!," recorded with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. The last collaboration with Brown and Peterson, "The Very Tall Band," was issued this year by Telarc.  

In addition to his daughter, of Fort Lee, N.J., he is survived by his wife, Sandra, of Teaneck, and three brothers: Alvin, of Queens, and Wilbur and James, both of Detroit. 

 
 
     
  Milt Jackson, jazz vibraphonist, dies at 76

NEW YORK (AP) -- Milt Jackson, a jazz vibraphonist who made theinstrument sing like the human voice as a longtime member of the ModernJazz Quartet, died of liver cancer. He was 76. 

Jackson, one of the best improvisers in jazz and an outstanding blues player,died Saturday at a Manhattan hospital. 

Jackson originally was a singer in a Detroit gospel quartet. In the 1940s, he created a new sound by slowing the motor on his Deagan Vibraharp's oscillator to a third of the speed of Lionel Hampton's. The result was a warm, smoky sound with a vibrato approximating his own singing. 

"He came closer than anyone else on the instrument to making it sound like the human voice," vibraphonist Stefon Harris said Sunday. 

"He set a precedent that this instrument can speak beautiful things and that it's not just percussive," he said. 

Jackson's style came from Charlie Parker, whose rhythmic traits he adopted. He was one of the first bona fide be-bop vibraphone musicians, and he became a jewel in Gillespie's band. He recorded be-bop classics with the band, such as "A Night in Tunisia," "Anthropology" and "Two Bass Hit." 

In 1951, Jackson teamed with Thelonius Monk, recording "Criss Cross" and "Straight, No Chaser," among others. 

When a pianist in Gillespie's band, John Lewis, decided to form a new group, one going beyond soloists with a rhythm section, Jackson signed on. In 1952, the Modern Jazz Quartet was born. 

Through 20 years of albums, mostly for Atlantic records, the group became one of the first jazz bands embraced by an audience much wider than jazz fans. Members choreographed all aspects of their presentation, from walking on stage to playing their subdued arrangements. 

The band dissolved in 1974 and reunited temporarily for a few tours in the 1980s and early 1990s. 

Jackson started teaching himself to play the guitar when he was 7 and taking piano lessons when he was 11. By high school, he played five instruments: drums, guitar, timpani, violin and xylophone. 

By the time Jackson was 16, he had begun playing the vibraphone and was performing with Clarence Ringo and the George E. Lee band. He started a jazz quartet, the Four Sharps, after high school and two years of overseas military service. 

When Dizzy Gillespie saw the Four Sharps in a Detroit bar, he asked Jackson to join the rhythm section of his band in New York. 

       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
All-Music Guide
Born: Jan 1, 1923 in Detroit, MI
 
                            Before Milt Jackson there were only two major vibraphonists:  Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo. Jackson soon surpassed both of them in significance and, despite the rise of other players (including Bobby Hutcherson and Gary Burton), still wins the popularity polls. Jackson (or Bags as he has long been called) has been at the top of his field for 50 years, playing bop, blues and ballads with equal skill and sensitivity. 

Milt Jackson started on guitar when he was seven and piano at 11; a few years later he switched to vibes. He actually made his professional debut singing in a touring gospel quartet. After Dizzy Gillespie discovered him playing in Detroit, he offered him a job with his sextet and (shortly after) his innovative big band (1946). Jackson recorded with Dizzy and was soon in great demand.  During 1948-49 he worked with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee and the Woody Herman Orchestra. After playing with Gillespie's sextet (1950-52) which at one point included John Coltrane, Jackson recorded with a quartet comprised of John Lewis, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke (1952) which soon became a regular group called the Modern Jazz Quartet. Although he recorded regularly as a leader (including dates in the 1950s with Miles Davis and/or Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Ray Charles), Milt Jackson stayed with the MJQ through 1974, becoming an indispensable part of their sound. By the mid-'50s Lewis became the musical director and some felt that Bags was restricted by the format but it actually served him well, giving him some challenging settings. And he always had an opportunity to jam on some blues including his "Bags' Groove." However in 1974 Jackson felt frustrated by the MJQ (particularly financially) and broke up  the group. He recorded frequently for Pablo in many all-star settings in the 1970s and after a seven-year vacation the MJQ came back in 1981. In addition to the MJQ recordings, Milt Jackson cut records as a leader throughout his career for many labels including Savoy, Blue Note (1952), Prestige, Atlantic, United Artists, Impulse, Riverside, Limelight, Verve, CTI, Pablo, Music Masters and Qwest -- Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide 


Milt Jackson 
 
Milton "Bags" Jackson was the first to adapt bebop lines to the vibraphone. His sanctified, sepia-shimmered vibes and perfect solos signatured the Modern Jazz Quartet and inspired generations of followers for over 50 years.  

Born on Jan. 1, 1923, in Detroit, Jackson's musical beginnings were in the neighborhood gospel churches as a pianist, guitarist, violinist percussionist and singer. He took up the vibraphone in high school. He led a gospel quartet, the Evangelical Singers, and a jazz combo, the Four Sharps. He moved to New York, played with Earl Hines and in 1945, joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band rhythm section, which also included pianist John Lewis, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Kenny Clarke. He worked with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis and in 1951 recorded with Gillespie band mates Lewis, Clarke and Brown.  Inspired by that recording, they reformed as the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952 with Percy Heath replacing Ray Brown and Connie Kay taking the drum chair after the departure of Kenny Clarke in 1955.  

From that time until their temporary disbanding in 1974 and reunion in 1982, Jackson's impassioned improvisations and indigo-tinged compositions, including "Bluesology" and "Bag's Groove," helped define the MJQ sound. Jackson recorded many splendid dates as a leader, including Big Band Bags and Ballads and worked with many jazz immortals, including John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones. In '99 he fronted an album date with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Explosive! (Qwest). --Eugene Holley, Rolling Stone

 
In an interview in the new Downbeat with Milt Jackson, the classiest, bluesiest great vibes player, they ask him who his favorite singers were. He mentions the usual jazz singers and then his wife, who was at the interview asks... 
  
Sandy Jackson:  Milt, who was that guy you used to play on the juke box every time?  Charles Brown?  Was it "Drifting Blues?" 
  
Milt Jackson:  Ray Brown (great bass player) and I used to go into this restaurant at night, after work.  Me or Ray would get a dollar's worth of nickels and just put nickel after nickel in that juke box and listen to him play "Drifting Blues and Merry Christmas Baby." 
  
Sandy Jackson:  The woman who owned the restaurant hated to see them 'cause they kept playing the same thing all night long. 
 

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