Biography All Music GuideWikipedia
All Music Guide:
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 won the popularity polls throughout the decades. Jackson (or "Bags" as he was long called) was 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 Gillespie, and was soon in great demand. During 1948-1949, he worked with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, and the Woody Herman Orchestra. After playing with Gillespie's sextet (1950-1952), 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 numbers, 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. He died of liver cancer on October 9, 1999, at the age of 76.
Milton "Bags" Jackson (January 1, 1923 – October 9, 1999) was an American jazz vibraphonist, usually thought of as a bebop player, although he performed in several jazz idioms. He is especially remembered for his cool swinging solos as a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet and his penchant for collaborating with several hard bop and post-bop players.
A very expressive player, Jackson differentiated himself from other vibraphonists in his attention to variations on harmonics and rhythm. He was particularly fond of the twelve-bar blues at slow tempos. He preferred to set the vibraphone's oscillator to a low 3.3 revolutions per second (as opposed to Lionel Hampton's speed of 10 revolutions per second) for a more subtle vibrato. On occasion, Jackson would also sing and play piano professionally.
He was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, who hired him for his sextet in 1946 and also kept him for larger ensembles. He quickly acquired experience working with the most important figures in jazz of the era, including Woody Herman, Howard McGhee, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker.
In the Gillespie big band, Jackson fell into a pattern that led to the founding of the Modern Jazz Quartet: Gillespie maintained a former swing tradition of a small group within a big band, and his included Jackson, pianist John Lewis, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Kenny Clarke (considered a pioneer of the ride cymbal timekeeping that became the signature for bop and most jazz to follow) while the brass and reeds took breaks. When they decided to become a working group in their own right, around 1950, the foursome was known at first as the Milt Jackson Quartet, becoming the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952. By that time Percy Heath had replaced Ray Brown.
Known at first for featuring Jackson's blues-heavy improvisations almost exclusively, in time the group came to split the difference between these and Lewis's more ambitious musical ideas (Lewis had become the group's musical director by 1955, the year Clarke departed in favour of Connie Kay), boiling the quartet down to a chamber jazz style that highlighted the lyrical tension between Lewis's mannered, but roomy, compositions and Jackson's unapologetic swing.
The MJQ had a long independent career of some twenty years until disbanding in 1974, when Jackson split with Lewis, partly in an attempt to make more money on his own and, more likely, because he sought the improvisational freedom he once enjoyed. The group reformed in 1981, however, and continued until 1993, after which Jackson toured alone, performing in various small combos, although agreeing to periodic MJQ reunions.
From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, Jackson recorded for Norman Granz's Pablo Records, including Jackson, Johnson, Brown & Company (1983), featuring Jackson with J. J. Johnson on trombone, Ray Brown on bass, backed by Tom Ranier on piano, guitarist John Collins, and drummer Roy McCurdy.
He also was a guest on recordings by many leading jazz, blues, and soul artists, such as B.B. King, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, and Ray Charles.
His composition "Bags' Groove" is a jazz standard ("Bags" was a nickname given to him by a bass player in Detroit. "Bags" referred to the bags under his eyes from his habit of staying up all night.) He was featured on the NPR radio program Jazz Profiles. Some of his other signature compositions include "The Late, Late Blues" (for his album with Coltrane, Bags & Trane), "Bluesology" (a Modern Jazz Quartet staple), and "Bags & Trane."
Milt Jackson was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey. He died on October 9, 1999, aged 76, and was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.