The Modern Jazz Quartet: Django

MJQ in Tuxedos

Ceremonially attired, affecting deadpan expressions suitable for illustrations in an embalmer’s manual, the MJQ looked like four stiffs modeling for Madame Tussaud. Their musical charm, however, will live forever. Based on a Bartók piano piece, John Lewis's finest composition is a tribute to the great Gypsy swing guitarist Django Reinhardt, who died a year earlier. "Django" doesn’t sound like Django, but it’s a stately, swinging, multihued masterpiece of modern jazz.

In a famous putdown, Miles Davis likened the MJQ to boxers "fighting in tuxedos." If so, "Django" wins the undisputed world championship for pugilists in evening dress. It's a knockout.

October 29, 2007 · 0 comments


George Shearing: East of the Sun

In 1949, pianist George Shearing committed jazz's cardinal sin: popularity. Building an appealing formula around closely voiced block chords and bracketing his keyboard with vibes and guitar, Shearing caressed the contours of a melody in relaxed, behind-the-beat unison, polishing medium-tempo standards to a perfect sheen. The public loved it. Therefore critics hated it. But open your ears for 3 minutes and let "East of the Sun" in. You'll be captivated by the care shown to dynamic shadings (a lost art in bebop) and by Shearing's shimmering ensembles, like church bells pealing amid the English countryside on a quiet summer morn.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


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