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Milt Jackson:Great Vibes for a New Year!

Milton “Bags” Jackson (January 1, 1923 – October 9, 1999)

Milt Jackson

For the longest time my favorite vibraphonist was Gary Burton and while he still may be my favorite, coming in a close second is Milt Jackson, who would have celebrated his 92nd  birthday today! From Wikipedia:

 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.Complete Biography


Milt Jackson, like most jazz musicians started playing music early, in his case it was guitar at 7! By age 11, he switched to piano, a few years later he moved on to vibes. His professional career started when Dizzy Gillespie aksed him to join his sextet and later when Gillespie formed his big band Jackson was asked to join the band. As a result of the time he spent with Gillespie, Jackson became an in demand musician. In 1948-1949, he worked with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, and the Woody Herman Orchestra.

After 1949, 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 (MJQ). From the  formation of  MJQ through 1974  Jackson recorded both as a leader  recording with the likes of:  Miles Davis and/or Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, and Ray Charles, and MJQ  Milt Jackson left the MJQ in 1974 and recorded solely as a leader for seven years before returning to the Quartet in 1981

I have several Milt Jackson albums in my music library now and I hope to keep the number rising, because there’s a lot of them out there! In honor of  Milt’s birthday I’m listening now to Bags Meets Wes recorded in 1961, and produced by Orrin Keepnews. On the album, Jackson and Montgomery are joined with pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Philly Joe Jones.

From AllMusic:

Although Jackson and Montgomery prove what lyrical ballad players they could be on the standard “Stairway to the Stars,” ballads aren’t a high priority on this album. Instead, the improvisers put more of their energy into the blues — and the 12-bar format serves them well on “Sam Sack,” “Blue Roz,” and “S.K.J.” Equally strong are hard-swinging versions of Montgomery’s “Jingles” and Benny Golson’s “Stablemates.” Read More


Maybe later today, I’ll give Bags & Trane, a listen.That album teams Milt Jackson with John Coltrane. For me,  it doesn’t get much better than these two albums!!

So here’s some morning  music from Milt Jackson, Art Farmer and Benny Colson as they perform “Bags Grove” with a special guest Toots Thielemans, probably one of the greatest harmonica players of all time! I confess I know little about Toots, most of the harp players know play the blues – so I think there will be some Toots Thielemans being played tomorrow. So take some time and listen to the music on this video because it’s awesome!  What a way to start a new year!! Happy Birthday, Milt Jackson…..