I’d have to guess that anyone this far into the music section–in fact, most anyone who has even opened the music section–knows about Milt Jackson, the sad-faced vibraphonist who fronted the Modern Jazz Quartet. Just as the long-lived MJQ has introduced more listeners to jazz than almost any other musical enterprise, so has Jackson created more fans for his instrument (an electrified version of the xylophone) than any other player. He did this in two steps, each of them as important to the music’s history as to his own popularity. First, he transformed the vibraphone from a hot staccato-sounding percussion instrument–as it sounded in the hands of the first jazz vibist, Lionel Hampton–into one capable of cool, lyrical legato melodies. Jackson thought in terms of horn lines, letting his solos breathe where a saxist might pause for air and emphasizing the instrument’s electronically driven vibrato–and thus dramatically expanded the vibraphone’s interpretive range and emotional appeal. Then he developed into one of the most accomplished and insightful bebop improvisers on any instrument–a soloist who stands at most half a notch beneath his contemporaries Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. (In fact, many commentators agree that Jackson belongs on a shortlist of the great soloists in history along with such stylistic forebears as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Lester Young.) His splendidly measured solos during last weekend’s Jazz Festival tribute to Gillespie, in whose 1946 band he established his reputation, reiterated his enduring genius–the deceptively simple filigrees, the imperturbable pulse slightly behind the beat, the lines that trace sharp but graceful arcs. He’ll perform with his touring quartet, which features the reliably supportive Mike LeDonne, a pianist of technical facility but also improvisational depth, as well as veterans Bob Cranshaw on bass and Mickey Roker on drums. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 670-2473.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jeffrey Scales Scales.