Music: Gentlemen of Jazz

When the Modern Jazz Quartet was formed in 1952, it was a musical revelation. Bop, with its honks and squawks and dissonances, was at the height of its popularity. Dizzy Gillespie was king.

MJQ was a spin-off from Gillespie, but it offered not so much as a toot. No sax, no horn, no clarinet. Instead there was a clean, nearly transparent sound made by piano, vibraharp, bass and drum.

With the passage of time, the quartet —Pianist John Lewis, Bassist Percy Heath, Drummer Connie Kay and Vibraharpist Milt Jackson—became a phenomenon of a different sort. It stayed together for 22 years, longer than...

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