Stories of Standards: "Bags' Groove" by Milt Jackson

Sep 28, 2018

Milt Jackson 1952 album cover

Tune in to Jazz with Victor Cooper - weekdays from 6-9 a.m. MT - for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song all week long starting Monday, October 1!

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Milt Jackson first recorded “Bags’ Groove” in 1952, with the other members of what became the MJQ. Established in 1946 and Initially known as the Milt Jackson Quintet, It changed the name to Modern Jazz Quartet in 1952. The title derived from Milt Jackson’s nickname “Bags”, which he acquired after leaving the Army and going on a monumental drinking binge, resulting in deep furrows under his eyes. MJQ began with John Lewis on piano, Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Ray Brown on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. In 1952 Percy Heath replaced Ray Brown on bass, the only change in personnel other than Connie Kay’s replacing Kenny Clark in 1955 and Jackson’s departure from 1974-1981.

Milt Jackson (1923-1999) started with guitar when seven years old and went to piano at eleven before switching to vibes a few years later after hearing Lionel Hampton. In high school, he played drums, timpani, and violin in addition to singing in choir. His proficiency in this range of instruments was no doubt facilitated by having perfect pitch. In 1945 Jackson was spotted and hired by Dizzy Gillespie, who maintained the swing tradition of a “band within a band”. Gillespie’s arrangements placed such great demands on the reed and brass players that the quintet of percussionists was formed to let the reed and brass players rest their lips, which incidentally led to the MJQ becoming very well known and in great demand. The clash between Jackson’s “inventive and bluesy” style and Lewis’ “semi-classical” style created friction, but also served as a challenge to the players’ techniques. Regarded as one of the great improvisational jazz players, Milt Jackson led the polls for 50 years and was awarded numerous awards and honors.