John Lewis: Early Years Before The MJQ, 1946-52

Three-CD set might not define its subject well, but it contains lots of strong, bop-oriented modern jazz unlikely ever to be found elsewhere


This is a dazzling compilation of great music, but much of it does little to define the character of its subject. John Lewis was an important figure, part of the backbone of jazz, a powerfully creative arranger and composer and a delightfully light, swinging piano player.

Those who have put this set together have culled minor appearances from every corner of his career, often when he was a sideman providing support rather than shining as a soloist. Nonetheless the music, featuring as it does Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and other greats at their best, make this an invaluable filler-up to one’s collection or, for the tyro, a great representation of modern jazz/bebop as one of the pillars of jazz. This is one of the best albums of the year.

The idea of the producers was to mark out Lewis’s path to the formation of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lewis’s creation that matured between 1949 and 1952. Move and Budo, from the seminal Miles Davis 1949 band, are included because they were Lewis arrangements – Al Haig is the pianist.

After four tracks by Miles’s All Stars with Parker comes Two Bass Hit, Dizzy’s classic recording of John’s piece (which later became La Ronde for the MJQ). The final 12 tracks on CD3 are by the Milt Jackson Quartet. All have the MJQ instrumentation and the final four of those are by the precise 1952 group that became the MJQ.

All the tracks here have merit as historical classics; some of Parker’s finest recordings, including Parker’s Mood, are here and there’s a lot of early and enjoyable “modern” jazz that you’re unlikely ever to find elsewhere.

CD1: Milestones; Little Willie Leaps; Half Nelson; Sippin’ At Bells; Two Bass Hit; Bobbin’ With Robin; Slits; Baggy Eyes; Barbados; Ah-Leu-Cha; Constellation; Parker’s Mood; Perhaps; Marmaduke; Steeple Chase; Merry-Go-Round; Move; Budo; Big Foot; Black Velvet; Adam’s Alley; Venus De Milo; Rouge; Boplicity; Audobahn [Audubon]; Don’t Blame Me (71.01)
CD2: Goof Square; Bee Jay; Elysée; Opus V; Hilo; Afternoon In Paris; Elora; Teapot; Blue Mode; Deception; Rocker; Moon Dreams; Three Little Words; Count Every Star; It All Depends On You; Jeepers Creepers; My Silent Love; Jane-O; Dancing In The Dark; Memories Of You; Thou Swell; September In The Rain; Undercover Girl Blues; Frenesi (70.31)
CD3: Little Pee Blues; Morpheus; Down; The Blue Room; Whispering; Foggy Day; Let’s Fall In Love; Down ’N’ Adam; Lester Swings; Si Si; Swedish Schnapps; Back Home Blues; Loverman; Milt Meets Sid; D & E; Yesterdays; Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea; Autumn Breeze; Bluesology; Round Midnight; Moving Nicely; Tahiti; Lillie; Bag’s Groove; What’s New? (73.07)

Lewis (p, arr) with groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, Illinois Jacquet, J J Johnson, Zoot Sims and Lester Young and featuring Sonny Rollins, Kai Winding, Sonny Stitt, Lee Konitz, Ray Brown, Percy Heath, Jo Jones, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke and others. 1946-52. Full personnels identifiable by tune title in Tom Lord’s discography.
Acrobat ACTRCD9119