Modern Jazz Movement
Its A Movement
But anyone whod eavesdropped closely on the conversations wouldve detected an occasional reference to Denny or Frank, accompanied by a gesture on the part of the speaker toward the group. And anyone whod observed the crowd wouldve noticed several patrons paying the kind of rapt attention that serious musicians strive to merit. A lot of people at our shows are really into what we do, says Dennis Skerrett, the aforementioned Denny and the groups saxophonist. They want to hear us go out there and play some crazy stuff that they havent heard before. But there are other people who arent really into jazz, and theyll be sitting there going, What are these guys?
Actually, Skerrett continues, if I think too much about the crowd, I start to tense up and not enjoy myself as much. So I just turn it off, zone out, and do my own thing.
The disc should certainly help them to take the Next Step. Comprised entirely of group originals, the disc features an impressive improvisational homage to Thelonious Monks Well You Neednt and two enthusiastically swinging pieces the nine-minute Theme Two and the 13-minute Theme Two that in their emotional and musical range not only honor but at times even flatter the groups musical heroes, many of whom first rose to prominence 50 years ago, during the first modern jazz era.
MJMs members can affectionately and knowledgeably recite the names of the musicians who inspired them individually (Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius for Pierre, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley for Skerrett). But if it was Dexter Gordons Live at Carnegie Hall that, as Pierre says, had the single biggest effect on the way the members listen to each other, its Miles Davis who seems to be the groups truest touchstone.
Miles Davis was the first jazz trumpet player that I heard, says Martin, whose swamp-pop-musician father Donald Martin was the first non-jazz trumpet player that he heard (Chicagos Lee Lough-nane the second.). Kind of Blue is probably my favorite jazz album, but I also love his works with Gil Evans Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess, and Miles Ahead. Those are great too.
My favorite period for Miles, says Pierre, is the 60s to the 70s. I enjoy all the stuff, but he started changing the players and I think he started playing the tunes better in the 60s.
Pierres appreciation for later-period Davis has also enabled him to help his fellow Modern Jazzsters get hip to such later-period Davis landmarks as Bitches Brew and Miles in the Sky. Im still trying to learn how to listen to that stuff, confesses Martin. Im still not at the point where I can really understand whats going on. But Dion has helped. Hell tell me, This is whats going on, or ask, What do you think about this?
Dion, laughs Skerrett, is our music library. We all check out discs from him.
Ironically, one group with whom MJM has yet to come to terms is the one with whom for reasons of nomenclature it is most likely to be confused: the Modern Jazz Quartet. Formed in 1950 by John Lewis, Percy Heath, Connie Kay and Milt Jackson, the group was responsible for such landmark jazz recordings as European Concert (1960) and Pyramid (1960). It broke up in 1974 23 years before MJM came together.
I dont think the Modern Jazz Quartet entered our minds when we came up with the name, says Skerrett. Maybe that was ignorant on our part. Now that MJM is making a bid for national attention, he admits, the similarity between the two names is becoming something of an issue. Weve given the disc to people that we know who have sent it off to people that they know. And when they get it, they go, Modern Jazz Movement? That sounds an awful lot like Modern Jazz Quartet.
Not that MJM and the MJQ have nothing in common. Their most obvious difference aside (MJM features trumpet and sax, MJQ featured piano and vibes), their goals are/were almost as similar as their names. What makes jazz unique, the Quartets pianist John Lewis once told Nat Hentoff, is that it is collective improvisation that swings. ... (T)he bass, drums, and piano should, and can, do more than simply supply a basic pulsation.
At their best, the MJMs bass, drums, and piano certainly can and often do. As for collective improvisation, there is, according to Skerrett, a reason that the Movement prefers not working with a set list. So much of what we do onstage is improvised that we dont know if a song is going to be five minutes or if everybodys going to get really inspired and stretch it out to 10. We want to be able to take it somewhere else.
We want to force ourselves to listen, he adds. We want to force ourselves to have more of a conversation.
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