In 1936, these four men were the Modern Jazz Quartet. No, not John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Connie Kay — but Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa. Forget for a moment all the ideological disdain to which Goodman has been subjected — as a successful Caucasian musician who made jazz a popular art form, as an idiosyncratic individual whose foibles have baffled and entertained many for years.
Rather, think of the enthralling effect of these records and performances had in 1936 (following logically on the Goodman Trio). How many houses were introduced to free-spirited small-group improvisation because of those Victor records? How many people, young and old, took up musical instruments or re-applied them to ones already known, because of the Quartet?
And — since we are always in danger of forgetting this — what prejudices and hatreds were gradually weakened by the knowledge that two of the admired musicians in the Quartet were “colored.” Could the race that produced Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton really be inferior?
For those who view jazz through the telescope of modernity, thus making the Quartet dusty and “harmonically and rhythmically limited,” Charlie Parker didn’t think so, and the home acetates of Bird improvising over the Goodman Trio and Quartet records of CHINA BOY and AVALON are evidence enough. It doesn’t require a great imaginative leap to hear echoes of the Goodman small groups in the “bebop revolution” less than a decade later: unison playing on variations on the theme, with fleet work by a reed soloist and a good deal of attention given to percussive counterpoint.
Consider all this as a prelude to a wonderful set of music performed at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party by four players — international stars — honoring the Quartet. They are Antti Sarpila, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Ed Metz, drums. The repertoire was “standard” when the Quartet improvised on it, but it still has energy and freshness in 2014.
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:
THE MAN I LOVE:
TIME ON MY HANDS:
THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:
All the virtues of the original Quartet are on display: its melodic inventiveness, its delightful witty interplay, its swinging rhythms, its indefatigable drive — but these four players honor rather than imitate, which is what the original Quartet did whenever they performed.
May your happiness increase!