Milt Jackson

Milton "Bags" Jackson (January 1, 1923 – October 9, 1999) was an American jazz vibraphonist,[1] usually thought of as a bebop player, although he performed in several jazz idioms. He is especially remembered for his cool swinging solos as a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet and his penchant for collaborating with several hard bop and post-bop players.

Milt Jackson
Jackson in New York, ca. 1947
Background information
Birth nameMilton Jackson
Born(1923-01-01)January 1, 1923
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedOctober 9, 1999(1999-10-09) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresHard bop, Afro-Cuban jazz, modal jazz, mainstream jazz, post-bop
Occupation(s)Musician, soloist, composer, bandleader
InstrumentsVibraphone, piano
LabelsImpulse!, Atlantic, CTI, Prestige, Apple
Associated acts

A very expressive player, Jackson differentiated himself from other vibraphonists in his attention to variations on harmonics and rhythm. He was particularly fond of the twelve-bar blues at slow tempos. He preferred to set the vibraphone's oscillator to a low 3.3 revolutions per second (as opposed to Lionel Hampton's speed of 10 revolutions per second) for a more subtle tremolo. On occasion, Jackson sang and played piano professionally.


Jackson was born on January 1, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan, United States,[1] the son of Manley Jackson and Lillie Beaty Jackson. Like many, he was surrounded by music from an early age, particularly that of religious meetings: "Everyone wants to know where I got that funky style. Well, it came from church. The music I heard was open, relaxed, impromptu soul music" (quoted in Nat Hentoff's liner notes to Plenty, Plenty Soul). He started on guitar when he was seven, then on piano at 11.[2]

While attending Miller High School, he played drums in addition to timpani and violin and also sang in the choir. At 16, he sang professionally in a local touring gospel quartet called the Evangelist Singers. He took up the vibraphone at 16 after hearing Lionel Hampton play the instrument in Benny Goodman's band. Jackson was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, who hired him for his sextet in 1945, then his larger ensembles.[1] Jackson quickly acquired experience working with the most important figures in jazz of the era, including Woody Herman, Howard McGhee, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker.[1]

In the Gillespie big band, Jackson fell into a pattern that led to the founding of the Modern Jazz Quartet: Gillespie maintained a former swing tradition of a small group within a big band, and his included Jackson, pianist John Lewis, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Kenny Clarke (considered a pioneer of the ride cymbal timekeeping that became the signature for bop and most jazz to follow) while the brass and reeds took breaks. When they decided to become a working group in their own right, around 1950, the foursome was known at first as the Milt Jackson Quartet, becoming the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) in 1952.[1] By that time Percy Heath had replaced Ray Brown.

Known at first for featuring Jackson's blues-heavy improvisations almost exclusively, in time the group came to split the difference between these and Lewis's more ambitious musical ideas (Lewis had become the group's musical director by 1955, the year Clarke departed in favour of Connie Kay), boiling the quartet down to a chamber jazz style that highlighted the lyrical tension between Lewis's mannered, but roomy, compositions and Jackson's unapologetic swing.

The MJQ had a long independent career of some two decades until disbanding in 1974, when Jackson split with Lewis.[1] The group reformed in 1981, however, and continued until 1993, after which Jackson toured alone, performing in various small combos, although agreeing to periodic MJQ reunions.[1] From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, Jackson recorded for Norman Granz's Pablo Records, including Jackson, Johnson, Brown & Company (1983), featuring Jackson with J. J. Johnson on trombone, Ray Brown on bass, backed by Tom Ranier on piano, guitarist John Collins, and drummer Roy McCurdy.

In 1989, Jackson was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.[3]

His composition "Bags' Groove" is a jazz standard ("Bags" was a nickname given to him by a bass player in Detroit. "Bags" referred to the bags under his eyes).[4] He was featured on the NPR radio program Jazz Profiles. Some of his other signature compositions include "The Late, Late Blues" (for his album with Coltrane, Bags & Trane), "Bluesology" (an MJQ staple), and "Bags & Trane".

Jackson died of liver cancer in Manhattan, New York,[1] at the age of 76.[5] He was married to Sandra Whittington from 1959 until his death; the couple had a daughter.[5][6]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Milt Jackson among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[7]


With the Modern Jazz Quartet

As sideman

With Cannonball Adderley

With Count Basie

With Benny Carter

With Kenny Clarke

With Miles Davis

With Roy Eldridge

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Quincy Jones

With Hank Mobley

With Oscar Peterson

  • Reunion Blues (MPS, 1971)
  • The Oscar Peterson Big 6 at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1975 (Pablo, 1975)

With Don Sebesky

With Stanley Turrentine

With Dinah Washington


  1. Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. p. 218. ISBN 1-85227-937-0.
  2. Heckman, Don; Oliver, Myrna (October 12, 1999). "Milt Jackson; Vibraphonist With Modern Jazz Quartet". Los Angeles Times.
  3. Mattingly, Rick. "Milt Jackson". PAS Hall of Fame. Percussive Arts Society.; retrieved March 25, 2018.
  4. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955–1965. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505869-0.
  5. Ratliff, Ben (October 11, 1999). "Milt Jackson, 76, Jazz Vibraphonist, Dies". The New York Times.
  6. Cotroneo, P. J. (January 2002). "Jackson, Milt". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1803666.
  7. Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  8. "Milt Jackson [Blue Note] - Milt Jackson | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
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