Milt Jackson
Jackson in New York, with bassist Ray Brown, c. 1947
Jackson in New York, with bassist Ray Brown, c. 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, New York, U.S.
  • Musician
  • soloist
  • composer
  • bandleader

Milton Jackson (January 1, 1923 – October 9, 1999), nicknamed "Bags", 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 hard bop and post-bop players.

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. On occasion, Jackson also sang and played piano.


Jackson was born on January 1, 1923, in Detroit, Michigan, United States,[1] the son of Manley Jackson and Lillie Beaty Jackson. Like many of his contemporaries, 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, and 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.[3]

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.[citation needed]

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.[4]

In 1989, Jackson was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Berklee College of Music.[5]

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).[6] 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".[citation needed][7]

Jackson died of liver cancer in Manhattan, New York,[1] at the age of 76.[8] He was married to Sandra Whittington from 1959 until his death; the couple had a daughter.[8][9]


As leader

Jackson at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay, California, 1980s.
Jackson at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Half Moon Bay, California, 1980s.

Posthumous release


With the Modern Jazz Quartet

Jackson (left) in Seattle, Washington, c. 1980
Jackson (left) in Seattle, Washington, c. 1980

Further information: Modern Jazz Quartet

As sideman


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h 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. ^ "Percy Heath | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  4. ^ "Jackson, Johnson, Brown & Company - Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  5. ^ Mattingly, Rick. "Milt Jackson". PAS Hall of Fame. Percussive Arts Society.; retrieved March 25, 2018.
  6. ^ Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955–1965. New York: Oxford University Press. 1992. ISBN 0-19-505869-0.
  7. ^ Owens, Thomas (2003). "Jackson, Milt(on) (jazz)". doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.J219800. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  8. ^ a b Ratliff, Ben (October 11, 1999). "Milt Jackson, 76, Jazz Vibraphonist, Dies". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Cotroneo, P. J. (January 2002). "Jackson, Milt". American National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1803666.
  10. ^ "Milt Jackson [Blue Note] - Milt Jackson | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 25, 2019.