Feb 20 – Nat Steele’s MJQ with Grant Stewart

I find audiences fascinating. Their reactions are very telling. When I arrived at this event, I found pianist Gabriel Latchin going through various beginnings and endings of tunes with the bassist who I didn’t recognise. I didn’t, because he wasn’t the bass player who was billed to be there. It turned out that Dario De Lecce who was supposed to be playing had to return to Italy hurriedly because of a family bereavement. Mátyás Hofecker had travelled from London that afternoon and he was playing, without rehearsal, that night. This fact was told to audience in the closing moments of the show and there was a hushed murmur from the audience which could only be translated as genuine amazement that a member of this quintet could have fitted in so well at such short notice. That murmur was quite rightly followed by applause. It was a moment that just underlined the versatility and musical ability of jazz musicians in that they are able to play certain pieces of music as part of a show and are able to do it so well with little or no rehearsal time.

The idea behind this quintet is that they are paying homage to the 1956 Prestige album ‘Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet.’ This is not so clear cut as it might sound. When you consider that this LP was compiled from recordings made at both ends of 1951 and the autumn of 1953 with a number of different musicians even in the MJQ department, then it was not that easy to nail anyone’s particular musical style. There were a number of constants on this LP. Percy Heath, Milt Jackson and of course Sonny Rollins were present throughout but drummers varied from Art Blakey through Kenny Clarke to Roy Haynes. Pianists from John Lewis through Kenny Drew to yes, Miles Davis as a pianist, sans trumpet! Out of all this there were only four tracks on the original LP that featured the MJQ proper. But in all this discographical confusion, the titles of the tunes did give the whole show its identity.

In the second half they played Django which is of course synonymous with the classic quartet and of course it enabled Gabriel Latchin to really sound like John Lewis. Ironically, Django was not on the original LP but I wouldn’t disagree that it should be included. They did though play many tunes that were on the original. These included The Stopper, a composition by Rollins as was No Moe. There was also Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood and Lerner and Lowe’s Almost Like Being In Love. I suppose it didn’t really matter if something was played that wasn’t on the original, after all it was the spirit, a mirror of the time and the music with the feeling of those sessions that came through.

Grant Stewart was a superb tenor saxophonist who captured the mood of the original sessions while Steve Brown is a drummer who will fit in so beautifully with the demands of any group and he did so on this occasion. Nat Steele, the leader introduced the numbers and explained the reasons for them being included. His vibraphone playing again, like the rest of the band captured the mood of those heady days when modern jazz really was trail blazing and without doubt very modern for the times. I suppose with bands like this, it still is.

You can listen to one of the numbers below