NEW YORK (AP) -- Milt Jackson, a jazz vibraphonist who made the
instrument sing like the human voice as a longtime member of the
Modern Jazz Quartet, died of liver cancer. He was 76.
Jackson, one of the best improvisers in jazz and an outstanding
blues player, died Saturday at a Manhattan hospital.
Jackson originally was a singer in a Detroit gospel quartet. In
the 1940s, he created a new sound by slowing the motor on his
Deagan Vibraharp's oscillator to a third of the speed of Lionel
Hampton's. The result was a warm, smoky sound with a vibrato
approximating his own singing.
"He came closer than anyone else on the instrument to making it
sound like the human voice," vibraphonist Stefon Harris said
"He set a precedent that this instrument can speak beautiful
things and that it's not just percussive," he said.
Jackson's style came from Charlie Parker, whose rhythmic traits
he adopted. He was one of the first bona fide be-bop vibraphone
musicians, and he became a jewel in Gillespie's band. He recorded
be-bop classics with the band, such as "A Night in Tunisia,"
"Anthropology" and "Two Bass Hit."
In 1951, Jackson teamed with Thelonius Monk, recording "Criss
Cross" and "Straight, No Chaser," among others.
When a pianist in Gillespie's band, John Lewis, decided to form
a new group, one going beyond soloists with a rhythm section,
Jackson signed on. In 1952, the Modern Jazz Quartet was born.
Through 20 years of albums, mostly for Atlantic records, the
group became one of the first jazz bands embraced by an audience
much wider than jazz fans. Members choreographed all aspects of
their presentation, from walking on stage to playing their subdued
The band dissolved in 1974 and reunited temporarily for a few
tours in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Jackson started teaching himself to play the guitar when he was
7 and taking piano lessons when he was 11. By high school, he
played five instruments: drums, guitar, timpani, violin and
By the time Jackson was 16, he had begun playing the vibraphone
and was performing with Clarence Ringo and the George E. Lee band.
He started a jazz quartet, the Four Sharps, after high school and
two years of overseas military service.
When Dizzy Gillespie saw the Four Sharps in a Detroit bar, he
asked Jackson to join the rhythm section of his band in New York.