MJQ Redux: Celebrating Jazz at Sewanee

aaron diehl
Aaron Diehl (credit John Abbott)

A landmark concert in the history of American music gets long overdue recognition in February. In April 1961, the Modern Jazz Quartet was heard for the first time in the South, performing at the University of the South. The progressive MJQ had landed in Sewanee thanks to the efforts of the student Jazz Society. The University offered up its gymnasium one Sunday afternoon for a superb concert in the round, and hosted one of the first integrated events to occur on campus—or anywhere in the region.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, the University pays tribute to that landmark event by hosting the Aaron Diehl Quartet in performance, reviving the songs played by the MJQ in 1961. Aaron Diehl, celebrated for his virtuosity as both jazz and classical pianist, brings the outstanding vibraphonist Warren Wolf along with David Wong, bass, and Peter Van Nostrand, drums—altogether forming an ensemble exceptionally capable of handling the MJQ book.

In the preceding days, Feb. 9 and 10, the University also hosts a symposium dedicated to the music of the MJQ. The symposium assembles several leading names in jazz studies, including Gary Giddins, featured expert in Ken Burns’s Jazz and author of Visions of Jazz and Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star; George Schuller, freelance NYC drummer and producer of the documentary Music Inn; Phil Schaap, fabled New York City jazz personality (curator, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and WKCR jazz host); and Dr. Christopher Coady, the author of John Lewis and the Challenge of “Real” Black Music and lecturer at the Sydney (Australia) Conservatorium of Music. Aaron Diehl also contributes to the symposium with a performance-discussion on Lewis’s charts from a pianist’s perspective. See more information about specific dates, times, locations, and registration and ticket charges.

Modern Jazz QuartetThe Modern Jazz Quartet opened jazz to new audiences at the same time that it expanded the art’s frontiers. Some of their recordings apply jazz inspiration to classical forms and textures, heading in the direction sometimes labeled “third stream,” while others venture towards the cool or bop idioms within jazz. Together the quartet recorded, performed, and toured longer than virtually all other chamber ensembles—from the early 1950s to the mid-’90s. The symposium program aspires to achieve a compelling articulation—through film, speakers, panel discussions, listening with experts, musical exposition, and performance by master musicians—of the timeless significance of this music and the musicians who played it. (Photo, left, courtesy the David Gahr Estate)

In conjunction with the MJQ symposium, surviving members of the Sewanee Jazz Society will celebrate a reunion Feb. 8 and 9.

Several divisions of the University underwrite these events: the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Lectures Committee, Performing Arts Series, Office of Minority Affairs, Office of Alumni and Parent Programs, Departments of Music and History, Program in American Studies, along with the Sewanee Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation.