AMERICAN MOSAIC #815 - John Lewis & the MJQ

By Nancy Steinbach


American jazz musician John Lewis died last month. He was eighty years old. Mr. Lewis wrote music and played jazz piano. He is best remembered as the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Shep O'Neal has more.


John Lewis grew up in the state of New Mexico. He graduated from the University of New Mexico. Later he taught music to college students in New York and Massachusetts. Critics say he also wrote some of the best jazz music ever. Listen to one of his compositions, "For Ellington."


After serving in World War Two, John Lewis moved to New York City.He and three other musicians formed the Modern Jazz Quartet in the early Nineteen-Fifties. The group made its first recording in Nineteen-Fifty-Two, and continued to play and record until Nineteen-Ninety-Nine.

The Modern Jazz Quartet played music that was different from other jazz groups. John Lewis wrote most of the songs the group played. One of his most famous is a piece he wrote to honor Gypsy jazz guitar player Django Reinhardt. It is called "Django."


Critics say The Modern Jazz Quartet was probably the most celebrated small group in jazz history. It always enjoyed great success. John Lewis explained it simply when he said, "We enjoyed making music."

We leave you now with another musical composition written by John Lewis and recorded by the Modern Jazz Quartet. This one is called "The Jasmine Tree."

Voice of America Special English