The Modern Jazz Quartet was established in 1952 by Milt Jackson (vibraphone), John Lewis (piano, musical director), Percy Heath (bass), and Kenny Clarke (drums). Connie Kay replaced Clarke in 1955. Through the years the quartet had performed in several jazz styles, including bebop, cool jazz and third stream.
Milt Jackson, Lewis, and Clarke had originally played together in a quartet while in the Dizzy Gillespie orchestra from 1946 to 1950. Together with Ray Brown they played during interludes designed to give the trumpeters time to recover from the challenging upper register trumpet parts. This line-up recorded as the Milt Jackson Quartet in 1951.Jackson and Lewis originally shared the role of musical director but Lewis eventually took over the entire responsibility of this position.In their middle years the group often played with classical musicians, but its repertoire consisted mainly of bop and Swing era standards. Among the original compositions from the band's book are