An interpretation of the semiotics of ‘self’ with the Modern Jazz Quartet on Jazz 625 as a case study


  • Alexander Gagatsis University of Manchester



Jazz 625, Modern Jazz Quartet, television, jazz


In this article I examine the Modern Jazz Quartet’s first appearance for the BBC programme, Jazz 625, which featured guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Taking my cue from the repertoire and presentation of the group, as well as the technological affordances and modernist outlook of Jazz 625, I explore some of the ways that the BBC show affirmed the MJQ as a signifier of quality and enhanced its efforts to challenge static depictions of black visibility. In discussing the quartet’s television appearances as texts that reflect upon the quartet’s work in a wider social and cultural framework, I address broader aesthetic questions regarding the work of the MJQ and attempt to understand how and why this arrangement was materialized, and how the MJQ and Jazz 625 were entangled in some evolving social formations.

Author Biography

Alexander Gagatsis, University of Manchester

Alexander Gagatsis is a lecturer in music at the University of Manchester. He holds Masters degrees from the Trinity College of Music, King’s College London, and an Artist Diploma from the State University of New York where he studied with Hal Galper, John Abercrombie and Jon Faddis. He completed his PhD in 2018 at the University of Nottingham with Mervyn Cooke. His research interests include jazz historiography, jazz improvisation, theory and analysis, music theory and cognition, and topics in cultural anthropology.


Born, Georgina (2011) ‘Music and the Materialisation of Identities’. Journal of Material Culture 16/4: 376–88.

Coady, Christopher (2016) John Lewis and the Challenge of “Real” Black Music. Jazz Perspectives; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Collie, Hazel, and Irwin Mary (2013) ‘The Weekend Starts Here: Young Women, Popo Music Television and Identity’. Screen 54/2: 262–69.

Cooke, Mervyn (2002) ‘Jazz among the Classics, and the Case of Duke Ellington’. In The Cambridge Companion to Jazz, ed. David Horn and Mervyn Cooke, 153–74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dawkins, Arthur (1984) ‘Transcription of an Interview with Milt Jackson. Howard University Jazz Oral History Project: Milt Jackson’. Transcript 1.

——(1984) ‘Interview with John Lewis, Howard University Jazz Oral History Project: John Lewis’.

DeMicheal, Don (1961) ‘Jackson of the MJQ’. Downbeat 28/14: 18–21.

Doctor, Jenny (2016) ‘Jazz Is Where You Find It: Encountering Jazz on BBC Television, 1946–66’. In Watching Jazz: Encounters with Jazz Performance on Screen, ed. Björn Heile, Peter Elsdon and Jenny Doctor, 103–46. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, John (2000) ‘Scheduling: The Last Creative Act in Television?’ Media, Culture and Society 22/1: 25–38.

Ellison, Ralph (1962) ‘On Bird, Bird-Watching and Jazz’. Saturday Review, 47–49.

Faddis, Jon (2009) ‘Lessons from Bags’. In Downbeat: The Great Jazz Interviews, ed. Ed Enright and Frank Alkyer. New York: Hal Leonard.

Feuer, Jane (2007) ‘HBO and the Concept of Quality TV’. In Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond, ed. Janet McCabe and Kim Akass, 145–57. London: I.B. Tauris.

Friedwald, Will (1985) ‘The Modern Jazz Quartet: Form and Re-Form’. Downbeat 52/2: 23–25.

Gagatsis, Alexander (2015) ‘Bags Still Grooves: Performance Strategies in Milt Jackson’s Improvisations’. Jazz Perspectives 9/2: 137–71.

Gebhardt, Nicholas (2016) ‘Screening the Event: Watching Miles Davis’ My Funny Valentine’. In Watching Jazz: Encounters with Jazz Performance on Screen, ed. Björn Heile, Peter Elsdon and Jenny Doctor, 221–38. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Gleason, Toby (2016) Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

Giddins, Gary (1998) Visions of Jazz. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Gottlieb, Robert (1996) Reading Jazz. New York: Pantheon/London: Bloomsbury.

Gray, Herman S. (2005) Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks (1994) Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Klapp, Orrin E. (1969) The Collective Search for Identity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Mawer, Deborah (2014) French Music and Jazz in Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore (1964) The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects. London and New York: Bantam Books.

Meintjes, Louise (2003) Sound in Africa! Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Page, Ben (1970) ‘Open Bags: An Interview with Milt Jackson’. Downbeat (30 April): 18–20.

Palmer, Richard (2010) ‘Milt Jackson Reconsidered, Part I’. Jazz Journal 63: 6–7.

——(2010) ‘Milt Jackson Reconsidered, Part III’. Jazz Journal 63/3: 10–12.

Pillai, Nicolas (2016) Jazz as Visual Language: Film, Television, and the Dissonant Image. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.

Radano, Ronald M. (1993) New Music Figurations: Anthony Braxton’s Cultural Critique. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ramsey, Guthrie P. (2013) The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

Reisner, Robert G. (1977) The Jazz Titans, Including “the Parlance of Hip”. New York: Da Capo Press.

Rivero, Yeidy M. (2015) Broadcasting Modernity: Cuban Commercial Television, 1950–1960. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

Rusch, Robert D. (1984) ‘Milt Jackson’, In Jazztalk: The Cadence Interviews, 41–48. Secausus, NJ: Lyle Tuart Inc.

Sachs, Ed (1959) ‘John Lewis, Man and Musician’. Downbeat 26/3: 18.

Schulenberg, David (2006) The Keyboard Music of J. S. Bach. London: Routledge.

Seiter, Ellen (1992) ‘Semiotics, Structuralism, and Television’. In Channels of Discourse, Reassembled, ed. Robert C. Allen, 31–66. Chapel Hill, NC and London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Torres, Sasha, ed. (1998) Living Colours: Race and television in the United States. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

——(2003) Black, White, and in Colour: Television and Black Civil Rights. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Wall, Tim, and Paul Long (2009) ‘Jazz Britannia: Mediating the Story of British Jazz on Television’. Jazz Research Journal 3/2: 145–70.

Williams, Martin (1970) Jazz Masters in Transition, 1957–1969. London: MacMillan.

Williams, Martin (1993 [1970]) The Jazz Tradition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Raymond (1974) Television, Technology and Cultural Form. London and New York: Routledge.

Wilson, John S. (1960) ‘Extremes of Jazz Meet Nightly’. The New York Times (3 November 1960): 47.

Woodard, Josef (1999) ‘Milt Jackson: Elegant Vibrations’. Jazz Times. (accessed 26 August 2017).

Zwerin, Mike (2003) ‘MJQ and a Fountain of Youth’. New York Times (19 November 2003). (accessed 26 August 2018).



How to Cite

Gagatsis, A. (2019). An interpretation of the semiotics of ‘self’ with the Modern Jazz Quartet on Jazz 625 as a case study. Jazz Research Journal, 12(1), 36–62.