The Medieval Jazz Quartet Plus Three

To say that this is one of the more unusual jazz recordings of all time would be an understatement. When one thinks of instruments used in jazz, it is natural to think of trumpets, trombones, saxophones, clarinets, flutes, pianos, organs, guitars, basses, drums and various percussion instruments. One can also add violins, and even harmonicas, oboes, bassoons, accordions and French horns. But few would ever think of recorders! Bob Dorough, best known as a pianist, singer, lyricist and composer, conceived of this project in 1961. Sticking to tenor recorder throughout the album, he is joined by LaNoue Davenport on a variety of recorders (and the tenor crumhorn), Martha Bixler on soprano recorder and Shelley Gruskin on bass recorder, plus guitarist Al Schackman, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Paul Motian..

The group's name, The Medieval Jazz Quartet Plus Three is a play on both, The Modern Jazz Quartet and the Firehouse Five Plus Two. Normally the ensemble was called the Manhattan Recorder Consort. This album was partly inspired by the interest in ancient music and instruments that was prevalent at the time, along with the folk music revival. However the song titles give a strong clue as to the music, for the repertoire consists of eight jazz standards including "How High The Moon," Lady Be Good" and "Mood Indigo." Imagine hearing those tunes played by four recorders!

Dorough was originally a clarinetist before switching his focus to piano, and he is one of the key soloists on this set. So is LaNoue Davenport, who at the time was the recorder soloist with the Pro Musica Antiqua of New York in addition to being a former trumpeter. Martha Bixler was a pianist and harpsichord player while Shelley Gruskin played flute with the NBC Symphony. Bob Dorough's arrangements feature the recorders on both swinging sections and classical-oriented segments. While most of the tunes include the full septet, "You Are Too Beautiful" is for four tenor recorders and classical guitar and "Autumn Leaves" is performed by the recorders alone. "How High The Moon" goes through several tempo changes while "Lady Be Good" shows that there is no reason why recorders cannot swing as hard as flutes. The Medieval Jazz Quartet, which a half-century later is still a unique recording, is a surprise success.


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How High The Moon September Song Chloe Nature Boy Lady Be Good You Are Too Beautiful Mood Indigo Autumn Leaves

Additional Info

Additional Info

Format: Jazz Record
Soloist/Artist Bob Dorough
Instruments Music and Musicians
Composer No
Accompanist/ Conductor The Medieval Jazz Quartet with George Duvivier, bass; Al Schackman, guitar; Paul Motian, drums


Customer Reviews (3)

"Unusual and Truly Unique!"Review by Big Toots
CJ 19 The Medieval Jazz Quartet plus Three

It has been my pleasure to review a fair number of jazz recordings on which instruments not usually – or never in this case – associated with jazz are used. I’ve done harps, bagpipes and even bassoons. It is always an interesting exploration. However, never have I critiqued a session that incorporated using a crumhorn or a bouzouki. So, I approached this recording by The Medieval Jazz Quartet with a bit of interest and, might I honestly add, prejudicial trepidation. I didn’t know that there was somewhat of a surprise in store for me.

Multi-instrumentalist and sonic adventurer, Bob Dorough – he of Schoolhouse Rock fame - here leads a group of musicians performing on rather odd medieval instruments (certainly not odd players) over 8 well-known jazz standards (“How High the Moon,” Lady Be Good,” “Lady Be Good”). The sonic textures that emanate from the various recorders, crumhorns and baroque flute are certainly unique and are novel to most jazz ears – including mine. The sounds are an acquired aural taste, but, they are indeed seductive.

And, while the instruments have the capacity to perform melodies, harmonize well (Dorough did the fine charts) and solo, there are certain aspects of the jazz and Bop vocabulary that those axes cannot create and sound. For example, “blue notes” and other embellishments, including “drops,” "flips,” and “smears.” So, there’s an inherent limitation present. No matter, though.

On the plus side, you have to appreciate the effort and talent put forth here. The players play their axes extremely well and with great spirit. Dorough’s scoring for the recorders, et al, works extremely well (“September Song,” “Nature Boy”). The piano-less rhythm section of superb bassist, George Duvivier, Al Shackman’s (who worked extensively with Nina Simone) guitar and Bill Evans collaborator, Paul Motian on drums is an A-1 team and supports the blowers well. And wisely, the rhythm group doesn’t impede on the volume limitations of the ancient instruments.

Some might find the textures here eccentrically different and as unappealing as an Iron Maiden. I really did not - and hope you don’t. Yes, it certainly takes an open ear. So, take the challenge. You might be surprised and enlightened as I was.
(Posted on 5/24/2015)
Bob Dorough: The Medieval Jazz Quartet Plus ThreeReview by Simon Sez
Now this is a bizarre album, but in a good way. Bob Dorough is usually a singer, pianist and composer-lyricist. However on this set he is none of those. Instead he is one of four recorder (!) players who, with a rhythm section, play a bunch of familiar jazz tunes in very unfamiliar sounding ways.
This idea has never been done before, nor has it been tried since. Recorded in 1961, the Medieval Jazz Quartet Plus Three (a cute band name) has the recorder players jamming on such tunes as “How High The Moon,” “Mood Indigo” and “Lady Be Good.” The music is swinging bebop with the “horn players” sometimes sounding like they are actually playing flutes. This would be a great album to play for listeners at a “blindfold test.” It is certainly a unique collector’s item and somehow it succeeds at being worthwhile jazz too.

Simon Sez: Imagine bebop being played by four recorders! The Medieval Jazz Quartet Plus Three (CJ19) is the only time it has ever happened.
(Posted on 5/6/2014)
Review by -Scott Yanow
"This is quite simply one of the most unusual jazz recordings of all time. Conceived by pianist-singer-lyricist Bob Dorough in 1961, the Medieval Jazz Quartet consists of four recorders (including Dorough) plus guitar, bass and drums. While one might expect to hear renaissance-era music or an odd type of folk music, the Medieval Jazz Quartet actually performs eight jazz standards including "Lady Be Good," "How High The Moon" and "Mood Indigo." Imagine hearing those songs on recorders! Somehow, the concept works quite well." (Posted on 6/12/2013)

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