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Illinois Jacquet



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       Illinois Jacquet may not be the biggest name in jazz, and I've had a difficult time finding many of his CDs, but he is one of my personal favorites.  He was born in Louisiana, but his sound exemplifies the "Texas Tenor" style, which is a no-nonsense style that uses a rich powerful tone and a lot of blues (it almost sounds like "stripper music" at times!).  In 1942, while a member of Lionel Hampton's big band, he blew himself into history.  The story was told when Jacquet was the featured musician on Jazz Profiles with Nancy Wilson on National Public Radio.  Jacquet was a young (about 22 years old) up-and-coming saxophone player and though he wasn't the leader of the saxophone section, Hampton still selected Jacquet to play a solo on a song that was destined to become a big band (and Hampton) classic Flying Home.  Jacquet was nervous and asked the section leader for advice.  The leader told Jacquet to "play his style."  Jacquet said that he wasn't sure what his style was at that time.  What he did, was went up to the microphone and played one of the most legendary solos in jazz history.  Jacquet became an overnight star with the solo and the solo actually BECAME part of the song.  Saxophone players had it written into their contracts that when the song was played, they had to play it like Jacquet.  One saxophone player interviewed on the NPR program said during his life, he only memorized 2 solos:  Coleman Hawkins' legendary Body and Soul solo and Illinois Jacquet's Flying Home solo.  Jacquet is of the belief that people like to hear the solo they bought on the record, so he usually plays the same one.  While this kind of goes against what makes Jazz unique, the good thing is, if you find a Illinois Jacquet CD with Flying Home on it, you will hear this solo.  If you buy his CD Jacquet's Got It! he makes slight variations to it, but it is basically the same.

        Jacquet developed 2 saxophone techniques that influenced a lot of musicians.  The first was "honking."  While the technique was created by Lester Young, Jacquet took it to a whole new level.  He also discovered the "altissimo" range on the Tenor Saxophone, extending the range 2-1/2 octaves higher than previously known. Unfortunately, these concepts were picked up on by rock n roll and R&B tenor sax players in the 1950s (if you have heard a "golden oldie", you have probably heard honking--they hit a note over and over, making it sound like a honk).  They liked playing monotonous honks and hitting those high, squealing notes and they took it to the point of overkill, because these players were not as skilled as Jacquet, who knew how to use them tastefully within a killer solo.  However, since these other players were not skilled saxophone players, they picked up these concepts, without learning how to play the sax well, and they come off as obnoxious.  Also, his altissimo playing was picked up on by free jazz players who overused it also, and sound like they are "squaking" and they too, make it obnoxious.  (Don't misinterpret this:  there are many fine sax players who use these concepts well, just not Rock n Roll or R&B tenors because many weren't skilled, and free jazz players, who were fine players overall, were using it as fad).

        In the early 1980s, Jacquet received an introduction to give a lecture and speak at Harvard University.  The extraordinary success earned Jacquet a return for 2 semesters as the Kayden Artist-in-Residence, becoming the first jazz player to serve a long-term residency at Harvard.  This inspired him to form his first big band in almost 30 years.  The band started playing in 1983 and in 1986, they played in Europe, drawing record crowds.  They came back and played at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, as well as major jazz clubs in New York City, such as the Village Vanguard, where the bands' appearance became the biggest week in the club's 52 year history.

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