Illinois Jacquet Biography

Jean Baptiste Illinois Jacquet, 31 October 1922, Boussard, Louisiana, USA, d. 22 July 2004, Queens, New York City, New York, USA. Raised in Texas, Jacquet started out on drums, later switching to alto and soprano saxophones. He worked in the popular territory band led by Milt Larkin and after stints with other units ended up on the west coast, where he was invited to join Lionel Hampton’s new band. In fact, Hampton had wanted Jacquet’s section-mate in the Larkin band, tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb, but when Cobb refused to leave Hampton took Jacquet on condition he switch instruments. Jacquet took the plunge and his solo on Hampton’s 1942 recording of ‘Flying Home’ established him as a major figure in jazz. Indeed, his solo was eventually integrated into subsequent performances of the tune.

At the end of 1942, when Cobb finally agreed to leave Larkin and join Hampton, Jacquet moved on first to Cab Calloway and then to Count Basie. Also in the early 40s, he was involved with Norman Granz, appearing in the short film, Jammin’ The Blues (1944), and appearing with Granz’s Jazz At The Philharmonic. From the mid-40s and on through the 50s Jacquet combined leading his own bands with JATP tours. In the 50s and 60s he became a popular figure at international festivals, leading his own groups, working in all-star ensembles and periodically appearing with Hampton. In the 80s Jacquet continued to record, and late in the decade formed a fine big band for occasional concerts and recording sessions. In June 1993 he took part in a jam session at the White House, appearing with President Bill Clinton. He received an honorary doctorate from the Juilliard School of Music in June 2004, shortly before his death.

An important if often overlooked transitional figure in the development of the tenor saxophone, Jacquet made a significant contribution to the mainstream of jazz while retaining a strong affinity for the blues of his adopted state. This blues feeling, superbly realized on his first recording of ‘Flying Home’, helped immeasurably in giving rise and substance to the Texas tenor style. His reputation as a wild man of the tenor, based in part upon his time with JATP, is ill deserved. Indeed, although his high-note playing in the up-tempo flag-wavers was a demonstration of his incredible technical ability, almost any concert performance or recording session attested that Jacquet was also a consummate interpreter of ballads.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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