Houston Music

Illinois Jacquet

Illinois Jacquet led the charge of the tenor saxophone freaks of the 1940s. Initially famous for his adrenaline-driven solo on Lionel Hampton's 1942 hit recording of "Flying Home," the Louisiana-born, Houston-bred Yates High alum mixed swing, blues and a hint of bebop into riff-rich improvisations, which, on up-tempo numbers, inevitably culminated in a frenzy of high, squealing "false" notes. Critics scoffed as Jacquet became the biggest crowd-pleaser in jazz; his high-energy approach served as a model for Norman Granz's early Jazz at the Philharmonic tours (many of which featured Jacquet), as well as for Big Jay McNeely and a host of other proto-R&B honkers.

Jazz doesn't get much more exciting than it did on a series of numbers that the big-toned tenor man waxed for Apollo Records in New York City between 1945 and '47. These were all-star affairs that featured Jacquet with company such as trumpeter Joe Newman, trombonist Trummy Young, pianist Bill Doggett, bassist Charles Mingus and, on two selections, blues shouter Wynonie Harris. The most explosive of the tracks are the ones on which the leader locked horns with baritone sax blaster Leo Parker, particularly "Diggin' the Count" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside" (both being nods to Count Basie, with whom Jacquet also worked during this period). And Jacquet had his tender side, as demonstrated on such gorgeous ballads as "Ghost of a Chance" and "She's Funny That Way."

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Lee Hildebrand