Jacquet, New York City, c. May 1947 (Photograph by William Paul Gottlieb)
|Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet|
October 30, 1922|
Broussard, Louisiana, US
July 22, 2004 (aged 81)|
New York City, New York, US
|Genres||Swing, bebop, jump blues|
|Musician, bandleader, composer|
|Instruments||Tenor saxophone, bassoon, alto saxophone|
|Labels||Apollo, Savoy, Aladdin, RCA, Verve, Mercury, Roulette, Epic, Argo, Prestige, Black Lion, Black & Blue, Atlantic|
|Cab Calloway, Dexter Gordon, Flip Phillips|
Jean-Baptiste "Illinois" Jacquet (October 30, 1922 - July 22, 2004) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist, best remembered for his solo on "Flying Home", critically recognized as the first R&B saxophone solo.
Although he was a pioneer of the honking tenor saxophone that became a regular feature of jazz playing and a hallmark of early rock and roll, Jacquet was a skilled and melodic improviser, both on up-tempo tunes and ballads. He doubled on the bassoon, one of only a few jazz musicians to use the instrument.
Jacquet was born to a Black Creole mother and father, named Marguerite Trahan and Gilbert Jacquet, in Louisiana and moved to Houston, Texas, as an infant, and was raised there as one of six siblings. His father was a part-time bandleader. As a child he performed in his father's band, primarily on the alto saxophone. His older brother Russell Jacquet played trumpet and his brother Linton played drums.
At 15, Jacquet began playing with the Milton Larkin Orchestra, a Houston-area dance band. In 1939, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he met Nat King Cole. Jacquet would sit in with the trio on occasion. In 1940, Cole introduced Jacquet to Lionel Hampton who had returned to California and was putting together a big band. Hampton wanted to hire Jacquet, but asked the young Jacquet to switch to tenor saxophone.
In 1942, at age 19, Jacquet soloed on the Hampton Orchestra's recording of "Flying Home", one of the very first times a honking tenor sax was heard on record. The record became a hit. The song immediately became the climax for the live shows and Jacquet became exhausted from having to "bring down the house" every night. The solo was built to weave in and out of the arrangement and continued to be played by every saxophone player who followed Jacquet in the band, notably Arnett Cobb and Dexter Gordon, who achieved almost as much fame as Jacquet in playing it. It is one of the very few jazz solos to have been memorized and played very much the same way by everyone who played the song. He quit the Hampton band in 1943 and joined Cab Calloway's Orchestra. Jacquet appeared with Cab Calloway's band in Lena Horne's movie Stormy Weather. In the earlier years of Jacquet's career, his brother Linton Jacquet managed him on the chitlin circuit Linton's daughter Brenda Jacquet-Ross sang in jazz venues in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s to early 2000s, with a band called the Mondo Players.
In 1944, Illinois Jacquet returned to California and started a small band with his brother Russell and a young Charles Mingus. It was at this time that he appeared in the Academy Award-nominated short film Jammin' the Blues with Lester Young. He also appeared at the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert. In 1946, he moved to New York City, and joined the Count Basie orchestra, replacing Lester Young. In 1952 Jacquet co-wrote 'Just When We're Falling in Love'; Illinois Jacquet (m) Sir Charles Thompson (m) S. K. "Bob" Russell (l). Jacquet continued to perform (mostly in Europe) in small groups through the 1960s and 1970s. Jacquet led the Illinois Jacquet Big Band from 1981 until his death. Jacquet became the first jazz musician to be an artist-in-residence at Harvard University, in 1983. He played "C-Jam Blues" with President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn during Clinton's inaugural ball in 1993. Jacquet's final performance was on July 16, 2004, at the Lincoln Center in New York.
His solos of the early and mid-1940s and his performances at the Jazz at the Philharmonic concert series, greatly influenced rhythm and blues and rock and roll saxophone style, but also continue to be heard in jazz. His honking and screeching emphasized the lower and higher registers of the tenor saxophone. Despite a superficial rawness, the style is still heard in skilled jazz players like Arnett Cobb, who also became famous for playing "Flying Home" with Hampton, as well as Sonny Rollins, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Jimmy Forrest.
Jacquet pushed back against Jim Crow laws in Houston. After booking his band to play at the Rice Hotel, he protested against management's rule that African-Americans should enter the premises through an alley door. He issued an ultimatum: either allow his all-black orchestra to access the hotel through the main entrance or he would cancel the engagement. The Rice Hotel agreed to suspend the Jim Crow rule for Jacquet's band.
After leaving Houston to tour the United States and several other countries, Jacquet contemplated the manner in which he would return:
I love Houston, Texas. . . . This is where I went to school. This is where I learned everything I know. I was just fed up with coming to Houston with a mixed cast on stage and playing to a segregated audience. I wanted Houston to see a hell of a concert, and they should see it like they were in Carnegie Hall. I felt if I didn't do anything about the segregation in my hometown, I would regret it. This was the time to do it. Segregation had to come to an end.
Jazz producer Norman Granz, who had been a social activist himself, made arrangements for the star-studded Philharmonic band to play an engagement at Houston's Music Hall on October 5, 1955. Jacquet played saxophone, accompanying Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, and Buddy Rich. Granz and Jacquet collaborated to eliminate Jim Crow customs from the event. There were no advanced sales of tickets, while Granz removed all of the "white" and "black" signs which indicated segregated facilities within the venue and hired some off-duty Houston police officers for security. The band played before a non-segregated audience, though not completely free of trouble. Despite Granz's precaution, five officers of the Houston Vice Squad stormed Ella Fitzgerald' dressing room with firearms drawn. Jacquet and Gillespie were playing dice games, which the Vice Squad used as a pretext for arresting Jacquet, Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and her assistant. This was a performance within a performance, however, as the quartet was whisked to the police station, where there were waiting photographers. After paying their fines, they all returned to the Music Hall where the band played the second set with the audience none the wiser.
With Count Basie
With Kenny Burrell
With Modern Jazz Quartet
With Buddy Rich
With Sonny Stitt
With Buddy Tate
Morrison, Nick (2011) "Five Titans Of Texas Tenor Sax". NPR.Org.
NPR Radio (2008) "Illinois Jacquet: King Of The Screeching Tenor". NPR Radio. November 5, 2008.
Scherick, Carol (2011) "Biography by Illinois Jacquet for Press".
USA TODAY (2004) "Jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet dies"