Illinois Jacquet - Biography

By Nick Castro


Illinois Jacquet was one of jazz's most sought after tenor saxophone players of his time. He was born as Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet, in 1922, Louisiania. He was half Native American and half Creole who was raised in Houston, Texas. His father was a musician and Jacquet soon picked it up as well. Saxophone was an early choice for him, after tap dancing, and he would often sit in with his father's band, the Gilbert Jacquet Band, along with his brothers, Russell, who played the trumpet, and Linton, who played the drums. By the time Jacquet was 15 he was playing professionally in the Milton Larkin Orchestra in Houston. He soon moved to Los Angeles in 1939, where he met not only Nat King Cole, who he would occasionally accompany, but Lionel Hampton, whose band Jacquet would soon join.


It was with Hampton that Jacquet would record his first sessions. Soon after this he recorded another record with them which would prove to mark his career forever. He recorded the solo on a song called "Flying Home", which became a classic of what would come to be known as r&b. Jacquet's performance on this song would follow him throughout his career and influence a whole new generation of players, both in the jazz realm as well as in the burgeoning proto-rock and roll scenes. Jacquet defined what came to be known as the honking saxophone sound. The Hampton band began to use it as their final song in concerts and even after Jacquet's departure from the group, future soloists, such as Dexter Gordon and Arnett Cobb, continued to emulate the sound for the live shows.


After Jacquet left the Hampton group he quickly got ajob playing with Cab Calloway's Orchestra. Calloway offered the job to Jacquet after saxophonist Chu Berry died in a car crash. Jacquet also made an appearance in the film Stormy Weather alongside Lena Horne and Calloway.


The next year Jacquet moved back to California to start a band with his brother Russell. Their other new bandmate would be Los Angeles native, Charlie Mingus, who was still emerging as a jazz bassist and who would later work briefly with the Hampton band himself. Mingus recorded the track "Robbins' Nest" with Jacquet. Jacquet began playing concerts which were organized by Norman Granz, who served as a promoter and booker for many jazz acts. Jacquet recorded a benefit concert alongside jazz greats like Nat King Cole, Les Paul and Red Callender. Soon Jacquet appeared in a short film called Jammin' The Blues, in the year 1944. This film won an Academy Award.


While still in Los Angeles, in 1944, Jacquet began to play occasionally with the Count Basie orchestra. He did a recording session on the radio with Basie for the AFRS Jubilee show. Together they recorded the song "Rock-A-Bye-Basie". Only a few months later Jacquet would be backing the great jazz singer, Lena Horne, on a sessions which would produce four songs for the RCA Victor label. By the next year though Jacquet would play full time with the Basie orchestra. The war had just ended and work getting plentiful for the musicians. The other big development of the time was the lift on the recording ban, which had been hindering the production of what, would have been, many great records. Jacquet and Basie wasted no time and Jacquet was soon recording withthe Basie Orchestra on songs like "Stay Cool", "Mutton Leg" and "The King". Things seemed perfect in the Basie orchestra, except that opportunity continued to present itself to Jacquet, and after much deliberation, he could not pass up the chance to play with theACQUET JOIND Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic when they asked him to. Jacquet joined the JATP, who already amidst a tour, and this gave Jacquet a chance to really shine and be out front with his wild honking saxophone sound. Granz was, at the time, forming his own record label called Clef Records and Jacquet had a chance to record with them as well. Playing with this group opened up many doors for Jacquet, including the chance to play with an all-star cast of musicians for a recording date on Capitol Reocrds. Al Casey, jazz guitarist, was in the lead and gave Jacquet ample opportunity to show his stuff. After these sessions, many labels were knocking on Jacquet's door, including RCA, Decca, Alladin and other notable jazz labels at the time.


Jacquet was now cutting records as a leader of his own group and was a successful time at tit. A string of hits put him on center stage in the jazz world in the late 40's. Due to overwhelming demand for Jacquet he was forced to ask Granz for more money to maintain his spot on the JATP staff. Granz was not willing to pay this new fee and the two parted ways. Though there were no ill feeling between the two, Jacquet focused his efforts on his own groups from now on. Granz signed Jacquet to his newly formed record deal  instead. ironically, this led to Jacquet once again being on the road with the JATP. Though Jacquet was doing quite well at the time, it was with labels like Clef and Verve that Jacquet would truly make his mark. Many of jazz's best players were flocking to accompany Jacquet on his solo recordings including Basie, Roy Eldridge, Hank Jones, Sweets Edison, Kenny Burrell and Ben Webster.


By the late 50's Jacquet hadmoved on the other labels such as Cadet, Epic, Prestige and Argo. By the 60's Jacquet was incorporating the bassoon as a jazz instrument, a move which hardly ever been made before.


Jacquet would later become the first jazz musician be to featured as artist in residency at Harvard University. He also is known to have played his hit song "C-Jam Blues" with Bill Clinton on the white house lawn during Clinton's first inaugural ball. Jacquet played his last concert at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 2004. He died shortly after of a heart attack. He was 81 years old.


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