Sid Gribetz presents Illinois Jacquet on Jazz Profiles for a five hour retrospective radio program this Sunday, November 6, 2022 from 2-7 PM (EST) on WKCR.
Jacquet is one of the tenor saxophone legends of jazz. Nicknamed “The Beast”, his ferocious, meaty and swinging style set an exemplar for the “tough tenors” to come, while he also had a sensitive side and meaningfully deep and hearty approach on ballads and standards.
Most reference works list Illinois Jacquet’s birthday as October 31, 1922, and therefore many have called this his centennial year. However, some researchers have uncovered local records indicating his actual birth date as October 30, 1919. From Broussard in southwestern Louisiana, his family was of Creole origin. All of his siblings were musically inclined. They moved to Houston, Texas when he was a child, but Jacquet also spent summers and vacations with extended family back in Louisiana. Accordingly, he was raised steeped in multiple cultural traditions.
Leaving high school early, Jacquet played with the locally prominent Milt Larkin band in Houston. Still a teenager, he and his brother, trumpeter Russell Jacquet, moved to California to escape racism in Texas. Illinois joined Lionel Hampton’s band and gained lasting fame and influence with his dynamic solo on “Flying Home”. Jacquet moved on from Hamp to join Cab Calloway’s orchestra which was prominent in the motion picture “Stormy Weather”. After Calloway, Jacquet was a sensation in the earliest “Jazz At The Philharmonic” concerts and records and appeared along with Lester Young in the film short “Jammin’ The Blues”. His final outside credit in the mid 1940's was as a star (think “The King” and “Mutton Leg”) in what was Prez’s chair in the Count Basie orchestra.
By then he was a major attraction famous enough to lead his own bands, produce hit records such as “Robbins’ Nest”, “Jivin’ With Jack The Bellboy”, “Ghost Of A Chance” and “Black Velvet”, tour internationally, and sign with major label Victor. The 1950's included continued success with Jazz At The Philharmonic and Norman Granz recordings. The 1960's and 1970's, while a leaner time for jazz popularity, saw Jacquet frequently tour Europe and Japan and make numerous fine recordings.
The 1980's took a different turn as Jacquet was hired to be an “Artist in Residence” and lecturer at Harvard University. Following up on that experience, Illinois re-formed a big band with younger musicians. This group swung to achieve great renown, whether at Lincoln Center, the Village Vanguard, or playing for the swing dance revival.
Jacquet lived a full life and died in 2004 at the age of 81.