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Illinois Jacquet Foundation Benefit Weekend: Phoenix, AZ, May 17-19, 2013

Patricia Myers By

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Illinois Jacquet Foundation Benefit Weekend
Phoenix, AZ
May 17-19, 2013
The 2013 Desert Winds Jazz Weekend celebrated the six-decade career of the late saxophonist Illinois Jacquet with three events that raised $10,000 for jazz scholarships and music education programs in Arizona. The Desert Winds designation was taken from the title of Jacquet's 1964 album for Argo.

Predictably, the opening concert featured a lengthy rendition of "Flying Home," played by a college-age band, Mudsaw, at The Nash, the Phoenix education-performance center operated by non-profit Jazz in Arizona (Jazz in AZ). The 1942 record hit by vibraphonist Lionel Hampton's Orchestra propelled then 19-year-old Jacquet to fame. This night, it was performed as a duo feature for guest tenor saxophonist Julius Tolentino and the quintet's tenor man, Vince Kaufman—a recent Jazz in AZ scholarship recipient. Their fierce delivery of flashy, Jacquet-style solos, filled with screeching and honking, represented the brawny sound later adopted by many R&B and rock and roll saxophonists. Tolentino was a member of Jacquet's final big band, and is now the jazz director at Newark Academy in Livingston, NJ.

The evening also featured ballads reflecting Jacquet's plump, bluesy sound heard in his most famous chart, "Black Velvet," which he co-wrote with fellow tenor saxophonist Jimmy Mundy. Tolentino switched to alto sax for another hit, "Port of Rico," then shared a second intense two-horn segment on "Cherokee." The sets featured the energized playing of guitarist Alex Oliverio, pianist Aleks Izotov, bassist Alex Meltzer and drummer Jacob Eary. Event emcee Marcia Hocker, a jazz DJ in Portland, OR, sat in to sing "Route 66."

The second event was a Saturday dinner-dance in the starlit courtyard of the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) In north Phoenix, the Bad Cactus Brass Band leading a New Orleans-style second-line of hanky-waving guests to their tables. The Fred Forney Quintet played Jacquet hits and other standards during the meal, also for a show by young swing dancers who enticed some of the attendees to join in.

Trumpeter Forney's ensemble of first-call Phoenix musicians of keyboardist Armand Boatman, electric bassist Todd Johnson and drummer Dom Moio, with Jerry Donato in the tenor position, called up Tolentino, who was equally proficient on tenor and alto saxophones. The combo delivered solid treatments of "Riffin' at 24th Street" and "Blue Satin," as well as the requisite "Black Velvet." Vocalist Delphine Cortez performed "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "At Last," accompanied by pianist Joel Robin Goldenthal, executive director of Jazz in AZ.

The evening concluded with the presentation of Tiffany crystal bowls to Tolentino as Jazz Educator of the Year, and to The Nash founders Herb and Lorene Ely pf Phoenix as Jazz Patrons of the Year.

A Sunday brunch featured the straight-ahead sounds of the Stan Sorenson Trio, the leader on guitar, Jazz in AZ president Steve Douglas on acoustic bass and Andy Ziker on drums. They performed on the terrace of the Talking Stick Resort, located on the Salt River Reservation adjacent to Scottsdale. Standards such as "Stella by Starlight," "Shiny Stockings" and "Love for Sale" prompted some guests to dance between dining stints. Vocalist Cortez sang "Moon Dance, "Green Dolphin Street" and "When Sunny Gets Blue," followed by Hocker's rendition of "Blue Moon" for the final song of the weekend.

This was the second benefit event in Arizona for the Illinois Jacquet Foundation, established by Jacquet's daughter, Dr. Pamela Jacquet Davis, of Scottdale, AZ, the organization's vice president. Benefits since 2005 have raised funds for financial assistance, sponsorships and grants for jazz students, one of whom was Phoenix tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino for his studies at Juilliard in 2010-11.

Two years ago, a fundraiser was held at the MIM in conjunction with the donation of one of Jacquet's tenor saxophones by the family. Funds from that event went to Ear Candy Foundation, a Phoenix-based non-profit for music education for Arizona children. This year's beneficiaries were jazz students at Arizona State University and Jazz in AZ programs.

Jean-Baptiste Jacquet, the son of a Sioux Indian mother and a French-Creole father, was born in Louisiana and raised in Houston. He began performing at age three, tap dancing to the sounds of his father's band, and later supposedly took his nickname from the Indian word "Illiniwek," meaning superior men. Starting in the 1940s, he played alto or tenor sax in the bands of pianist Count Basie, singer Cab Calloway and impresario Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic, and also led his own small combos. In the 1960s, Jacquet started playing the bassoon, and featured the instrument on his recording of pianist Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight."

Foundation president Carol Scherick was a classical bassoonist when she met Jacquet, after hearing him play jazz bassoon with bassist Slam Stewart at Fat Tuesday's in New York. That led her to become his manager and companion. In 1983, she arranged for Jacquet to become the first jazz musician designated as artist-in- residence at Harvard University. Jacquet said the work with students inspired him to form another big band, which then went on a European tour and performed for record crowds.

A decade later, Jacquet and then-President Bill Clinton played saxophones on "C-Jam Blues" on the White House lawn during inauguration events. Jacquet's last engagement was July 16, 2004 when he led his band at Lincoln Center in New York City; he died a week later of a heart attack at age 81.

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