Illinois Jacquet is considered to be one of the most influential tenor saxophonists in the history of jazz music. Born on October 31, 1922, in Broussard, Louisiana, Jean Baptiste Illinois Jacquet, at the age of 19 on the very first recording of his career, spawned an entirely new style and sound for the tenor saxophone. His classic solo on “Flying Home” recorded with the Lionel Hampton Band at Decca Records in New York City, on May 26, 1942, catapulted Jacquet to international fame and the solo became more famous than the song itself. All saxophonists learned to play Jacquet’s solo, every band recorded it, and people all over the world were humming this most famous solo in jazz history.
Two years later, on July 2, 1944, while improvising with Nat King Cole on piano and Les Paul on guitar for a benefit concert at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, Jacquet began to play a range of notes he had never played before. With an innovational use of harmonics in a creative impulse Jacquet discovered what would become a permanent expansion of the upper register on the tenor saxophone by two and one-half octaves. He then contrasted these stratospheric notes with sudden punctuations of sound from the lowest notes on the horn, and Jacquet thus gave birth to what was called the honking tenor that became the hallmark of rock and roll and greatly influenced rhythm and blues. In this less than three minute solo, later to be entitled “Philharmonic Blues, Part II”, Jacquet anticipated far into the future and encompassed the blue- print for several generations of saxophonists. This sensational explosive solo created the spark that helped to launch Jazz at the Philharmonic, the entity that took jazz out of night clubs and into concert halls around the world. In addition to knowing how to please the crowd with fiery excitement, Jacquet’s broad spectrum of musicianship allowed him also to carry his listeners into the depths of their being with his soulfully sensitive mastery of the ballad. He continued to be a star attraction with JATP until the final concert in 1957.
Illinois Jacquet grew up on stage, singing and dancing as a small child in front of his father’s territory band in Houston, Texas, the family having moved there from Louisiana before Jacquet was a year old. Formal musical training began in high school on drums and alto saxophone which he played with Milt Larkin’s legendary territory band. Graduation took him to the universities of the Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway and Count Basie bands. After “Flying Home” with Hampton. he appeared in the film “Stormy Weather” with Calloway. For Basie, he recorded the hits “The King” and “Mutton Leg”; and with his own record-breaking small band he had hits on every major label. For both Aladdin and Apollo, who started in the recording business with Jacquet, he produced a string of hits that quickly elevated them to major record label status.