[JPL] SAXOPHONIST Illinois Jacquet Dies Washington Post Obit
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SAXOPHONIST Illinois Jacquet Dies
Washington Post - Washington,DC,USA
... Jazz music is deeper than people think," he said. "It is a spiritual
form of art. It's like a Picasso painting. There's no such ...
Saxophonist Illinois Jacquet Dies
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2004; Page B05
Illinois Jacquet, whose roof-raising saxophone solos electrified an early
generation of jazz fans and who later played alongside President Bill
Clinton at the White House, died July 22 at his home in Queens, N.Y., of a
heart attack. He was 81.
In his long career, which began when he was 3 and ended just days before his
death, Mr. Jacquet combined a deep musical knowledge with the flamboyance of
a born showman. He first soared to fame as a 19-year-old member of Lionel
Hampton's band in 1942 with a blazing tenor saxophone solo on "Flying Home"
that went on for more than a minute.
That exuberant, crowd-pleasing solo, often imitated by other musicians,
would become his signature for more than 60 years, but there was much more
to his music than honking pyrotechnics. Mr. Jacquet, whose named was
pronounced "jack-KETT" but who was often known to musicians as "Jacket," was
a sensitive ballad player, a graceful composer, a dedicated bandleader and
an engaging raconteur whose life embodied almost the entire history of jazz.
"I was born in Louisiana, where this music came from," he once said.
Even though he became the subject of a film, was the first jazz musician to
be an artist-in-residence at Harvard University and would play for three
presidents -- famously lending his gold-plated Selmer saxophone to Clinton
at a White House jazz gathering in June 1993 -- Mr. Jacquet never forgot the
origins of his music or the raucous, hip-shaking clubs of the Southwest in
which he learned to play it.
"If you can't tap your feet," he said, summing up his musical credo,
Mr. Jacquet was one of the leading practitioners of a saxophone style called
the Texas tenor sound -- big, robust, earthy and practically sweating with
the blues. By biting on his reed, he could extend the upper range of the
tenor saxophone two octaves.
Besides his skill on the saxophone and other reed instruments, Mr. Jacquet
had an extraordinary ability to stir an audience. Always nattily dressed, he
would end a performance with his suit sopping wet.
"He was Mr. Excitement," said Washington bassist Keter Betts. "You didn't
sit back in your chair, you sat on the edge."
In his early years, Mr. Jacquet was sometimes dismissed as a mere
applause-seeker. Punning on his name, critics dismissed his music as "ill
noise." Mr. Jacquet accepted the complaints with an easygoing shrug.
"When something sounds good to me," he said, "I can't control what I might
do, I love music so much."
In later years, as the depth of his musicianship was better understood, he
became one of the most respected elder statesmen of jazz.
"He was a great balladeer -- I would say one of the greatest," said Houston
Person, a saxophonist who patterned his style after Mr. Jacquet's. "He just
never got the credit he deserved."
Jean-Baptiste Jacquet was born Oct. 31, 1922, in Broussard, La. He often
said his mother was a full-blooded Sioux and that he was named Illinois
because a relative of hers came down from Chicago to help deliver him.
By age 3, he was tap dancing in a family band led by his father. He moved at
an early age to Houston, where he learned to play drums and alto saxophone.
By 15, he was a featured player in local bands. At 17, he played in an
all-night jam session in Kansas City with Charlie Parker that didn't end
After moving to Los Angeles, he joined Hampton, who in 1941 asked him to
switch to the bigger, brawnier tenor saxophone. After the success of "Flying
Home," Mr. Jacquet signed on with Cab Calloway in 1943, then replaced Lester
Young in the Count Basie Orchestra in 1946.
In 1944, he appeared in "Jammin' the Blues," a short, wordless
black-and-white film by Djon Mili that stylishly captured the spirit of a
jam session. In the 1940s and '50s, when Mr. Jacquet was part of a traveling
group of all stars known as Jazz at the Philharmonic, his dueling saxophone
solos with Flip Phillips invariably elicited near-riotous applause.
Mr. Jacquet composed more than 300 tunes, the best known of which are "Black
Velvet" (whose vocal version is called "Don'cha Go Away Mad"), "Robbins'
Nest" and "Port of Rico." In the 1960s, he toured Europe frequently and
experimented with the bassoon, most memorably on a 1969 recording of
Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight."
In 1983, Mr. Jacquet was named artist-in-residence at Harvard, and in the
same year he formed a big band in the mold of the Basie group of his youth.
In his later years, he was showered with the praise that had eluded him for
He played at the White House for presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan
in addition to Clinton. In 1992, he was the subject of a documentary, "Texas
Tenor: The Illinois Jacquet Story."
Mr. Jacquet had one daughter and is survived by his longtime companion and
manager, Carol Scherick.
"Jazz music is deeper than people think," he said. "It is a spiritual form
of art. It's like a Picasso painting. There's no such thing as art going out
He gave his final performance July 16 at Lincoln Center in New York.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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