May 5, 2014

Illinois Jacquet and Leo Parker

Illinois Jacquet-Leo Parker


by Armand Lewis ~

There was a time when jazz was not considered an art form, but simply as popular entertainment and the louder, faster and more raucous bands were as exciting to their generation as Elvis or the Beatles would be ten to twenty years later. One of the chief (and best) proponents of this frenetic type of jazz was a tenor saxophonist by the name of Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet.

Jacquet came to prominence initially in Lionel Hampton’s band. His spectacular solo on Hampton’s 1942 recording of “Flying Home” not only got him noticed, but also created a whole school of big-toned, extroverted tenor saxophone stylists.

By the mid 1940s, Jacquet had joined Norman Granz’ touring “Jazz at the Philharmonic” troupe, which packed large auditoriums and theaters across the country with loud, exciting jam sessions. The JATP concerts were recorded for commercial release, becoming among the first “live” recordings available — best sellers that spread Jacquet’s music across the country faster than he could tour. These records show audiences stomping and cheering for the musicians to keep pushing further and further as each builds his solo to an emotional frenzy before handing off to the next soloist.

Illinois Jacquet-Leo ParkerJacquet’s own musical pyro-technics on saxophone often included honking accents and long sustained squeals — all set against an otherwise rich, bluesy sound. Suddenly finding himself to be a major star, Jacquet quickly organized his own jam ses-sion show, which toured North America to great success. These shows were more like rock concerts than the big band shows of their time. This brash, theatrical approach was often criticized as pandering to baser tastes, but audiences loved it.

One (if not the only) of Jacquet’s own live shows to have been recorded has just been released as Illinois Jacquet – Leo Parker / Toronto 1947 (Uptown UPCD 27.73). The set offers a front row seat not only at an exciting “Jazz at the Philharmonic” style jam session, but also features an extremely rare early recording by baritone saxophonist Leo Parker.

Parker, a native of Washington, DC, was known as the “Mad Lad” of the baritone saxophone — able to execute complicated be-bop riffs on the deep-toned, but very difficult instrument. Initially inspired by Charlie Parker, by the later 1940s, he was the perfect musical partner for Jacquet’s frenetic, explosive performances.

These types of shows always started off with a bang and “Bottoms Up” launches both the program and the musicians into a party mood with Jacquet, Parker and trumpeter Joe Newman whipping the audience into a frenzy. The rhythm section both stokes the fires behind the horn players and musically calms the crowd between choruses.

Cooling everything down, the group, which also features Illinois’ brother Russell on trumpet, launches into a medley of “All The Things You Are”, “She’s Funny That Way” and Jacquet’s own “Music Hall Beat”. “All the Things You Are” is played as the slow ballad it was intended and Jacquet’s tone and approach shows the influence of Coleman Hawkins, who was also a regular on “Jazz at the Philharmonic”.

This facility with ballads is also demonstrated on the classic “Body and Soul”, which starts out slowly and then resolves into an up-tempo rendition with the standard “Jazz at the Phil” 4/4 beat before returning to the more emotive ballad tempo. “Oh Lady Be Good” was a staple of both clubs and concerts throughout the 1940s, and the rendition here is driving and spirited with exciting choruses by both Newman and Parker.

Jacquet was always at his best playing the blues and “Throw It Out of Your Mind Baby” is as bluesey as it comes. Russell Jacquet shouts the blues in the style of blues shouters Jimmy Rushing or Big Joe Turner.

Phenomenally popular during the 1940s, these jam session concerts would basically disappear by the early 1950s. Changing tastes in both jazz and popular music would bring an end to this type of music. First be-bop with its emphasis on intricate speed while maintaining a cool attitude and then rock & roll would irretrievably siphon away the youthful audiences of the time. Thankfully, recordings like these survive to remind modern audiences what a party it must have been.


Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at

One Comment

  1. Thanks for finally talking about >One of the chief (and best) proponents of this frenetic type of jazz was a tenor
    saxophonist by the name of Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *