Tenor-saxophonist Illinois Jacquet is heard in top form throughout this quintet set with pianist Wynton Kelly, guitarist Tiny Grimes, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Oliver Jackson. The music, which falls between swing, bop and early rhythm & blues, is generally quite exciting, especially "Still King," "Everyday I Have the Blues" and the lengthy title cut. A particular surprise is a moody version of "'Round Midnight" which features some surprisingly effective Illinois Jacquet, on bassoon.
- Scott Yanow (All Music Guide)
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"You know," said Dizzy Gillespie in a recent Down Beat Blindfold Test, "Stanley Turrentine sounds real Texas . . . from the same school as Illinois Jacquet... I like those Texas musicians, especially the saxophone players."
No wonder Diz mentioned Illinois Jacquet when speaking of Texas tenors. He is perhaps the toughest of that tough bunch of cats. Among them, in roughly chronological order: Herschel Evans, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Arnett Cobb, John Hardee, Jesse,Powell, Harold Land, Booker Ervin, James Clay, Fathead Newman, and, if you insist, Tex Beneke. (Stanley Turrentine, by the way. Is from Pittsburgh.) What these men have in common is a certain something, hard to define but easy to spot. For instance: Some years ago, Victoria Spivey, the veteran blues singer, dropped in at New York's Village Gate, where a benefit jazz session was In progress. As she made her way to a ringside table, Booker Ervin was in the middle of a hard-blowing solo on a fast blues. Now, Miss Spivey didn't know Booker from Adam, but she knew where he was from, modern changes and all.
"Texas!" she hollered. "That man's from Texas for sure." Vicky hails from Dallas herself, so she got the message fast.
Illinois Jacquet was actually born in Broussard, Louisiana, but his Texas credentials are impeccable-he arrived in Houston at the tender age of six months.
He started on alto and soprano, but by the time he joined Lionel Hampton's band In 1941 and waxed Flying Home, he was a tenor man, and one to reckon with. That solo put him on the jazz map, and he's loomed large there ever since. In fact, he spawned a whole school of flat-footed, extroverted, emotional tenor players and had a great deal to do with the instrument's increasing popularity through the '40s and '50s to the present day.
As he has often said, Illinois' inspiration on tenor was the late Herschel Evans, one of the most soulful of them all, and that might be one reason why his style incorporates elements of both the Coleman Hawkins and the Lester Young schools. Herschel was a Hawk man, but he sat next to Pres in the Count Basie band for too long not to be affected. (Years later, when Illinois took Pros' old chair in the Basie band, he sat next to fellow-Texan and Herschel fan Buddy Tate.) There was a time when Illinois' name was synonymous with the stomping, hollering, and sometimes screaming manner he popularized with Jazz at the Philharmonic (specifically Blues, Part Two), but even then, there was a tot more to the man than just that (and I'm not putting it down). He had his serious side, too, and always, no matter what the bag, he was a master saxophonist.
Today, he can still let go (just a few years back, he really broke it up at the Newport Jazz Festival, sitting in with Hamp on Flying Home), but like all great players, he has gained in depth and maturity. How much so was made clear by the beautiful set he played with his old sideman John Lewis at the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival, and by his fine series of albums for Prestige, of which this is the fourth. (The others, highly recommended, are Bottoms Up, The King! and The Soul Explosion. There are a lot of nice things to talk about on this set, but let's start with something exceptional- 'Round Midnight. So far, we've been concerned with Illinois Jacquet the tenor saxophonist, but here we meet him in a different role: that of bassoonist. The bassoon is a difficult and rare woodwind. In classical music, its solo use is infrequent and often centered on comic effects, though a beautiful Mozart concerto and some fine chamber works employ it more expressively. In jazz, it had almost never been used-Frankie Trumbauer recorded a solo on it with Joe Venuti's Blue Four in 1928, but that's all-until Illinois picked it up.
That was in 1959, and he studied the instrument intensively with Manuel Zegler of the New York Philharmonic, not playing it in public until he felt he had it well in hand. On this recording, he gets a beautiful, deep sonority and brings a different dimension to Thelonious Monk's oft-heard ballad. It is a new sound in jazz, and a hauntingly memorable performance, from opening cadenza to coda. The title track is The Blues; That's Me! Composer Tiny Grimes opens with a solo reminiscent of his famous Blue Harlem (waxed with Ike Quebec in 1944), setting a deep, blue groove. Then Illinois picks it Up and does some heavy Texas preaching-this is as great a slow blues as he's ever put on record. Wynton Kelly follows, keeping the mood alive, and then the ensemble lays down some telling riffs. There's all kinds of blues around today; this is a jazz blues, the story-telling kind.
Still King (the title is a reference to Illinois' most famous solo with Basie, The King) is a romping line by fellow tenorist Frank Foster. This features some patented Jacquet booting in a happy mood, with swinging rhythm section work and a splendid guitar passage.
The Galloping Latin (named for the type of rhythm Jacquet requested from the rhythm section) is a treat.
Based on standard changes dear to the tenorist (clue: the Latin is in a hurry 'cause he's found a new baby), it swings from Oliver Jackson's opening to the last note of the fade. Kelly, Grimes and the rhythm team are in fine fettle, but top honors go to Illinois' happy, dancing solo. He does some inspired hollering here. For Once In My Life, one of the more melodic of recent pops-becoming-standards, gives us a generous sample of Illinois' ballad vein, soulful and passionate, in the great romantic tradition of the instrument. There is a nice slice of Kelly's piano, but this is the leader's outing. Herschel would have dug it. Every Day ends the album as it began: in a blues groove. Memphis Slim's famous song, better known as a vocal vehicle, builds up a nice head of steam, courtesy of the rhythm section, setting the scene for Illinois' take-charge entrance. He delivers the message.
In closing, some words for the fine supporting cast. Wynton Kelly's tasty, swinging piano is always good to hear especially his solos on For Once In My Life and The Galloping Latin. Tiny Grimes has been too long absent from the recording scene. This gentle, modest man is one of the great jazz guitarists, and he proves it here. Buster Williams, the baby on this set, fits right in with the seasoned veterans. His sound, time, and intonation leave nothing to be desired. Oliver Jackson is, as always, a superb timekeeper and mixmaster.
The more I listened to this record, the better I liked it. And I've never even been in Texas.
- Dan Morgenstem (Jan. 1970)