Illinois Jacquet Big Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Illinois Jacquet Big Band




For the last 15 years or so, saxist Illinois Jacquet has led a jazz big band with undisguised zeal and undiminished fervor. And why not? Everything about the jazz orchestra--from the power of the horns to the familiarity of the arrangements that support and prod his solos--must feel right to Jacquet. His own path threads inextricably through big bands, most notably the juggernaut led by Lionel Hampton in the 40s. On the 1942 recording of Hampton's theme song, "Flying Home," Jacquet unleashed a tenor solo that became an anthem, a perfect encapsulation of the histrionic heights attainable by the swing-era saxophone. (It drew such attention that it became part of the song itself, and his successors in Hampton's band were required to reprise it note for note in the years that followed.) He cemented his reputation in the late 40s as perhaps the most popular member of the touring jam session Jazz at the Philharmonic, where his high-register cries and thudding bottom notes worked crowds into a frenzy. That showmanship, together with the real musicianship beneath it, is often credited as the prototypical Texas-tenor style. The label refers to both the outsize imagery and swaggering technique of Jacquet's playing and the country swing and roadhouse bands in which he and a host of like-minded saxists performed while growing up in the southwest. To this day Jacquet still brandishes his sax like a repeater rifle, shooting the lights out with his tough, burly solos. I haven't heard his band in several years, but you can probably trust the quality of his sidemen: he can still attract outstanding younger musicians eager for not only the exposure but also the chance to work with a certified jazz mandarin. On this trip veteran big-band trumpet great Virgil Jones helps keep the youngsters in line. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Jackson.

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