In the mid-1940s, Illinois Jacquet was one of only a few tenor saxophonists who played in the styles of both Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Most tenormen of the period picked one influential approach or the other. Jacquet's ability to swing between both styles allowed him to chop away like Hawkins on r&b sides and sail along breezily like Young on ballads. Between 1945 and 1947, Jacquet exhibited these styles on the Apollo label, first in Los Angeles and then in New York. Today, these vital sides not only demonstrate Jacquet's versatility but also provide a snapshot of r&b's development on a track that ran parallel to bebop's. All of Jacquet's sides for the label are on Illinois Jacquet: Jumpin' at Apollo (Delmark), a terrific single-CD collection. [Photo of Harry Edison and Illinois Jacquet in 1944 by Gjon Mili for Life]
The Apollo label was formed in New York in January 1944 soon after Decca came to a separate agreement with the American Federation of Musicians over the ban on recording. Columbia and RCA continued to hold out. In the wake of Decca's pact, dozens of independent labels emerged to take the same deal, since recording simply required the renting of a Decca-owned studio. One of Apollo's early claims to fame was recording the first pure bebop session with Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy Gillespie in February 1944.
Apollo's office was located in a building near the Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem. The label's owners also ran the Rainbow Music Shop on the street level, providing the perfect distribution pipeline for the news discs. By 1945, Apollo opened a Los Angeles office to record new blues artists. Apollo's enterprising and shrewd owners also were jukebox operators, which explains why they were so hungry for so much product on both coasts.
Born in Louisiana and raised in Houston, TX, Jacquet moved to Los Angeles after graduation from high school in 1939 to study with Lloyd Reese, who also taught bassist Charles Mingus. Jacquet joined Lionel Hampton's band in late 1940 and Cab Calloway's orchestra in 1943. Starting in July 1944, Jacquet appeared in Norman Granz' first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts with Nat Cole and J.J. Johnson. He also appeared in the now-famous Warner Bros.' short film Jammin' the Blues. Later that year, Jacquet guested in Count Basie's band and then rejoined Jazz at the Philharmonic in L.A. [Photo of Illinois Jacquet in 1944 by Gjon Mili for Life]
Jacquet's first leadership date was for Aladdin Records in July 1945. A month later, Jacquet was recruited by Apollo in L.A. to lead an octet backing blues singer Wynonie Harris [pictured] that included pianist Bill Doggett and Charles Mingus.
Recordings with Count Basie's band followed along with leadership sessions for Savoy. By August 1946, Jacquet was recording again for Apollo, this time in New York. His smaller group featured Joe Newman, Trummy Young, Bill Doggett, Freddie Green, John Simmons and Denzil Best. In May 1947, Jacquet's Apollo group was a sextet, featuring Newman, Leo Parker, Sir Charles Thompson, Al Lucas and Shadow Wilson.
Many of these Apollo tracks are jump blues that were meant to show off Jacquet's exuberant blowing skills. Diggin' the Count, Bottoms Up and 12 Minutes to Go are prime examples of his spirited jukebox fare. But there also are more modern tracks that take a jazz tack. There's Jacquet's first recording of Robbins' Nest, with its laid back, linear feel that pre-dates cool; a modern execution of the ballad She's Funny That Way; Merle's Mood, a bouncy tune with a Paper Moon feel; and a supersonic Jumpin' at the Woodside with a furious solo by baritone saxophonist Leo Parker.
In addition to hearing Jacquet in his early honkin' and shoutin' mode, this CD collection shines a spotlight on Bill Doggett, who played a fearsome swing piano with remarkable Basie overtones. This disc is evidence of how gifted Jacquet was from the very start of his career and shows yet again how much staggering tenor-sax talent there was on the scene on both coasts back in the mid-1940s.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Illinois Jacquet: Jumpin' at Apollo (Delmark) at iTunes or here. The liner notes by Dan Morgenstern are superb, and the remastering is clean and bright.
JazzWax clip: Here's Illinois Jacquet in Jammin' the Blues (1944), directed by Gjon Mili. If you've never seen this short film that opens with Lester Young, you're in for quite a treat. Jacquet enters the film at about 5:25...