Jean Baptiste Illinois Jacquet was one of the 20th century's first great extroverted saxophonists. Blending the currents of swing, bop, and R&B, he introduced a "lava fountain" technique which perfectly matched the mounting intensity of modern life. The Illinois Jacquet Story, issued in 2002 as Proper Box 49, samples his recording activity during the years 1944-1951 and is heartily recommended as a bracing blast of mid-20th century jazz at its most exciting. An accomplished interpreter of ballads, Jacquet also became famous -- and infamous -- for his willingness to ride the saxophone to the highest reaches of its upper register or to hammer away at one lick with almost frightening intensity. This sort of unbridled passion clearly inspired the accessibly rowdy accomplishments of Earl Bostic, Freddie Mitchell, and Big Jay McNeely. Vastly expanded and further informed by the realities of life in the mid- to late-20th century, the joyous extremes of the overblown saxophone would resurface in the free improvisations of Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Anthony Braxton, and Archie Shepp.
It is entirely appropriate that this compilation opens with four extended Jazz at the Philharmonic jams recorded live on 16" platters at Hollywood's Philharmonic Auditorium during the summer of 1944, for like Flip Phillips, Jacquet was a crowd-pleasing JATP attention-grabber. Beginning with his first studio session as a leader, Proper's selection is stoked with bold examples from the saxophonist's Philo, ARA, Savoy, Apollo, Aladdin, and Victor recordings. Although most of the collection's 79 tracks are instrumental, its half-dozen vocals are credited to Joe Bailey, Sid McKinney, and Illinois' brother, trumpeter Russell Jacquet. The baritone sax of Leo Parker is especially prominent on Disc Three, which is largely devoted to material from the year 1947. Proper's outstanding Jacquet set closes with 14 Mercury and Clef recordings made in 1951 under the supervision of Norman Granz. Altogether, this is one of the very best Jacquet anthologies ever assembled. It is ideal for high volume playback while driving with the cruise control set at 70 mph, and is sure to mesh well with Proper Box 37 which is devoted to the adventures of another phenomenally expressive tenor saxophonist, Ben Webster.