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Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Real Man Tenor Sax Player

The tenor saxophone has had many days in the sun, but not so much lately.  The jazz giants - Coltrane, Dexter, Prez, Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster and the rest - gave way to the R&B giants - Junior Walker, King Curtis, Clarence "Big Man" Clemmons, Lenny Pickett.  It is tough to come up with a monster tenor player who is part of the popular music culture of the United States right now; there is no hip hop tenor sax star (although there should be). 

But there was one real man tenor sax player that tied the jazz guys to the R&B guys.  He was on top of the popular culture for a while. He was the Real Man tenor sax player. His name was Jean Baptiste Illinois Jacquet.

He is most famous for playing the classic tenor solo on Lionel Hampton's "Flyin' Home.  Every tenor player has to learn that solo note for note.  Illinois was all of 19 years old the day he played that solo, and he had never recorded prior to that day - but he had been playing professionally for 4 years by then!  He was a full-grown man, and had the full-throated roar that became THE sax sound of the late 20th century.

While Flyin' Home is awesome, I think Jacquet's solo on the Philharmonic Blues Part II is even more amazing.  Here is the YouTube link.  Check out Illinois' shift to the upper register at the 5 minute mark.  I think Illinois was the first tenor sax player to spend lots of time in the "squeal zone" of the instrument.

We need a successor to Illinois Jacquet to enthrall us with the tenor sax again.

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