Illinois Jacquet/Jack McVea
Illinois Jacquet led the charge of the tenor saxophone freaks of the 1940s. Initially famous for his adrenaline-driven solo on Lionel Hampton's 1942 hit recording of "Flying Home," the Louisiana-born, Texas-bred horn blower mixed swing, blues and a hint of bebop into riff-rich improvisations, which, on up-tempo numbers, inevitably culminated in a frenzy of high, squealing "false" notes. Critics scoffed as Jacquet became the biggest crowd-pleaser in jazz; his high-energy approach served as a model for Norman Granz's early Jazz at the Philharmonic tours (many of which featured Jacquet), as well as for Big Jay McNeely and a host of other proto-R&B honkers.
Jazz doesn't get much more exciting than it did on a series of numbers that the big-toned tenor man waxed for Apollo Records in New York City between 1945 and '47. These were all-star affairs that featured Jacquet with company such as trumpeter Joe Newman, trombonist Trummy Young, pianist Bill Doggett, bassist Charles Mingus and, on two selections, blues shouter Wynonie Harris. The most explosive of the tracks are the ones on which the leader locked horns with baritone sax blaster Leo Parker, particularly "Diggin' the Count" and "Jumpin' at the Woodside" (both being nods to Count Basie, with whom Jacquet also worked during this period). And Jacquet had his tender side, as demonstrated on such gorgeous ballads as "Ghost of a Chance" and "She's Funny That Way."
While Jacquet continues to blow strong at age 79, his fellow tenor player Jack McVea had become largely forgotten well before he passed away a year and a half ago. Christened "McVoutie" by jivemeister Slim Gaillard during a now-legendary record date that also featured Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (a fact that annotator Frank Driggs curiously fails to note), McVea was a star in the 1940s, even before his huge 1947 success on both the "race" and pop charts with a novelty tune titled "Open the Door, Richard." The 23 tracks assembled by Delmark were cut for Apollo in 1945, and McVea isn't even heard on five by such SoCal contemporaries as Cee Pee Johnson and Wild Bill Moore. When McVea does blow, however, he comes across as a first-rate tenor stylist, combining a muscular, Coleman Hawkins-like tone with fluid lines that betray a fondness for Lester Young, even when he's weaving obbligatos behind singers Rabon Tarrant, Duke Henderson and Wynonie Harris.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.