When I was growing up I would hear my dad would practice his tenor saxophone once in a while and the first thing he would play was Illinois Jacquet’s solo from “Flying Home.” It’s a real melodic solo that requires a big tone to pull off. Illinois Jacquet is a tenor saxophone player who played with Lionel Hampton’s big band and he was the soloist on Hampton’s hit song “Flying Home.” His solo was so memorable that it became part of the standard arrangement for the piece.
Back when I was at Howard University I was in the big band and we had a guess visitor rehearse and play with us one semester. That visitor was none other than Illinois Jacquet. The first time Mr. Jacquet came to rehearsal he walked into the band room and pulled out his tenor saxophone. He was a diminutive man about the same height as Kevin Hart. The band started playing one of the arrangements for the program and he brought the mouthpiece to his lips and began playing a beautiful warm tone from his horn.
What was remarkable however, was that when he played you could hardly hear the big band. His playing had so much volume that the band was absorbed inside of it. It wasn’t that he was playing loud, he was playing big. His tone was massive and it exuded confidence. It was at this moment I decided to really work on my sound. If someone the size of Mr. Jacquet could play that big, I could definitely develop a bigger sound.
You have to remember that during the time Mr. Jacquet began playing there weren’t any amplified sound systems in the performance venues. In order to be heard as a soloist you had to play with a big sound. Consequently all the horn players from this era have the ability to cut through a big band and be heard.
It was definitely an honor to be able to hear him play and to hear the big sound that he generated from his horn. It inspired me to develop a larger sound on my instrument.