Jazz CD Reviews

Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker, Toronto 1947 – Uptown Records

A time, a place, a recording, equals history.

Published on December 20, 2013

Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker, Toronto 1947 – Uptown Records

Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker, Toronto 1947 – Uptown Records UPCD, 27:73 70:54 ****:

(Joe Newman – trumpet; Russell Jacquet – trumpet/vocal track 5; Illinois Jacquet – tenor saxophone; Leo Parker – baritone saxophone; Sir Charles Thompson – piano; Al Lucas – bass; Shadow Wilson – drums)

In 1947, when Toronto was called Tor/On/Tah by the locals, and not Tor/On/Toe as it is now, it was a provincial berg of little or no character or distinction. The bars closed at 12:30 am during the week and on Saturday (the busiest night of the week) at 11:30 pm. On Sunday everything was closed and that means everything. Even the department stores drew the curtains on their windows on Sunday in the oft chance an unsuspecting passerby wanted to browse the windows and thus should be led to some secret temptation.

Little information survives about the origins of the concert, except that it was sponsored by a campus record bar close to the University of Toronto which, at the time, would have been full of mature returning Canadian servicemen who would have been open to black swing music. More details about the actual recording of the concert have been provided by Bob Sunenblick of Uptown Records and this will come later in the review.

Although Leo Parker is given equal billing on the album cover with Illinois Jacquet this is really the latter’s session as he was the leader of the band and had the reputation to carry the concert.  Jacquet’s status had preceded him given his time with the Lionel Hampton band and his iconic solo on “Flying Home”.  As for the music it is mostly all Jacquet all the time where he shines on the slower-tempo numbers such as “All The Things You Are”, “She’s Funny That Way” and the lovely nuanced ballad versions of “Body And Soul” and “Memories Of You” where his big tone is dominant.

On the jump or jam numbers such as “Bottoms Up”, “Music Hall Beat” and “Mutton Leg”, these are vehicles for the whole band and it is here where Parker’s baritone provides the bottom for the band and occasionally takes a solo turn. Jacquet is equally present but frequently his solos devolve into squeaks and honks, which regrettably came to define his time with the JATP. However typically it is the trumpet of Joe Newman whose upbeat and high-pitched tone leads the way. Newman had played with Jacquet during his Hampton years and he later went on to be a stalwart in Count Basie’s New Testament band of the ‘50s. Pianist Sir Charles Thompson, who at the time of this writing is the only survivor of this concert date, wrote “Robbins’ Nest” and the band finds a solid groove in their interpretation of the number with Thompson’s piano setting the pace. However, in the liner notes, the tracklist shows the tune as track 8 when in fact it should be track 9, with “Mutton Leg” being track 8.

Finally a few words are necessary about the venue and the recording. The Mutual Street Arena was a barn of a place that was built in 1912 and was the home of the professional hockey team known then as the Toronto St. Pats. When Maple Leaf Gardens was opened in 1931, the hockey team changed locations and also changed their name to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  From that time forward, the arena became a venue for high profile events that required substantial seating capacity which was otherwise not available in the city, as the Maple Leaf Gardens was reserved primarily for hockey. As for the recording, it was done surreptitiously with a single mike (thus the limited sound quality) under the performing stage by an adventurous Torontonian on 15” acetates using a disc cutter. However this person was eventually discovered during the concert by Jacquet, but he let the individual continue the recording. Under the agreement he could keep the originals but make copies for Jacquet, which he did. Fairly recently Bob Sunenblick of Uptown Records discovered that a Canadian collector had the original acetates and was prepared to sell them. Uptown Records made the purchase, and has provided the release of this historically interesting concert.

TrackList: Bottoms Up; Medley: All The Things You Are/She’s Funny That Way/Music Hall Beat; Music Hall Beat; Body And Soul; Throw It Out Of Your Mind Baby; Oh, Lady be Good; Medley: Memories Of You/Jacquet’s Salt Peanuts; Robbins ‘Nest; Mutton Leg; Bottoms Up; Home, Sweet Home

—Pierre Giroux

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