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St. Albans jazz legend Illinois Jacquet dead at 81

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But for fans and fellow musicians there is no better way to remember the legend than the way he played at his last show at Lincoln Center July 16, said Jacquet's wife, Carol Scherick."He gave a magnificent performance Friday night," she said in an interview with the TimesLedger last Thursday. "He never sounded better. People said he looked better than he had in years."Jacquet collapsed about 2 a.m. last Thursday in the 179th Street home where he had lived since 1947, Scherick said. She was on the phone with emergency personnel when he died."He died in my arms while I was calling 911," Scherick said. "They were trying to give me instructions, but his arm was already cold."Jacquet was a tenor saxophonist who had been playing since he was about 19. He played at the Jamaica Arts and Music Festival last summer and kept the crowd in their spots at Rufus King Park even though it started pouring, said Tyra Emerson, the event coordinator."People stayed in the rain," she said after last year's show. "Illinois Jacquet said, ÔI'm sorry, but the show must go on. Weather doesn't stop us.' The crowd was ready to go after that."Jacquet was slated to perform at the JAMS concert again this year and an alternative plan was unclear as of earlier this week."You know, Illinois was from New Orleans, and the way they handle death is to celebrate Ñ to throw a party as you head to toward the afterlife," said Aisha Zhuri-Pacheco, a coordinator for JAMS. "That's exactly what we're going to do. There are definitely going to be performances done to memorialize Illinois. He was so big for so long, he deserves it."Jacquet, born Jean Baptiste Jacquet in Louisiana, started his stage career at age 3, when he joined his brothers in performing, Scherick said."He grew up in a family of music," she said. "His father had a big band. The four Jacquet brothers had an act dancing in front of the band."From dancing, Jacquet moved to the drums and picked up the sax by the time he was in high school, Scherick said. But those early moves were still evident every time he played, she said."He was a dancer," she said. "That was in his body. That's why his style was so animated. He was a showman, an entertainer." Jacquet's status as a jazz great was cemented at the age of 19, when he recorded an 80-second solo on "Flying Home" with Lionel Hampton's orchestra. The solo and the song became an instant hit, which was requested show after show. He developed a new technique of playing the sax where he bit down on the reed to produce a screeching sound that became his trademark."Music was really his life" Scherick said. "He was an exceptional talent, a rare talent."Jacquet still played festivals and concerts around the world and around the borough, Scherick said. He performed in Rio de Janeiro on his 81st birthday, she said."He played for two hours," Scherick said. "He was supposed to play for one and he kept going."After last year's performance in the rain at JAMS, Jacquet was scheduled to headline the JAMS Under the Stars concert again this year. Frank Foster and his Loud Minority Band were slated to take over the headline spot."Mr. Jacquet was one of the greatest saxophonists in history," said Borough President Helen Marshall. "While he was born in Louisiana, Illinois moved to Queens many years ago where he resided in St. Albans. I will always remember how his presence graced the Jamaica JAMS Festival last summer."Scherick was trying to arrange a funeral service at Riverside Church in Manhattan, a place Jacquet loved, but details were atill being finalized earlier this week, she said.Jacquet, who is survived by a daughter Pamela Davis and granddaughter Nikki Davis, was to be buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, beside fellow jazz greats Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington."It's amazing," Scherick said. "He's at the hub of a wheel. It's befitting for him."Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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