NEW YORK — An entertaining but misleading jazz docu, “Texas Tenor” is for the middle to advanced fan of the music. Neophytes or musical novices will learn little about Illinois Jacquet and his secure but minor place in jazz history.
Director Arthur Elgort strongly captures Jacquet in performance, at New York’s Blue Note club in 1988 and touring Europe in 1990. Jacquet’s energetic soloing, in the so-called Texas school pioneered by Herschel Evans, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate alongside Jacquet, speaks for itself in presenting an unreconstructed form of swing music that was popular in the ’40s.
Where Elgort lets the viewer down is in sketchy research and misdirected emphasis. Jazz giants like Lionel Hampton (who had Jacquet switch from alto to tenor and made him a star in 1942), Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins make unenlightening comments about Jacquet and the lasting importance of his popular solo on Hampton’s hit record “Flying Home.”
What emerges is a popular showman who had hit records 40 to 50 years ago and re-established himself over the last decade as a big band leader in the tradition of his former employer Count Basie.
Fleeting still photos and verbal mentions allude to Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster so the ignorant viewer might think Jacquet was their equal. That’s heresy in jazz circles, though obviously Elgort, a fashion photographer stretching his wings, admires Jacquet’s unpretentious emotional approach to music.
Morten Sandtroen’s closeup black & white photography atmospherically captures the club and European locations as well as Jacquet’s passion while playing. The Louisiana-born tenor man’s colleagues and pals like Tate, Milt Hinton and Cecil Payne are friendly enough to win over any viewer’s sympathy.
Several key omissions dilute the film’s impact. Hovering in the background is the star’s manager, Carol Scherick, an elderly white woman who primps Jacquet’s hair, carries his luggage and seems to have everything under control. She never gets to put her two cents in (probably by choice), remaining too enigmatic and slighted compared to the rather pointless interviews by others, Elgort included.
Documentary never mentions, let alone shows, Jacquet playing the bassoon, virtually the only jazz soloist on that difficult instrument. This would have given some evidence of the man’s adventurous nature.
Pic is first in a planned series by Elgort profiling “American Heroes,” including pianist Dorothy Donegan (who appears briefly here) and rodeo star Bruce Ford.
Also on the program is same filmmaking team’s 15-minute short film “Dexter on Vacation.” Filmed on board a 1988 jazz cruise it captures the late Dexter Gordon’s final performance in touching fashion.