born on 14/4/1925 in Chicago, IL, United States
died on 6/8/1974 in Chicago, IL, United States
Eugene "Jug" Ammons (April 14, 1925 – August 6, 1974), also known as "The Boss", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. The son of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons, Gene Ammons is remembered for his accessible music, steeped in soul and R&B, but his career was hampered by two incarcerations on drugs charges.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Ammons studied music with instructor Walter Dyett at DuSable High School. Ammons began to gain recognition while still at high school when in 1943, at the age of 18, he went on the road with trumpeter King Kolax's band. In 1944 he joined the band of Billy Eckstine (who bestowed on him the nickname "Jug" when straw hats ordered for the band did not fit), playing alongside Charlie Parker and later Dexter Gordon. Notable performances from this period include "Blowin' the Blues Away," featuring a saxophone duel between Ammons and Gordon. After 1947, when Eckstine became a solo performer, Ammons then led a group, including Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt, that performed at Chicago's Jumptown Club. In 1949 Ammons replaced Stan Getz as a member of Woody Herman's Second Herd, and then in 1950 formed a duet with Sonny Stitt.
The 1950s were a prolific period for Ammons and produced some acclaimed recordings such as "The Happy Blues" (1955). Musicians who played in his groups, apart from Stitt, included Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Mal Waldron, Art Farmer, and Duke Jordan.
His later career was interrupted by two prison sentences for narcotics possession, the first from 1958 to 1960, the second from 1962 to 1969. He recorded as a leader for Mercury (1947–1949), Aristocrat (1948–1950), Chess (1950–1951), Prestige (1950–1952), Decca (1952), and United (1952–1953). For the rest of his career, he was affiliated with Prestige. After his release from prison in 1969, having served a seven-year sentence at Joliet penitentiary, he signed the largest contract ever offered at that time by Prestige's Bob Weinstock.
Ammons had the first of two records released by Leonard Chess on the newly-formed Chess Records label in 1950, titled "My Foolish Heart" (Chess 1425); Muddy Waters was the second record, "Rolling Stone" (Chess 1426). Both records were released simultaneously.
Ammons died in Chicago in 1974, at the age of 49, from cancer.
Ammons and Von Freeman were the founders of the Chicago school of tenor saxophone. Ammons's style of playing showed influences from Lester Young as well as Ben Webster. These artists had helped develop the sound of the tenor saxophone to higher levels of expressiveness. Ammons, together with Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, helped integrate their developments with the emerging "vernacular" of the bebop movement, and the chromaticism and rhythmic variety of Charlie Parker is evident in his playing.
While adept at the technical aspects of bebop, in particular its love of harmonic substitutions, Ammons more than Young, Webster or Parker, stayed in touch with the commercial blues and R&B of his day. For example, in 1950 the saxophonist's recording of "My Foolish Heart" made Billboard Magazine's black pop charts. The soul jazz movement of the mid-1960s, often using the combination of tenor saxophone and Hammond B3 electric organ, counts him as a founder. With a thicker, warmer tone than Stitt or Gordon, Ammons could at will exploit a vast range of textures on the instrument, vocalizing it in ways that look forward to later artists like Stanley Turrentine, Houston Person, and even Archie Shepp. Ammons showed little interest, however, in the modal jazz of John Coltrane, Joe Henderson or Wayne Shorter that was emerging at the same time.
Some ballad performances in his oeuvre are testament to an exceptional sense of intonation and melodic symmetry, powerful lyrical expressiveness, and mastery both of the blues and the bebop vernacular that can now be described as, in its own way, "classical".
Early in his career Ammons played a Conn model 10M Bb tenor saxophone eventually switching to a Selmer Mark VI. He is often pictured playing a Brilhart Ebolin mouthpiece.
King Pleasure recorded his vocalese take on Ammons' composition "Hittin' The Jug" under the title "Swan Blues".
Santana ("Jungle Strut") and Les McCann have also recorded Gene Ammons compositions.
- The Golden Saxophone of Gene Ammons (Savoy, 1952–1953 [rel. 1959]) - also released as Red Top: The Savoy Sessions
- With Or Without (EmArcy, 1954 [10" LP]) - also released as Light, Bluesy, And Moody (Wing, 1963 [12" LP])
- All Star Sessions (Prestige, 1950–1955 [rel. 1956]) - with Art Farmer, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt; also released as Woofin' & Tweetin'
- The Happy Blues (Prestige, 1956)
- Jammin' with Gene (Prestige, 1956) - also released as Not Really The Blues
- Funky (Prestige, 1957)
- Jammin' in Hi Fi with Gene Ammons (Prestige, 1957) - also released as The Twister
- The Big Sound (Prestige, 1958) - with John Coltrane, Paul Quinichette, Pepper Adams
- Groove Blues (Prestige, 1958 [rel. 1961])
- Blue Gene (Prestige, 1958)
- The Swingin'est (Vee-Jay, 1958) - with Bennie Green; also released as Juggin' Around
- Soulful Saxophone (Chess, 1959) - also released as Makes It Happen (CD release: Young Jug GRP, 1994)
- Jug and Sonny (Chess, 1960) - with Sonny Stitt
- Boss Tenor (Prestige, 1960)
- Nice an' Cool (Moodsville, 1961) (CD release: Gentle Jug Prestige, 1992)
- Jug (Prestige, 1961)
- Groovin' with Jug (Pacific Jazz, 1961) - with Richard "Groove" Holmes
- Dig Him! (Argo, 1961) - with Sonny Stitt; also released as We'll Be Together Again (Prestige)
- Boss Tenors: Straight Ahead From Chicago August 1961 (Verve, 1961) - with Sonny Stitt
- Just Jug (Argo, 1961) - also released as Gene Ammons Live! In Chicago (Prestige)
- Up Tight! (Prestige, 1961) (CD release: Prestige, 1994)
- Boss Soul! (Prestige, 1961 [rel. 1963]) (CD release: Up Tight! Prestige, 1994 [as with the above line])
- Twisting the Jug (Prestige, 1961) (CD release: Organ Combos Prestige, 1994) - with Joe Newman, Jack McDuff
- Brother Jack Meets the Boss (Prestige, 1962) - with Jack McDuff
- Boss Tenors in Orbit! (Verve, 1962) - with Sonny Stitt, Don Patterson
- Soul Summit (Prestige, 1962) - with Sonny Stitt, Jack McDuff
- Nothin' But Soul (Upfront UPF-116, 1962 [rel. 1969]) - with Howard McGhee; originally issued as House Warmin'! on Argo LP-4020 in 1963
- Soul Summit Vol. 2 (Prestige, 1961–1962) - with Etta Jones, Jack McDuff
- Late Hour Special (Prestige, 1961–1962 [rel. 1964])
- The Soulful Moods of Gene Ammons (Moodsville, 1962 [rel. 1963]) (CD: Gentle Jug Prestige, 1992)
- Blue Groove (Prestige, 1962 [rel. 1982])
- Preachin' (Prestige, 1962)
- Jug & Dodo (Prestige, 1962 [rel. 1972]) - with Dodo Marmarosa
- Velvet Soul (Prestige, 1960–1962 [rel. 1964]) (CD releases: Organ Combos Prestige, 1994; Gentle Jug-Vol. 2 Prestige, 1995; A Stranger In Town Prestige, 2002)
- Angel Eyes (Prestige, 1960–1962 [rel. 1965]) (CD releases: Organ Combos Prestige, 1994; Gentle Jug-Vol. 2 Prestige, 1995; Gentle Jug-Vol. 3 Prestige, 2000)
- Sock! (Prestige, 1954–1962 [rel. 1965]) (CD release: A Stranger In Town Prestige, 2002)
- Bad! Bossa Nova (Prestige, 1962) - also released as Jungle Soul
- The Boss Is Back! (Prestige, 1969) (CD release: Prestige, 1994)
- Brother Jug! (Prestige, 1969) (CD release: The Boss Is Back! Prestige, 1994 [as with the above line])
- Night Lights (Prestige, 1970 [rel. 1985]) (CD release: A Stranger In Town Prestige, 2002)
- The Chase! [live] (Prestige, 1970) - with Dexter Gordon
- The Black Cat! (Prestige, 1970) (CD release: Legends Of Acid Jazz: Gene Ammons Prestige, 1997)
- You Talk That Talk! (Prestige, 1971) (CD release: Legends Of Acid Jazz: Gene Ammons Prestige, 1997) - with Sonny Stitt
- My Way (Prestige, 1971)
- Chicago Concert (Prestige, 1971 [rel. 1973]) - with James Moody
- Free Again (Prestige, 1972)
- Got My Own (Prestige, 1972) (CD release: Fine And Mellow Prestige, 2003)
- Big Bad Jug (Prestige, 1972) (CD release: Fine And Mellow Prestige, 2003)
- God Bless Jug and Sonny: Live At The Left Bank (Prestige, 1973 [rel. 2001]) - with Sonny Stitt
- Left Bank Encores (Prestige, 1973 [rel. 2001]) - with Sonny Stitt
- Gene Ammons and Friends at Montreux (Prestige, 1973)
- Gene Ammons in Sweden (Enja, 1973 [rel. 1981])
- Together Again for the Last Time (Prestige, 1973 [rel. 1976]) - with Sonny Stitt
- Brasswind (Prestige, 1974)
- Goodbye (Prestige, 1974 [rel. 1975])
- Biggest Soul Hits (Prestige PR-7306, 1964 [LP])
- The Best Of Gene Ammons For Beautiful People (Prestige PR-7708, 1969 [LP])
- The Best Of Gene Ammons With Brother Jack McDuff (Prestige PR-7774, 1970 [LP])
- Blues Up & Down, Vol. 1 (Prestige PR-7823, 1971 [LP]) - the original 1950 sessions
- Greatest Hits (Prestige PR-10084, 1974 [LP])
- Housewarmin' (Trip/Springboard TLX-5002, 1974 [2LP]) (compilation of The Swingin'est with Bennie Green + Nothin' But Soul with Howard McGhee)
- Early Visions (Cadet/Chess/GRT 2CA-60038, 1975 [2LP]) (compilation of Aristocrat/Chess material recorded 1948–1951)
- Red Top: The Savoy Sessions (Savoy/Arista SJL-1103, 1976 [LP]; Savoy/Denon SV-0242, CD release: 1994) (compilation of material recorded 1947–1953)
- "Jug" Sessions (The EmArcy Jazz Series) (Mercury EMS2-400, 1976 [2LP])
- Juganthology (Prestige PR-24036, 1976 [2LP]) - with Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Idrees Sulieman, Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean; sextets/septets recorded 1955–1957
- The Gene Ammons Story: The 78 Era (Prestige PR-24058, 1977 [2LP]; CD release: 1994)
- The Gene Ammons Story: Organ Combos (Prestige PR-24071, 1977 [2LP]; CD release: 1994)
- The Gene Ammons Story: Gentle Jug (Prestige PR-24079, 1977 [2LP]; CD release: 1994)
- The Big Sound (Prestige PR-24098, 1981 [2LP]) (compilation of The Big Sound + Groove Blues)
- Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: The Sixties (OJC 6005, 1988 [LP]; CD release: 1991)
- The Boss Is Back! (Prestige 24129, 1993) (compilation of The Boss Is Back! + Brother Jug!)
- Up Tight! (Prestige 24140, 1994) (compilation of Up Tight! + Boss Soul!)
- Young Jug (GRP 801, 1994) (CD compilation of Aristocrat/Chess material recorded 1948–1951)
- Gentle Jug, Vol. 2 (Prestige 24155, 1995)
- Legends of Acid Jazz: Gene Ammons (Prestige 24188, 1997) (compilation of The Black Cat! + You Talk That Talk!)
- Greatest Hits: The 50s (OJC 6013, 1998)
- Greatest Hits: The 70s (OJC 6018, 1998)
- Gentle Jug, Vol. 3 (Prestige 24249, 2000)
- A Stranger In Town (Prestige 24266, 2002)
- Fine And Mellow (Prestige 24281, 2003) (compilation of Got My Own + Big Bad Jug)
With Billy Eckstine
- The Legendary Big Band 1943–1947 (Savoy Jazz, 2002) – 2CD anthology
With Bennie Green
- Soul Stirrin' (Blue Note, 1958)
With Richard "Groove" Holmes
- Tell It Like It Tis (Pacific Jazz, 1961–1962 [rel. 1966])
With Charles Mingus
- Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert (Columbia, 1972)
With Sonny Stitt
- Kaleidoscope (Prestige, 1950 [rel. 1957])
- Stitt's Bits (Prestige, 1950 [rel. 1958])
- Bucket O' Grease by Les McCann which includes his version of Jug's classic "Red Top".
- Santana III which includes their version of "Jungle Strut" (from Ammons' The Boss Is Back!)
- "Gene "Jug" Ammons". FindAGrave.com. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
- Doc Rock. "The 1970s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
- Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Books. p. 12. ISBN 0-141-00646-3.
- Rosenthal, David, H. Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505869-0.
- "Gene Ammons Biography". Musicianguide.com. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
- Scott Yanow. "Gene Ammons | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2015-03-07.