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Gene Ammons

Gene Ammons

American musician
The basics
Quick Facts
Occupations Saxophonist Jazz musician
Countries United States of America
Gender male
Birth April 14, 1925 (Chicago)
Death July 23, 1974 (Chicago)
Father: Albert Ammons
The details

Eugene "Jug" Ammons (April 14, 1925 – July 23, 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 died in Chicago in 1974, at the age of 49, from cancer.

Playing style

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".

Les McCann and Santana have also recorded Gene Ammons compositions.

Ammons is considered a major influence on the style of popular jazz tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman.


As leader

  • Golden Saxophone (Savoy, 1952)
  • All Star Sessions (Prestige, 1950–55) - with Sonny Stitt
  • The Happy Blues (Prestige, 1956)
  • Jammin' with Gene (Prestige, 1956)
  • Funky (Prestige, 1957)
  • Jammin' in Hi Fi with Gene Ammons (Prestige, 1957) - also released as The Twister
  • The Big Sound (Prestige, 1958)
  • Groove Blues (Prestige, 1958)
  • Blue Gene (Prestige, 1958)
  • The Swingin'est (Juggin'Around) (Vee-Jay, 1958) - with Bennie Green
  • Boss Tenor (Prestige, 1960)
  • Nice an' Cool (Prestige Moodsville, 1961) (CD 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 (Verve, 1961) - with Sonny Stitt
  • Just Jug (Argo, 1961) - also released as Gene Ammons Live! in Chicago (Prestige)
  • Up Tight! (Prestige, 1961) (CD Prestige 1994)
  • Boss Soul! (Prestige, 1961) (CD - Up Tight Prestige 1994 as above)
  • Twisting the Jug (Prestige, 1961) (CD - Organ Combos Prestige) - with Joe Newman and Jack McDuff
  • Brother Jack Meets the Boss (Prestige, 1962) - with Jack McDuff
  • Boss Tenors in Orbit! (Verve, 1962) - with Sonny Stitt
  • Soul Summit (Prestige, 1962) - with Sonny Stitt and Jack McDuff
  • Nothin' But Soul (Up Front, 1962) - with Howard McGhee
  • Soul Summit Vol. 2 (Prestige, 1961–62) - with Etta Jones and Jack McDuff
  • Late Hour Special (Prestige, 1961-62 [1964])
  • The Soulful Moods of Gene Ammons (Moodsville, 1962) (CD Gentle Jug Prestige 1992)
  • Blue Groove (Prestige, 1962 [1982])
  • Preachin' (Prestige, 1962)
  • Jug & Dodo (Prestige, 1962 [1972]) - with Dodo Marmarosa
  • Velvet Soul (Prestige, 1960-62 [1964]) (CDs Organ Combos and A Stranger In Town - Prestige)
  • Angel Eyes (Prestige, 1960-62 [1965]) (CDs Organ Combos and Gentle Jug Vol 2 Prestige)
  • Sock! (Prestige, 1954-62 [1965])
  • Bad! Bossa Nova (Prestige, 1962)
  • The Boss Is Back! (Prestige, 1969)
  • Brother Jug! (Prestige, 1969)
  • Night Lights (Prestige, 1970)
  • The Chase! (Prestige, 1970) - with Dexter Gordon
  • The Black Cat! (Prestige, 1970)
  • You Talk That Talk! (Prestige, 1971) - with Sonny Stitt
  • My Way (Prestige, 1971)
  • Chicago Concert (Prestige, 1971) - with James Moody
  • Free Again (Prestige, 1972)
  • Got My Own (Prestige, 1972)
  • Big Bad Jug (Prestige, 1972)
  • God Bless Jug and Sonny (Prestige, 1973 [2001]) - with Sonny Stitt
  • Left Bank Encores (Prestige, 1973 [2001]) - with Sonny Stitt
  • Gene Ammons and Friends at Montreux (Prestige, 1973)
  • Gene Ammons in Sweden (Enja, 1973)
  • Brasswind (Prestige, 1973)
  • Together Again for the Last Time (Prestige, 1973) - with Sonny Stitt
  • Goodbye (Prestige, 1974)

As sideman

With Bennie Green

  • Soul Stirrin' (Blue Note 1958)

With Richard "Groove" Holmes

  • Tell It Like It Tis (Pacific Jazz, 1961 [1966])

With Charles Mingus

  • Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert (Columbia, 1972)

With Sonny Stitt

  • Kaleidoscope (Prestige, 1950 [1957])
  • Stitt's Bits (Prestige, 1950 [1958])

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