Jug : Gene Ammons©2004JCMarion


Eugene “Gene” Ammons was born in Chicago in April of 1925. He was born to be a musician being the son of legendary boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons. His father along with fellow pianists Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis changed the face of American music in the late thirties into the forties and laid the groundwork for what was then called Rhythm & Blues. Gene Ammons had an affinity for the tenor sax and by the early forties was ready to take on the world with his talent. Before he reached the age of twenty he joined the combo led by trumpeter King Kolax and went out on the road. Soon both Kolax and Ammons joined the big band led by Billy Eckstine that included many bebop practitioners. Among the historic artifacts left by this aggregation include the film soundtrack of “Rhythm In A Riff” in which gene Ammons is seen during a couple of sax solos. The band also recorded some 78 rpm sides for the National Records label. Another musical moment from the Eckstine years is trading sax choruses with Dexter Gordon on “Blowing The Blues Away”. He made a couple of recordings under his own name for Mercury, and in 1949 Ammons joined the famous Woody Herman Third Herd Orchestra taking the place of Stan Getz on tenor sax. By 1950 Gene Ammons, now known by his nickname of “Jug” entered the world of R & B.

In January of 1950, Aristocrat Records in Chicago (the forerunner of Chess Records) announces that a recording by Gene Ammons made in late 1949 called “Rockin’ Rocker” has set a sales mark for the label, even though the record had not been officially released. Ammons takes place in a battle of the saxes presented by Chicago d.j. McKie Fitzhugh at the Pershing Ballroom. Also featured are Eddie Chamblee and Tom Archia. In March of 1950 Ammons records “The Last Mile” and “Pennies From Heaven” on Aristocrat #411. “Pennies” starts out with good sales in Chicago and Detroit. By April Aristocrat re-releases “Rockin’ Rocker” with “Pennies From Heaven”. In April Ammons signs with new independent label Birdland Records. Once again, McKie Fitzhugh presents a battle of the saxes at the Pershing, this time Gene Ammons duels with Sonny Stitt. Aristocrat Records has become Chess, and Ammons has a new release on the label in July - "My Foolish Heart"and "Bless You" on Chess #1425. Keeping the recording contracts in order, Birdland Records is taken over by Prestige, and they have the signed papers by Ammons. "My Foolish Heart" is a good seller in Chicago and other areas of the Midwest. In August "Goodbye" is released on Chess #1428 and again is a regional hit in Chicago. Ammons appears with Mabel Scott and Timmy Rodgers at Chicago's Blue Note nightclub. In September Prestige Records jumps into action with two sides by Gene Ammons - "I Wanna Be Loved" on #717, and "La Vie En Rose" on #721. Tenor sax men Sonny Stitt, James Moody, and Wardell Gray are also featured by the new label. In November Chess strikes back with "Boppin' With Santa" and "Talk Of The Town" on #1445. It becomes an interesting year as Gene Ammons is featured on two different labels in two different fields of music - jazz and R & B.

During the spring of the following year - 1951, Chess keeps the sides coming. "Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe" and "Baby Won't You Please Say Yes" are paired on Chess #1464. In July Prestige follows Chess Records lead and records Gene in a Rhythm & Blues setting with the tunes "Gene Ammons Boogie" and "Echo Chamber Blues" on #901. Ammons and his combo are booked into Philadelphia's Club Harlem. In September Ammons and Sonny Stitt will engage in another battle of the tenors at the Pershing Ballroom in Chicago. In November Ammons does big box office at Chicago's Regal Theater with a show that also features Mabel Scott and Wynonie "Mr. Blues" Harris. Late in the year Prestige Records releases "Charmaine" and "Undecided" on #916, and the Ammons combo opens a two week stay at The Glass Bar in St. Louis.

In late January of 1952 "Because Of The Rain" and "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" is released by Prestige on #921. Ammons teams with Sonny Stitt and trombonist Gino Murray and drummer Rowland Tucker in their new two sax combo and opens at Gamby's in baltimore after an appearance at that city's Royal Theater. In April the two tenor players will hit Richmond, Virginia and then Ammons and Stitt will go on the road with Gatemouth Brown. In the spring Ammons now on Decca Records has a new one out - "Old Folks" and "I'll Walk Alone" on #28094. In late May another release for Decca hits the street - "Breezy" and "Somewhere Along The Way" are released on #28222. In August, Chess Records finds another Ammons side from off the shelf - "Once In A While" and "Tenor Eleven" are released by Chess on #1525. In November Gene Ammons switches labels again. This time he is signed to Chicago's independent United label. Gene records "Street Of Dreams" and "Just Chips" for his new label on #135. Ammons closes out the year with an appearance at Philadelphia's Showboat Lounge.

In early 1953 Ammons remains a popular draw in Philadelphia, this time at Pep's Musical Bar. United records re-releases the tune "Just Chips" with a new flip side - "Red Top" on #149. Later in the year Ammons plays the Apollo Theater in New York in an imaginative pairing with boogie woogie pianist Hadda Brooks. In late October United Records releases "Jim Dog" and "Stairway To The Stars" on #164 to initial rave reviews and good sales. In 1954 Gene Ammons and his combo continue to be featured in personal appearances such as Pep's in Philadelphia in January, the Bee Hive in Chicago, and the Crystal Lounge in Detroit. In April United releases the latest from Ammons, a two part tune called "The Big Slam" (parts one and two) on #175. In April Gene is involved inn a serious auto accident and does not make another personal appearance until late June when he plays the Pershing Ballroom in Chicago. He is forced to play his entire set from a wheelchair due to his continuing recuperation. Ammons is booked into Houston's new El Dorado Lounge for an appearance later in the year. Late in the year Ammons and his combo do a series of one nighters on tour with The Counts ("My Dear My Darling") throughout the Midwest.

In January of 1955, Ammons joins old friends Eddie Chamblee, Wardell Gray, and Leo Parker, for a "Singing Sax Show and Dance" with McKie Fitzhugh at the Pershing Ballroom in Chicago. In March Gene leaves United Records and is back with Prestige. His first recording date back with the New York label results in "Blue Roller". Prestige tries to market Ammons as "Jazz R & B", trying to market to listeners of both camps, an attempt which is largely unsuccessful. During the mid 1950s Ammons moves to his jazz roots completely and records a series of LPs for Prestige with such musicians as Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Sonny Stitt, and John Coltrane. By 1959 Prestige has jazz singles released by Ammons including "The Happy Blues" on #112, "Blue Hymn" on #121, and "Blue Greens And Beans" on #140. The late fifties also brought personal problems as Ammons was arrested and imprisoned on drug charges in 1958 and 1960. He spent most of the 1960s at Statesville, Illinois penitentiary.

From the late 1960s on he was back on the scene with a soulful tenor sax style developed over a quarter century of mastering blues, R & B, and modern jazz evolving out of the bebop movement. In just a few years he passed away in 1975, but he leaves a legacy of music that for many years straddled the line between so many genres of modern music. There are many CDs available of the musical history of Gene "Jug" Ammons. Here is a representative listing of some (but certainly not all) of them.

Gene Ammons : 1947-49, and 1949-50 on Melodie from 2002 and 2004

The 78 Era - Prestige - 1994

Young Jug - GRP-1994 (originally recorded in 1948)

Red Top : The Savoy Sessions - Savoy-1994 (originally recorded in 1947)

Jammin In Hi-Fi - Original Jazz Classics - 1991 (originally recorded in 1957)

Funky - Original Jazz Classics - 1995 (originally recorded in 1957)

Gentle Jug - vols 1,2, and 3 - Prestige - 1993 - 2000

Greatest Hits : The 50s; The 60s; The 70s - Original Jazz Classics - 1998

Boss Tenor - Prestige - 1999

Organ Combos - Prestige - 1994

Happy Blues - Original Jazz Classics - 1992

Late Hour Special - Original Jazz Classics 1997 (originally recorded in 1961)

The Chase : Live with Dexter Gordon - Prestige - 1996 (originally recorded in 1970)

Live In Chicago - Original Jazz Classics - 1991

Tenor Eleven - Past Perfect - 2002

Bad Bossa Nova - Original Jazz Classics - 1991

Legends of Acid Jazz - Prestige - 1997

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