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Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Happy Blues - Gene Ammons

Eugene "Jug" Ammons (April 14, 1925 – July 23, 1974) also known as "The Boss," was an American jazz tenor saxophonist, and the son of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons. 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), featuring Freddie Redd and Lou Donaldson. 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.

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