Gene Ammons & Sony Stitt – Boss Tenors In Orbit (1962)

FrontCover1Eugene “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.

Born in Chicago, Illinois,[4] 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. 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.

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The 1950s were a prolific period for Ammons and produced some acclaimed recordings such as The Happy Blues (1956). 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.

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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 on August 6, 1974, at the age of 49, from bone cancer. He was buried at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Island, Illinois.

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Edward Hammond Boatner Jr. (February 2, 1924 – July 22, 1982), known professionally as Sonny Stitt, was an American jazz saxophonist of the bebop/hard bop idiom. Known for his warm tone, he was one of the best-documented saxophonists of his generation, recording more than 100 albums. He was nicknamed the “Lone Wolf” by jazz critic Dan Morgenstern because of his relentless touring and devotion to jazz yet rarely worked with the same musicians for long. Stitt was sometimes viewed as a Charlie Parker mimic, especially earlier in his career, but gradually came to develop his own sound and style, particularly when performing on tenor saxophone and even occasionally baritone saxophone.

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In 1943, Stitt met Charlie Parker. As he often recalled, the two men had similar styles. Parker is alleged to have remarked, “Well, I’ll be damned, you sound just like me”, to which Stitt responded, “Well, I can’t help the way I sound. It’s the only way I know how to play.”[3] Kenny Clarke said of Stitt, “Even if there had not been a Bird, there would have been a Sonny Stitt.”

During the 1940s, he played alto saxophone as a member of Tiny Bradshaw’s big band, Billy Eckstine’s big band with Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon, and Dizzy Gillespie’s big band Stitt was a leader of Bebop Boys and Galaxy in 1946 and 1948 respectively.

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When playing tenor saxophone Stitt seemed to break free from some of the criticism that he was imitating Parker’s style, and began to develop a far more distinctive sound.[1] He played with other bop musicians including Horace Parlan,[7] Bud Powell and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, a fellow tenor with a distinctly tough tone in comparison to Stitt, in the 1950s and recorded a number of sides for Prestige Records as well as albums for Argo, Verve, and Roost. Stitt experimented with Afro-Cuban jazz in the late 1950s, and the results can be heard on his recordings for Roost and Verve, on which he teamed up with Thad Jones and Chick Corea[8] for Latin versions of such standards as “Autumn Leaves”.

In 1952 Stitt played with pianist Jimmy Jones and the next year performed orchestral music with Johnny Richards. Under Quincy Jones’s guidance in 1955 he played uptempos and ballads such as “My Funny Valentine” and “Star Dust” and the same year performed “Afterwards” and “There Will Never Be Another You” with Hank Jones. Stitt joined Dolo Coker in 1957 to perform “Blues for Yard” and “Blue Moon” before returning to Hank to perform “Cherokee”.

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Stitt joined Miles Davis briefly in 1960, and recordings with Davis’ quintet can be found only in live settings on the tour of 1960.Alternate frontcover: Concerts in Manchester and Paris are available commercially and also a number of concerts (which include sets by the earlier quintet with John Coltrane) on the record Live at Stockholm (Dragon), all of which featured Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and Paul Chambers. However, Miles fired Stitt due to the excessive drinking habit he had developed, and replaced him with Hank Mobley. Later in the 1960s, Stitt paid homage to Parker on the album Stitt Plays Bird, which features Jim Hall on guitar.

Stitt recorded several times with his friend Gene Ammons in sessions that were interrupted by Ammons’ own imprisonment for narcotics possession. The records recorded by these two saxophonists are regarded by many as some of both Ammons and Stitt’s best work. The Ammons/Stitt partnership went down in posterity as one of the best dueling partnerships in jazz, alongside Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and Johnny Griffin with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Stitt ventured into soul jazz, and he recorded with fellow tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin in 1964 on the Soul People album. Stitt also recorded with Duke Ellington alumnus Paul Gonsalves in 1963 for Impulse! on the Salt and Pepper album in 1964. Around that time he appeared regularly at Ronnie Scott’s in London, a live 1964 encounter with Ronnie Scott, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, eventually surfaced, and another in 1966 with resident guitarist Ernest Ranglin and British tenor saxophonist Dick Morrissey. Stitt was one of the first jazz musicians to experiment with the Selmer Varitone amplification system as heard on the albums What’s New!!! in 1966 and Parallel-a-Stitt in 1967.

In 1982, Stitt was diagnosed with cancer, and died on July 22 in Washington, D.C. He is buried in a wall crypt at Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Brentwood, Maryland. (wikipedia)

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And here´s one their collobaration albums:

Though Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt were the premier twin towers of jazz tenor sax bar none, they also had great mutual respect for their distinctly different styles. The soulful Ammons and the bop-oriented Stitt meshed well whether playing standards, jamming on familiar melodies, or in ballad form. This recording sees them a bit restrained, teamed with the brilliant organist Don Patterson, the totally obscure guitarist Paul Weeden, and the great drummer Billy James. There’s a schism in terms of the stereo separation as each saxophonist gets his own channel, but on occasion they do play together, just not all that much. Some longer cuts allow Patterson to loosen up and take charge, but he is in the main an accompanist on this date from 1962.

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There’s no real battling for turf here, while one-upmanship is redacted as the two take turns with nary a hint of egotism. Stitt switches to alto in contrast, and the two saxophonists play together on the good swinger “Walkin’,” always a jam vehicle but shortened here, with the basic melody played only one time through, with Ammons adding a bit of harmony to the proceedings. They trade shorter phrases on “Why Was I Born?,” as Stitt goes off on a flurry of bebop notes. Where “John Brown’s Body” is quintessential soul-jazz at its primal best, they stretch out on the ten-minute jam “Bye Bye Blackbird,” with Stitt first out of the batters’ box and Ammons hitting for extra bases to drive his bandmate home. The leadoff track — strangely enough — is downtempo, hardly something to send anyone into orbit. “Long Ago and Far Away” is a ballad feature, first for Ammons and then Stitt, where the stereo effect is in full flight as the two go back and forth, with Patterson’s sweet, swinging, and soulful B-3 languishing in the background. While not an out-and-out knock-down, drag-out event like their other recordings, this is still one of too-few-magical efforts with Ammons and Stitt together. Those who crave the live cutting sessions that made jazz very exciting in the early ’60s might also consider this tamer studio effort. (by Michael G. Nastos)

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Personnel:
Gene Ammons (saxophone)
William James (drums)
Paul Weeden (guitar)
Donald Patterson (organ)
Sonny Stitt (saxophone)

Alternate frontcover:
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Tracklist:
01. Walkin’ (Carpenter) 6.28
02. Long Ago, And Far Away (Kern) 7.25
03. Why Was I Born? (Kern) 10.20
04.John Brown’s Body (Traditional) 8.49
05. Bye, Bye Blackbird (Dixon/Henderson) 12.11

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More from Gene Ammons:
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More from Sonny Stitt:
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