Gene Ammons Biography

Eugene Ammons, 14 April 1925, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 6 August 1974, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Ammons chose to make the tenor saxophone his instrument in preference to the piano played by his father, the famous boogie-woogie exponent Albert Ammons. Gene left school at the age of 18 and within two years was a member of Billy Eckstine’s bebop-orientated big band. Despite working alongside leading lights of the new form such as Fats Navarro, Leo Parker and Art Blakey, Ammons proved to be very much his own man, developing a distinctive, warm sound that nevertheless fitted well into the hard-edged playing of his colleagues. After leaving Eckstine, Ammons worked mainly in small groups, sometimes as leader, but also had a short spell with Woody Herman’s big band in 1949. A year later he joined forces with Sonny Stitt to co-lead a small group that played rich, soulful music overlaid with an aggressive attack - a style that moved him towards the outer edges of the bop tradition yet never quite slipped over into fully fledged soul or R&B. Ammons worked extensively in small group settings for the next dozen years but drug addiction led to prison terms that robbed his career of 10 years in total, from the late 50s through to the late 60s. Between his release from prison in 1969 and his death from cancer and pneumonia in August 1974, Ammons enjoyed considerable success thanks in part to his enthusiastic playing and the concurrent popularity of jazz soul music throughout the 60s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.