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FOR NEARLY A QUARTER-CENTURY, beginning in 1950, tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons (1925-1974) was among the brightest stars in the Prestige Records firmament. Whether leading, or partaking in, one of Prestige’s jam sessions, immersing himself in the organ-dominated blues and gospel grooves that in the 1950s came to be called “soul jazz,” or digging deep for heart-rending ballads, Ammons was multiply masterful. And in 1960, leading a quintet featuring the impeccable pianist Tommy Flanagan, plus Ray Barretto’s piquant congas, he produced the insuperable Boss Tenor. From the blues that drips from “Hittin’ the Jug” and “Blue Ammons” to the infectious medium bounce of the standards “Close Your Eyes” and “Canadian Sunset,” and from the sophisticated swing of “Stompin’ at the Savoy” to the finger-poppin’ bop of “Confirmation” and the after-hours balladry of “My Romance,” Boss Tenor has something for everyone claiming to be a fan of modern jazz. I remember the sessions well, I remember how the musicians wanted to sound, and I remember their reactions to the playbacks. Today, I feel strongly that I am their messenger. —RUDY VAN GELDER Recorded by RUDY VAN GELDER at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; June 16, 1960. Supervision by ESMOND EDWARDS. Remastering, 2005—Rudy Van Gelder (Van Gelder Studio). All transfers were made from the analog master tapes to digital at 24-bit resolution. Notes by BOB PORTER. Total Time 36:00 • Prestige/Moodsville Records, Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710. π & © 2006, Concord Music Group, Inc., 100 North Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.


GENE AMMONS tenor saxophone TOMMY FLANAGAN piano DOUG WATKINS bass ARTHUR TAYLOR drums RAY BARRETTO conga I suppose Gene Ammons is what you could call a real hybrid. His playing is a perfect (albeit weird) assimilation of two seemingly widely opposed ideas of playing the tenor saxophone. Gene somehow manages to sound like he comes right out of both Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, the two farthest poles in the business of playing the tenor saxophone. Hawk, with his big, big overpowering sound and head-on attack; Pres, seemingly in complete apposition, his sound almost an extension of his breathing, thin, wispy, evanescent, improvising even on the “head” of the tune, leaving the melody as the merest suggestion of what we know it to be. And both men, of course had and have huge “schools” devoted, to one degree or another, to sounding just like them (even now, after the tremendous Charlie Parker influence). If, for instance, I name Chu Berry, Arnett Cobb, Herschel Evans, Lucky Thompson (Don Byas through Thompson), Ike Quebec, Illinois Jacquet, Ben Webster, and Buddy Tate as some people more or less directly influenced by Hawk (and that’s not even beginning to mention all the people who these people have themselves influenced, or all the other more oblique influences Hawk has made) . . . and then, if I name all the people Pres has influenced, more or less directly, Charlie Parker, Wardell Gray, Allen Eager, Brew Moore, Stan Getz, James Moody, Warne Marsh, Zoot Sims (and with that add all the new Parker-Young–influenced modern hornmen), you see that we take in almost all saxophone players in jazz. To put it baldly, most people up until the time of Charlie Parker played the saxophone either like Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young. But to my mind, Gene Ammons is one of the few people to have completely assimilated both styles and not only evolved

an entirely individual style of his own, but also became an important influence himself. I’d say Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, J.R. Monterose, Clifford Jordan, and to a lesser degree John Coltrane, have all benefited greatly by listening to Gene. The weird distillation of Hawk within the easy solemn grace of Pres is the most readily discernable feature of Ammons’s style. That power, that relaxation, made into a separate voice. Ammons’s wild rhythmic sense and peculiarly bluesy accents make him his own man. I first heard Gene Ammons in Newark, New Jersey at a place called the Masonic Temple. He had a big band then, featuring Sonny Stitt on tenor. He and Stitt would have at least one “battle,” on their horns, during every set. This “battle” would invariably set everyone on his ear. I was about 14 or 15 at the time, and I remember, wistfully (no offense intended, Gene), being a staunch Stitt man. But whoever’s man you were, those were really some wild sessions. Everybody would take sides, however, and there’d be cries of “Go, Gene, Get It, Baby” and “Cook Sonny, Burn!” (I can’t ever remember anyone saying, “Go Man, Go!”) And they would . . . cook, burn, stomp, jam, etc., on into the morning. If I remember correctly, the tune they used as a theme, or at least as a frequent battleground for those public cutting sessions, was something called “Blues Up and Down.” The unison sound of Stitt and Ammons was really too much. It sounded something like an overly huge tenor saxophone playing out of a sound truck. Really something! But to get to this record: Prestige seems to be pioneering a good trend, i.e., recording all the big talents who play what the critics call “swing” (in Ammons’s case, the noun, the adjective, and the verb) using (another critics’ word) “modern” rhythm sections. This



album, and most of the others in this series, have shown this to be a marvelous idea. Ammons’s rhythm section on this date is one of the best, not to mention steadily employed, rhythm sections in modern jazz. Flanagan, Watkins, and Taylor have worked with almost every big name in modern jazz, J.J. Johnson, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, etc., etc. And Ray Barretto is certainly one of the most sought-after conga drummers in the business. (Listen to his work with Red Garland or “Lockjaw” Davis. Also, this rhythm section [as a group and separately] has been talked about so much on record jackets, as far as biographical material, etc., that it hardly seems sensible to go into it again here.) What I said before about Ammons’s fantastic appropriation of two completely opposite styles into his own individual style is especially evident on this record. The first tune, “Hittin’ the Jug,” after Tommy Flanagan’s lovely bit of introspection, becomes for Gene a series of admirable understatements, underscored in blue, and given a kind of casual élan by Ammons’s funky lyricism. His huge raspy tone is warm, but seems, even with its apparent breath, to be as evanescent and delicate as that of the best of Lester Young’s disciples. “Close Your Eyes,” an old, old standard which seems lately to be coming back into its own in jazz circles, is here given a mildly uptempo outing. A sort of fast “walk,” helped brightly along by Ray Barretto’s flippant conga line. Ammons seems to rip into each phrase with considered delight, walking his favorite tightrope between simple melodic phrasing and bouncy rhythmic accentuation. The ease with which Ammons pulls this kind of thing off often makes his solos seem overly simple, but there are years of application and experience behind this seeming insouciance. “My Romance,” another old stan-


dard, seems to point up the extraordinary amount of listening (to Ammons) Sonny Rollins has done. The huge rolling line, threatening at times to use the very timbre of the horn as a pure melodic device in itself, seems to have become Rollins’s trademark, especially on standards like this one. But listening to Gene’s fey but definitely attractive approach to the same idea, one gets the feeling of being confronted with the original article. There are two other old standards in the date, “Canadian Sunset” and “Savoy,” both of which are given a new lease on life. There is also a not-so-old standard, Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation.” It is a tribute to Parker’s genius that many of his compositions (and arrangements) have already assumed the status of standards. They are a seemingly endless source of inspiration for all kinds of jazz people. Everybody from the Modern Jazz Quartet to Bobby Hackett plays Bird’s tunes. Ammons does the tune justice here with fine assists from bassist Doug Watkins. The remaining tune on the date is an original, “Blue Ammons,” a walking-type “conga-blues” with a growly, relaxed-type swing that is moving as well as soothing. A.T.’s drums, especially where he trades “fours” with Ammons, make one of the highlights of the entire date. Ammons’s playing on this side points up, at least to me, how easy and casual real “funk” can be and still be convincing. And this kind of funkiness seems pretty “modern” even though Gene’s been around for God knows how long. —LEROI JONES original liner notes

I WAS THE ENGINEER on the recording sessions and I also made the masters for the original LP issues of these albums. Since the advent of the CD, other people have been making the masters. Mastering is the final step in the process of creating the sound of the finished product. Now, thanks to the folks at the Concord Music Group who have given me the opportunity to remaster these albums, I can present my versions of the music on CD using modern technology. I remember the sessions well, I remember how the musicians wanted to sound, and I remember their reactions to the playbacks. Today, I feel strongly that I am their messenger. —RUDY VAN GELDER



album masterpiece. That it came off as well as it did is something remarkable. Take a good look at the cover photo. Gene Ammons is as high as a Georgia pine. In fact he had been released from prison a very short time and would return to complete his sentence (because of a parole violation) within a few days of this session. When he returned early in 1961, he was strung out again. Ammons had inherited the mantle of the most famous jazz junkie from Charlie Parker. Like Bird, he attracted people who knew of his addiction and were curious about the jazz/junk nexus. What is very odd about this is that Gene was one of the few clean reedmen in the Billy Eckstine band where he gained his first notoriety as a teenage tenor sax star. Frank Wess, another clean reedman in the Eckstine band, thinks that he first acquired the habit during a period of time spent with Woody Herman’s band in 1949. On the other hand, Pepper Adams recalled a 1950 conversation in which Gene was berating Sonny Stitt for his drug use. At any rate, by the time that the Ammons-Stitt group broke up in late 1952, George “Dude” Brown, the drummer in the group, would declare that Gene Ammons wasn’t interested in music, only in dope.

Bassist Buster Williams who worked frequently with Gene in 1961 and ’62 recalled that Gene was a complete pro on the bandstand. He was also a pro in the recording studio. He was, in the words of Teddy Edwards, “the great interpreter” and he had an uncanny ability to take standards and come up with his own unique take on them. He didn’t use a lot of notes but he made certain that the ones he did use were meaningful. It dates back to a time when his father, Albert, the great boogie-woogie piano stylist, had taken him to hear the Milton Larkin band in 1942 and introduced him to Arnett Cobb. Father suggested to son that he should work “to get a sound like that.” And while one doesn’t think of Cobb as an influence on Gene, they are similar in that each one had a big sound with an attack that emphasized the importance of each note. Prior to the recording of Boss Tenor, Gene hadn’t recorded for Prestige since May of 1958, a period of more than two years. Several things had changed in the interim: Esmond Edwards was now in charge of recording at the label and that meant an approach that stressed organization to a greater extent than had Bob Weinstock, whose laissez-faire attitude resulted in the splendid series of Gene Ammons’s jam session albums. Under Edwards, Gene would be recorded

in a variety of different settings but there would be no jam sessions. Rudy Van Gelder had moved his studio from the living room of his parents’ home to a modern state-ofthe-art facility in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Gene’s last session, Blue Gene, had been recorded in mono while now everything was recorded in stereo. The players hired by Edwards were all known to Gene. Tommy Flanagan had played with Gene on Bennie Green’s Vee-Jay album, The Swingin’est, while Doug Watkins, Art Taylor, and Ray Barretto were holdovers from the Blue Gene date. These were players who were active participants during the Weinstock era and would continue to provide important contributions to Prestige under Esmond Edwards. Tommy Flanagan had come to Prestige with Miles Davis and was on Miles’s Collectors’ Items album. He was a favorite of all Prestige producers and prior to his appearance on Boss Tenor, he had played on such certified masterpieces as Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus, Kenny Dorham’s Quiet Kenny, and At Ease by Coleman Hawkins. Paul Chambers was Bob Weinstock’s favorite bassist but with the increased touring schedule of Miles Davis, Doug Watkins became more of a factor. He played an important part on many Prestige dates until his untimely death, at age 27, in 1962. Art Taylor was virtually the Prestige house drummer. He was also in demand at Blue Note and Savoy to the extent that he kept a set of drums at Van Gelder’s studio for many years. Ray Barretto was featured on many record dates under Esmond Edwards. After Blue Gene, he made several sessions with Red Garland and backed many of the tenor stars throughout the years. The program for Boss Tenor consisted of seven tunes. “Hittin’ the Jug” is a reminder of just how well Gene played blues at this tempo. Tommy Flanagan’s

two choruses serve as an introduction and the two-note burst of tenor sets up a theme statement and solo that was later “vocalesed” by King Pleasure as “Swan Blues.” The standard “Close Your Eyes” and the blues “Blue Ammons” are conga walkers. The former has an introduction in 2/4 time, a common practice at the time. These medium-tempo swingers were Gene’s way of letting the rhythm flow through and placing his notes in such a way that the groove is always prominent. “My Romance” is elegant balladry by a ballad master and ranks with Gene’s finest performances. “Canadian Sunset” was a tune of recent vintage made popular by pianist Eddie Heywood. This was the big airplay item from the album and it was coupled with “Hittin’ the Jug” for 45-RPM single release. Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” is cooked to perfection in this version with solo commentary by Flanagan and Watkins before a round of four-bar exchanges between Gene and Art Taylor. “Stompin’ at the Savoy” is Edgar Sampson’s 1935 classic, originally written for the Chick Webb band. For some reason, each previous edition of this album has misidentified it as “Savoy,” a 1941 Bill Doggett composition written for the Lucky Millinder band. The tempo here is comfortably medium-up and Ray Barretto gets a solo shot. Boss Tenor, the album, is the product of five great jazzmen playing together for this one and only time. It is a testament to the abilities of the musicians, the producer, and the engineer. It is also a testament to the jazz process itself for in no other musical style could something this great come together in this short a period of time. —BOB PORTER June 2005


1 HITTIN’ THE JUG (Gene Ammons) Second Floor Music-BMI 8:31 2 CLOSE YOUR EYES (Bernice Petkere) Bernice Petkere Music-ASCAP 3:46 3 MY ROMANCE (Rodgers-Hart) Williamson Music/Lorenz Hart Publ.-ASCAP 4:16 4 CANADIAN SUNSET (Heywood-Gimbel) EMI Mogull/ Nelton Corp.-BMI 5:26


Recorded by RUDY VAN GELDER at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; June 16, 1960. Supervision by ESMOND EDWARDS

5 BLUE AMMONS (Ammons) Second Floor-BMI 4:57

Cover photo | Esmond Edwards

6 CONFIRMATION (Charlie Parker) Atlantic Music-BMI 5:27

Remastering, 2005 | Rudy Van Gelder (Van Gelder Studio)

7 STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY (Goodman-Webb-Sampson) EMI Robbins Catalog/Ragbag Music Publ./ Rytvoc, Inc.-ASCAP 3:34

Reissue produced by Nick Phillips and Bob Porter Reissue production assistance|Stuart Kremsky

l • Prestige Records, Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710. π & © 2006, Concord Music Group, Inc., 100 North Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. All rights reserved.

Eric Dolphy—Out There (PRCD-8101-2) Gene Ammons—Boss Tenor (PRCD-8102-2) John Coltrane—Lush Life (PRCD-8103-2) Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (PRCD-8104-2) Sonny Rollins—Saxophone Colossus (PRCD-8105-2) Coleman Hawkins—The Hawk Relaxes (PRCD-8106-2) Kenny Burrell & John Coltrane (PRCD-8107-2) Kenny Dorham—Quiet Kenny (PRCD-8108-2) Red Garland’s Piano (PRCD-8109-2) The Modern Jazz Quartet—Django (PRCD-8110-2) Jack McDuff—The Honeydripper (PRCD-30005-2) John Coltrane—Soultrane (PRCD-30006-2) Etta Jones—Don’t Go to Strangers (PRCD-30007-2) Miles Davis All Stars—Walkin’ (PRCD-30008-2) Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis—Cookbook, vol. 1 (PRCD-30009-2) Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins (PRCD-30010-2) Mose Allison Sings (PRCD-30011-2) Yusef Lateef—Eastern Sounds (PRCD-30012-2) Oliver Nelson—Screamin’ the Blues (PRCD-30013-2) Richard “Groove” Holmes—Soul Message (PRCD-30014-2)




Gene Ammons - Boss Tenor_Booklet  

The late great tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was of the generation of Swing Era players that easily adapted to bop. But though he was a mode...

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