Thursday, December 22, 2016

Listening to Prestige 222: Gene Ammons

This could very easily be another Prestige All Stars session. It has pretty much the right lineup. But it was released as a Gene Ammons album, which says something about Ammons's popularity with the record buying public.

It is a typical Ammons session He liked to work slightly larger than the typical quartet-quintet lienup. He had certainly worked with Jackie McLean before. This was his first session with Idrees Suleiman, but he he had included other outstanding trumpeters in his groups, most recently Art Farmer in January. And that January session had also introduced Kenny Burrell to the mix. Burrell was one of Prestige's new stars, and the bite of his guitar solos played well with the powerful horn sections that Ammons fronted.

Ammons is known as a godfather of soul jazz, and for a style that stayed close to the roots of R&B.

But he had an equal fondness for the dreamy romantic ballad, and why not? The funky style of a Muddy Waters or an Amos Milburn was certainly a part of R&B, but not the whole part  Honkers like Big Jay McNeely and Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson played dreamy ballads too, and Earl Bostic specialized in them. And don't forget the doowop harmony groups of New York and LA, Philadelphia and Chicago. They were an important part of the music we call rhythm and blues, and they loved those dreamy pop ballads.

We get that side of Ammons in the opening section of "Pennies Fom Heaven," a tune written by Arthur Johnston for a 1936 Bing Crosby movie It became a standard beloved by pop singers, traditional jazzers and beboppers alike, and Ammons's dreamy head soon morphs into some solid bebop jamming.

If you were listing the significant jazz composers of this era, who would you come up with? Ellington, of course, in any era he chose to alight in. Monk, first of all. Bird, of course. Tadd Dameron. Bobby Timmons is maybe even better known for funk classics like "Moanin'" than for his piano playing. John Lewis and Horace Silver were two of the top pianists and composers of the era. There were Benny Golson ("I Remember Clifford,," "Killer Joe") and Sonny Rollins ("Airegin"), and Miles Davis, even though he probably didn't write "Dig"  But he did write "Four," which Ammons covers here.

I don't think that -- at least before I started writing this blog -- I would have thought of Mal Waldron right away, but his contemporaries surely did. In virtually every session he's called up on to play, you'll find at least one Waldron tune -- frequently two or more.

There are two here, "The Twister" and "Cattin'." In "Cattin'," the heavy cat is Paul Chambers He starts it off with an intricate bass figure, and remains a presence throughout. Well, come to think of it throughout the whole session, with a lovely bowed bass solo on "The Twister."

The album was released as Jammin' in Hi-Fi with Gene Ammons. It would later be rereleased as Gene Ammons - The Twister. I'm not quite sure why. The release would probably have predated the twist craze, and even if it had't, it would have been difficult to convince anyone that they could do the twist to this bebop jam session.

Nothing on 45, which is a little surprising, since Ammons' work for Prestige did yield a number of 45 RPM releases.


 Order Listening to Prestige, Vol. 1 here. It makes a great Christmas gift for the jazz lovers on your list. And you can tell them that Volume 2 should be ready for next Christmas!

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