I awoke this morning to the sound of a Gene Ammons ballad, “Stella by Starlight.” As a disciple of the sound of Ben Webster and Lester Young, and having been in the forefront – along with Von Freeman — of the “Chicago school,” where a bluesy “expressiveness” was paramount to their style, his music has always moved me. His personal life had its challenges, having been incarcerated on a couple of occasions for narcotics possession, but his sound overcame that, evidenced by the contract he signed with Prestige Records following his 1969 release from prison, which at the time was the largest ever offered by the label.
While some critics questioned the relevance of his style, the pianist Mal Waldron, who frequently accompanied Ammons on his dates, said this about him:
“Gene is soulful, down to earth…he has that sincere quality. He’s always himself and is always involved in what he’s doing…He never plays with his eyes out the window. He’s very close to basic jazz…his approach is from the heart instead of the head. His playing is vigorous and lifts everybody on the session with its spirit.”
Check out some of his ballads: