Ammons began to gain recognition when he went on the road with trumpeter King Kolax band in 1943, at the age of 18. He became a member of the Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman bands in 1944 and 1949 respectively, and then in 1950 formed a duet with Sonny Stitt. 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.
Ammons and Von Freeman were the founders of the Chicago School of tenor saxophone. His style of playing showed influences from Lester Young as well as Ben Webster. These artists had helped develop the sound of the tenor saxophone to higher levels of expressiveness. Ammons, together with Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, helped integrate their developments with the emerging "vernacular" of the bebop movement, and the chromaticism and rhythmic variety of Charlie Parker is evident in his playing.
While adept at the technical aspects of bebop, in particular its love of harmonic substitutions, Ammons more than Young, Webster or Parker, stayed in touch with the commercial blues and R&B of his day. For example, in 1950 the saxophonist's recording of "My Foolish Heart" made Billboard Magazine's black pop charts. The soul jazz movement of the mid-1960s, often using the combination of tenor saxophone and Hammond B3 electric organ, counts him as a founder. With a thinner, drier tone than Stitt or Gordon, Ammons could at will exploit a vast range of textures on the instrument, vocalizing it in ways that look forward to later artists like Stanley Turrentine, Houston Person, and even Archie Shepp. Ammons showed little interest, however, in the modal jazz of John Coltrane, Joe Henderson or Wayne Shorter that was emerging at the same time.
Some fine ballad performances in his oeuvre are testament to an exceptional sense of intonation and melodic symmetry, powerful lyrical expressiveness, and mastery both of the blues and the bebop vernacular which can now be described as, in its own way, "classical."
"Answer Me, My Love" written by Fred Rauch, Carl Sigman and Gerhard Winkler, performed by Gene Ammons, is featured on the soundtrack for Romance & Cigarettes (2005). He played on a Bb Conn 10M tenor saxophone with a Brilhart Ebolin mouthpiece.
Ammons is considered a major influence on the style of popular jazz tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman.
Ammons died in 1974, at the age of 49, of cancer.
Gene Ammons (Chicago, 14 de abril de 1925 - Chicago, 6 de agosto de 1974), conocido por Jug, fue un saxofonista (tenor) y teclista estadounidense de jazz. Sus estilos fueron el bop, el soul jazz y el hard bop.
Hijo del pianista de boogie woogie Albert Ammons, trabajó a los 18 años con la orquesta de King Kolax.
Su primer instrumento fue el teclado, con el que alcanzó la fama tocando en la orquesta de Billy Eckstine entre 1944 y 1947, destacando su acompañamiento a Dexter Gordon en la grabación del famoso tema de Eckstine "Blowing the Blues Away".
Trabajó también con el tercer conjunto de Woody Herman en 1949 y con Sonny Stitt a dúo a principios de los cincuenta. Con todo, su trayectoria musical fue habitualmente individual, colaborando con distintos conjuntos.
Determinados problemas con las drogas lo llevaron a la cárcel, de forma no continuada, entre 1958 y 1969. Al regresar al mundo de la música, tanteó el jazz de vanguardia.