Jug and Sonny share a place near the top in the pantheon of tandem tenor teams. Their spirited, hard-charging contests, which always seem to end in amicable draws are the stuff of canonical jazz legend so the news of an previously unreleased recording of the pair is undoubtedly enough to set the countenances of their loyal fans to suffusing with expectant grins. Taped live at the Left Bank Jazz Society during Ammons’ twilight time (he would die a little over a year later) the date makes good on its promise. Three tracks clocking in at over fourteen minutes, one apiece as solo features for the individual tenors and a final track showcasing the rhythm section alone- its easy to see that this is a program custom-built to satisfy even the most demanding bop maven.
Ammon’s robust and throaty horn initiates the Gillespie classic “Blue ‘n’ Boogie” digging in deep around the theme and sounding off with sassy abandon through a ruddy stream of elongated notes. Stitt chimes in on the heels of his confrere’s solo with a lighter, less pugilistic tone, taking his time in cavorting with the rhythm section’s supportive swing. Engaging in a chain of overlapping exchanges the pair trade phrases before a final joint summation takes the tune out. “Stringin’ the Jug” affords Ammons inaugural honors a second time and the heavyweight tenor comes out swinging again. Jabbing and feinting through his series of choruses he again shows himself less light on his feet than Stitt and resorts on occasion to repetitive stock phrases. An uncharacteristic coarseness also invades his tone and its not always clear whether the change is a product of the recording fidelity or his own fading prowess. Stitt again sounds completely in control from the onset of his own protracted declaration, the speed of his unfurling lines matched by Higgins’ scampering drums.
The next two tracks provide opportunities to hear the individual horns in isolation with the rhythm section and the differences between Stitt and Ammons in these undiluted settings are particularly enlightening. Ammons’ gilded exploration of the Billie Holiday staple “God Bless the Child” balances just the right of measure of tenderness with muscular grit. Stitt hoists his alto for “Autumn in New York” working similar magic of the standard’s balladic changes. Walton’s “Ugetsu,” which first gained notoriety as an entry in the Jazz Messengers songbook gives the saxophonist’s a rest and the resulting trio shines on its own terms. Rounding out with a final burner in the form of a seventeen-minute “Bye Bye Blackbird” the tenor warhorses take one final gallop through the trenches.
As two-tenor conclaves go this one earns high marks. All the more so because unlike earlier recorded meetings between Jug and Sonny, track lengths allow for the duo to truly put each other through the paces. Listeners with a keen ear for the work of either man will find their expectations met many times over.
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Track Listing: Blue
Personnel: Gene Ammons- tenor saxophone; Sonny Stitt- tenor & alto saxophones; Cedar Walton- piano; Sam Jones- bass; Billy Higgins-drums. Recorded: June 24, 1973, Baltimore, MD.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.