Welcome to 2015, and my first review of the new year! Please accept my sincere wish that this year brings nothing but the best to you and those you care about.
Rest assured that I will do my part to bring you nothing but the best jazz! To that end, I am pleased to get 2015 underway be featuring a duo who were two of the greatest tenor sax blowers ever to set their lips to the instrument.
Gene Ammons, son of the legendary pianist Albert Ammons, was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 14, 1925. He died from cancer in that same city 49 short years later, on August 6, 1974. Ammons has appeared here twice before, and you can learn more about him by checking out those previous entries, which can be found here:
This is James Moody’s first appearance here, an event that is long overdue. Moody was born on March 26, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia and died in San Diego, California on December 9, 2010. According to Feather & Gitler, writing in “The Biographical Encyclopedia Of Jazz“, Moody’s father was a trumpet player with Tiny Bradshaw, an Ohio bandleader whose ensemble also incubated (some time later) another tenor sax legend, Sonny Stitt.
Moody began playing tenor sax when he was 16 years old but had no formal training until he joined the Air Force Band. It was there that he met the man who would become his mentor and lifelong friend, Dizzy Gillespie. Over the years, Moody recorded scores of albums with dozens of co-conspirators.
Perhaps he was a little more open-minded toward other genre’s than many “real” jazz artists, or perhaps it was simply the reality of having to make a living to support his family. But Moody often worked and recorded with decidedly non-jazz performers, such as The Manhattan Transfer and Lou Rawls.
For the most part, however, he stuck close to his jazz roots. In addition to Gillespie, some of the people he worked with, either live or on record, are: Tad Dameron, Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt, Max Roach, Benny Carter, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Marion McPartland, Buddy Rich and Lionel Hampton, to name only a few.
The Gene Ammons/James Moody collaboration I want to tell you about was recorded on November 21, 1971 at Chicago’s North Park Hotel. The album was released two years later on the Prestige label with the simple title, “Chicago Concert.” It was remastered for CD in 2003 by Kirk Felton at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.
The personnel for this wonderful little escape from reality are:
Gene Ammons, tenor sax
James Moody, tenor sax
Jodie Christian, piano
Cleveland Eaton, bass
Marshall Thompson, drums
“Chicago Concert” is a bit short, time-wise, containing seven tracks that run just under 54 minutes overall. That is almost 15 minutes longer than the vinyl original, which contained only the first six songs you’ll see below.
For openers, we have “Just In Time”, from Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. Christian and Thompson take the opening, and are almost immediately superseded, first by Ammons and then Ammons and Moody together. Although the two principals are clearly in charge, the rhythm section is not lost in the background on this one the way they are on so many recordings. The whole group flies through with seemingly wild abandon from start to finish.
Here the guys are doing “Just In Time”:
Next we have Nat Adderley’s classic, “Work Song” in an arrangement that is decidedly different than we usually hear. I had to listen to this one all the way through a few times before I made up my mind whether I liked it or not. For one thing, at the beginning it appears that we are joining the song in-progress, which is unusual.
If you are looking for “Work Song” performed the way practically everyone else on the planet has recorded it, trust me, this version may not be the one you want. On the other hand, if you enjoy hearing a familiar song performed by great musicians in a distinctly different form than you are used to, you could do a lot worse.
Fortunately “Work Song” is also on the web, so you can make your own conclusion:
Rodger’s and Hart’s “Have You Seen Miss Jones?” is next, and it opens with Ammons, who is quickly joined by Moody and the others. This is another nice, animated outing. The boys give it their all.
Ammon’s “Jim-Jam-Jug” follows, the only contribution from any of this group. As you would expect, this extraordinary piece is handled superbly. The horns push their way through, while the rhythm section seems to play at an incredible pace.
Here is “Jim-Jam-Jug”:
The last song I’m going to talk about from this album is the closing piece, Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite”. This has long been one of the great pieces of jazz, ever since Parker first thrust it upon the jazz world 70+ years ago. I love extended versions of great songs, and at a little over 14 minutes this one is no exception. Anyone can do a two or three minute single such as from one side of a 45 RPM disc, but in the stretching you find the mettle of the man (or woman). To say this group is up to the task would be an understatement! The two tenors trade off, and through it all bassist Eaton’s fingers fly to set a blistering tempo.
Here are the guys playing their hearts out on “Yardbird Suite”:
All in all, I’m sure you will find that Gene Ammons and James Moody’s partnership on “Chicago Concert” resulted in an album that will make an outstanding addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Gene Ammons and his music, you might start at a tribute site maintained by Leo T. Sullivan. Other links can be found on my previous writings about Ammons.
Scott Yanow has written a short bio of James Moody for the allmusic.com web site.
The Internet Movie Database web site also has a short bio that includes interesting trivia and four interesting and entertaining quotes from Moody. (Such as: ” I’ve always wanted to be around people who know more than me because that way I keep learning.” And “Blessed are those that run around in circles for they shall be called big wheels!”)
A much more thorough biography of Moody can be found on the Musician Guide web site, one I have bookmarked for future use.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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