Maynard Ferguson Big Band – Live At Rockefeller’s, Houston – April 27, 1987 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Maynard Ferguson this weekend. Live at Rockefeller’s in Houston – the second set, recorded on April 27, 1987.
Maynard Ferguson is not your go-to for mellow, meditative or even sweet. Maynard Ferguson has always been high-voltage, in your face and demanding your undivided attention. As an alumnus of Stan Kenton, he carried the tradition well and picked up pastiches of other genres along the way; all of them bold, exclamatory and uncompromising.
The music of Maynard Ferguson is not for all tastes, and to many he was the link that strung together Fusion and Progressive Rock, blending in with traditional Big Band Jazz.
And much as you’d be tempted to consider Maynard Ferguson to be wildly commercial and somewhat archaic, as many consider Dixieland to be relics of another time, they do have their rightful place in that enormous musical tent of Jazz – and maybe not wholly embraced, but at least recognized as one crucial element of the great journey.
And for that reason, they do deserve to be heard and appreciated for what they were and what they were trying to accomplish. Takes the same level of musical proficiency to play a Ferguson chart as it does Tadd Dameron. The end results are poles apart, but the effort and the chops required are the same.
With that in mind – here’s some background in case you are not otherwise aware:
Ferguson was born in Verdun (now part of Montreal), Quebec. Encouraged by his mother and father (both musicians), he started playing piano and violin at the age of four. At nine years old, he heard a cornet for the first time in his local church and asked his parents to buy one for him. When he was thirteen, he soloed with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra. He was heard frequently on the CBC, notably featured on a “Serenade for Trumpet in Jazz” written for him by Morris Davis. He won a scholarship to the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal where he studied from 1943 to 1948 with Bernard Baker.
In 1948, Ferguson moved to the United States, intending to join Stan Kenton’s band, but it no longer existed, so Ferguson played with the bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnet. The Barnet band included Doc Severinsen, Ray Wetzel, Johnny Howell, and Rolf Ericson. Ferguson was featured on Barnet’s recording of “All The Things You Are” by Jerome Kern. The recording enraged Kern’s widow and was withdrawn from sale.
In January 1950, Kenton formed the Innovations Orchestra, a 40-piece jazz orchestra with strings. After the folding of the Barnet band, Ferguson was available for the first rehearsal on January 1. One of the Orchestra’s recordings was named “Maynard Ferguson,” one of a series of pieces named after featured soloists. When Kenton returned to a more practical 19-piece jazz band, Ferguson continued with him at third chair with numerous solo features. Notable recordings from this period that feature Ferguson include “Invention for Guitar and Trumpet”, “What’s New?”, and “The Hot Canary”.
As big bands declined in popularity and economic viability in the 1960s, Ferguson’s band performed less frequently. He began to feel musically stifled and sensed a resistance to change among his American jazz audiences. According to an interview in Down Beat, he was quoted as saying that if the band did not play “Maria” or “Ole,” the fans went home disappointed. He began performing with a sextet before shutting down his big band in 1966.
In 1975, Ferguson began working with Bob James on a series of commercially successful albums with large groups of session musicians, including strings, vocalists, and guest soloists. The first of these albums was Primal Scream, featuring Chick Corea, Mark Colby, Steve Gadd, and Bobby Militello. The second, Conquistador (1976) yielded a No. 22 pop single, “Gonna Fly Now” from the movie Rocky, earning him a gold album. He maintained a hectic touring schedule. The commercial success included adding a guitarist and an additional percussionist to his band’s lineup. In the summer of 1976, Ferguson performed a solo trumpet piece for the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Montreal, symbolically “blowing out the flame”.
Ferguson brought charisma to a musical genre that is often seen as cold and cerebral. His obituary in The Washington Post stated:
“Ferguson lit up thousands of young horn players, most of them boys, with pride and excitement. In a (high school) world often divided between jocks and band nerds, Ferguson crossed over, because he approached his music almost as an athletic event. On stage, he strained, sweated, heaved and roared. He nailed the upper registers like Shaq nailing a dunk or Lawrence Taylor nailing a running back – and the audience reaction was exactly the same: the guttural shout, the leap to their feet, the fists in the air. We cheered Maynard as a gladiator, a combat soldier, a prize fighter, a circus strongman – choose your masculine archetype.”
So sez Wikipedia. With that in mind, dive in.