Jazz music, news and views

Friday, August 25, 2006

RIP Maynard Ferguson

Trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson passed away this Wednesday, August 23rd. Early in his career, the Montreal native served in bands led by Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton. It was with Kenton's group (1950-53) that he came to fame for his impressive trips into the registral stratosphere. He performed in studio bands and small ensembles but is best known for his astonishing big band performances as a leader. After studying meditation and teaching music for a year in India (where he would return regularly throughout his life), he relocated to England in 1968 and played with a regular 17-piece band before moving to New York City then eventually settling California. "Settling" is a relative term, though; he was a relentless ambassador for the music, maintaining an exhaustive touring itinerary of recordings, clubs and concert halls, not to mention universities and schools. (While many of my high school and college bandmates and I would question how tasteful or practical Ferguson's high-note acrobatics were, we all confessed to having our favorite Maynard chart or performance. Mine was "Birdland" from Carnival. For some reason, I also enjoyed "Fireshaker" from Live from San Francisco.)

The instrumentation and sensibility of his groups changed over the years, ranging from big band and swing to jazz rock, fusion and funk, but the listener could always expect a stunning display of chops, precision and showmanship. He passed away from kidney and liver failure at 78 years old. His last recording will be released next year, preserving his memory along with his 60 other albums as a leader.

New York Times
A remembrance from Stockton Helbing, Ferguson's drummer and musical director.

NPR Jazz

Ferguson, 22 years old, soloing with Stan Kenton's Orchestra
Ferguson in the early '70s
Ferguson with Serafin Aguilar

Contributions may be made to the Maynard Ferguson Music Scholarship Fund at University of Missouri, St. Louis.


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