Ferguson, Maynard

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Maynard Ferguson

Trumpet player, bandleader

American Debut in 1948

Spiritual Renewal in India

Big Bop Nouveau

Selected discography


Jazz legend Maynard Ferguson far surpasses the title trumpet player; he is an internationally famous big-band leader, one of the worlds great brass players, an instrument designer, record producer, composer, arranger, producer of film soundtracks, and dedicated teacher. He is also a three-time Grammy Award nominee and Down Beat magazine award winner. The prolific bandleader has recorded over 60 albums in his lifetime. The alumni list of his band members over four decades reads like a Whos Who of the jazz world: Chick Corea, Chuck Mangione, Bill Chase, Bob James, Slide Hampton, Wayne Shorter, Greg Bissonette, Peter Erskine, Joe Zawinul, Willie Maiden, and Don Ellis are just some of the greats Fergusons bands have bred. Ferguson emerged from big-band swing and worked his way through jazz, bebop, rock, funk, disco, and fusion. When he wasnt actually playing his horn, he conducted, cueing his men, or just snapped his fingers and enjoyed the music. He has been a hustler, a tireless worker, and remarkably generous with his musical abilities. Few careers have spanned so many different forms of music, tribute indeed to Fergusons flexibility and staying power.

Ferguson was a child prodigy who first soloed with the Canadian Broadcasting Company Orchestra at the age of 11. He was born in the Montreal suburb of Verdun on May 4, 1928. His mother was a violinist with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and later, a teacher who helped introduce music into the curriculum of the Montreal public school system. His father was a high-school principal. By the time Ferguson was four, he too was playing the violin as well as the piano. At the age of nine he was enrolled in the French Conservatory of Music to receive formal training. He has cited his main influences as his mother and Louis Armstrong.

American Debut in 1948

Ferguson attended Montreal High School, but quit at age 15 to pursue music as a vocation. Around that time he played in a dance band, led by his brother Percy, with another budding musician, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. By the age of sixteen Ferguson was leading his own jazz and dance band. All of the musicians in his band were twice his age, except Percy, with whom he had effectively reversed roles. In 1948 the 20-year-old Ferguson moved to the U.S. and made his debut in Boyd Raeburns progressive band. He also played with Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnet, and performed on woodwind and brass as a one-man act in New Yorks cafe society.

From 1950 to 1953 Fergusons lashing, high-register

For the Record

Born May 4, 1928, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; son of Perry (a public school administrator) and Olive (a schoolteacher and former symphony violinist) Ferguson; married wife, Florence, 1952; children: Kim, Corby, Lisa, Bentley, Wilder.

Trumpet player and bandleader. Began playing trumpet in Montreal clubs, c. 1943; made American debut with Boyd Raeburn band and played with Jimmy Dorsey orchestra, 1948; became headline trumpet player for Stan Kenton orchestra, 1949; formed, and performed with Birdland Dreamband, 1955-66; first-call studio trumpet player for Paramount Pictures, mid-1950s; formed 13-piece touring orchestra and performed with various jazz soloists, 1957-65; formed sextet, 1965; toured Europe with a succession of bands, including Top Brass, and engaged in genre experimentation; founded Maynard Ferguson Music Inc.; formed 7-piece electric fusion band High Voltage, 1986; formed Big Bop Nouveau Band, 1990.

Awards: Three Grammy Award nominations, one in 1977, for Gonna Fly Now theme to the film Rocky, from the album Conquistador; first place in Down Beat magazines best trumpeter award, 1950, 1951, and 1952; first place in Billboard magazines pop instrumental category, 1977.

Addresses: Office Maynard Ferguson Music, P.O. Box 716, Ojai, CA 93023.

trumpet was the cornerstone of Stan Kentons enormous brass section. During his years with Kenton, Ferguson built a reputation that relied more on his dazzling techniquescreech trumpeting in the dizzying upper register of his instrumentthan his creativity as a soloist. The fire-breathing trumpeter took first place in Down Beat magazines best trumpeter poll for three successive years beginning in 1950. After his stint with Kenton, Ferguson spent three years as first-call studio trumpeter for Paramount Pictures and recorded film soundtracks for Paramount, including that of the Biblical epic The Ten Commandments. In 1955 Ferguson joined Leonard Bernstein for a performance of the Titans, by William Russo, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

The following year, after a period of free-lancing, Ferguson formed the first of several thirteen-piece orchestras, which were noted for the biting precision of their brass sections. On the striking Frame for the Blues, off the Message From Newport album, Fergusons dramatic solo style sears, and Don Sebesky, Don Menza, and Slide Hampton offer some of their best arrangements. Other noteworthy soloists featured on that applauded recording were Jaki Byard, Don Ellis, Joe Farrell, and Chuck Mangione. In 1959 an International Critics Poll, conducted by Down Beat, voted the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra first place in the new star big-band division. But, as the popularity of big bands waned in the mid-1960s, Ferguson was forced to economize; he toured less frequently with the big band, favoring a smaller sextet instead. Finally, in 1967, he disbanded and his group began to follow a new path.

Spiritual Renewal in India

In 1968 and 1969 Ferguson taught at the Krishnamurtl-based Rhishi Valley School near Madras, India, which widened both his spiritual and musical horizons. He took his family with him to India, and they eventually moved to England. There Ferguson toured as the leader of a band called Top Brass. He also manufactured personally designed trumpets and mouthpieces from his home in Manchester. Being situated in England made touring Europe easier for Ferguson, and he took advantage of this proximity by embarking on forays across the continent with a variety of ensembles.

In 1969 Ferguson signed with CBS Records in England and created a repertoire for his new British band in which pop and rock songs were rearranged into a big-band format, with electronic amplification. This was Fergusons response to the psychedelic sixties. He produced contemporary arrangements of late 1960s and early 1970s hits like MacArthur Park and the Beatles Hey Jude. Fergusons recording of Gonna Fly Nowthe theme from the hit film Rocky catapulted Maynard into mainstream popularity with a Top 10 single, a gold album, and a Grammy nomination in 1978. His album Conquistador, from which Gonna Fly Now sprang, earned Ferguson an unusual place in the history of music; with Conquistador, he alone was able to crack the pop charts, where countless jazz musician had failed before him. The album reached Number 22 on Billboards pop albums charts in 1977. Fergusons efforts helped rekindle the publics interest in big bands; his fanfare solos, along with his expertise on several brass instrumentsoften demonstrated in a single performanceset a dazzling example of sheer technical virtuosity.

Big Bop Nouveau

In addition to the trumpet, Ferguson plays the trombone, saxophone, clarinet, violin and piano. He stands five feet, nine inches tall, and attributes his horn-power to yogic concentration, which he claims enables him to control his central nervous system and make his lungs generators of energy. He is a family man, married since 1952 to his wife, Flo, and quick to speak proudly of his son and four daughters. One of his daughters, Kim, manages his current outfit, the Big Bop Nouveau Band. Started in the late 1980s, the band leans heavily toward more traditional jazz, reflecting both Fergusons roots and major strengths. In the spring of 1990 Ferguson released the Big Bop Nouveau album, a combination of studio recordings and live takes from his 60th Birthday Band Tour. With the Big Bop Nouveau Band there is a new stress on instrumentation, marking Fergusons return to where critics have so often preferred him: in front of a jazz-flavored big band. The Nouveau Band avoids overly-synthesized sounds, and focuses on hard-edged, straight-ahead be-bop jazz musicthe sound that established Ferguson in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

As a young man in the 1950s Ferguson set the jazz world aflame with his innovative Birdland Dreamband. Four decades laterafter much broadening and experimentationhe has come full-circle back to his role as legendary, premier big-band leader. Over his lifetime career in music, Ferguson has displayed many peaks and valleys, often straying far from his roots; as a result, his sound is much richer, as are his devoted followers. Although its never clear where Ferguson may roam next, its certain that it will be a lively journey.

Selected discography

Si Si!, Roulette Birdland Series, 1952, reissued, 1991.

(With Chris Connor and Jaki Byard), Twos Company, Roulette Birdland, 1953.

A Message From Birdland, Roulette Birdland, 1959.

Maynard61, Roulette Birdland, 1961, reissued, Blue Note, 1990.

Maynard 64, 1964.

Ridin High, Enterprise Records, 1968.

Maynard Ferguson, Columbia, 1973.

Chameleon, Columbia, 1974, reissued, 1990.

Primal Scream, Columbia, 1976.

Conquistador, Columbia, 1977.

Carnival, Columbia, 1978.

Maynard Ferguson, Columbia, 1979.

Best of Maynard Ferguson, Columbia, 1980.

Body & Soul, Blackhawk Records, 1986.

High Voltage, Intima Records, 1987.

The Birdland Dreamband, Bluebird Records, 1987.

Big Bop Nouveau, Intima Records, 1990.

The Blues Roar, Mobile Fidelity.

M. F. Horn 1 & 2, Columbia.


Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 1976.

Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1986; March 18, 1990.

New York Daily News, November 14, 1978.

New York Post, February 14, 1977.

New York Times, February 6, 1978; June 28, 1979; June 30, 1984.

Ojai Valley Voice (CA), October 1991.

Variety, March 15, 1978.

B. Kimberly Taylor

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