Maynard Ferguson

Jazz trumpet maestro


Walter Maynard Ferguson, trumpeter, valve trombonist and bandleader: born Verdun, Quebec 4 May 1928; twice married (three daughters, one stepdaughter, and one son deceased); died Ventura, California 23 August 2006.

Someone should write a book about Maynard Ferguson. For more than 50 years he stretched the range of the trumpet upwards beyond our wildest dreams, relished every note that he played, brought on a multitude of young musicians within his bands and wrapped every audience before whom he appeared in the wild elixir of his music.

In front of the musical juggernaut that he was it mattered little that his relentlessly bravura playing wasn't consistently tasteful. The audience swallowed him whole and their demands for the West Side Story theme "Maria", using notes up where only a dog could hear it, haunted him every night for almost 40 years. As Louis had to lay "What a Wonderful World" on them, so it was with Maynard and "Maria". He was truly a jazz phenomenon.

Ferguson was born in 1928 in Verdun, Quebec, now a suburb of Montreal, and enrolled at the French Conservatory of Music in the city, studying all the reed and brass instruments before settling on the trumpet. Later he also took up the valve trombone with some success. He first led his own band in Canada in 1945 when he was 17.

In 1948 he moved to the United States and played briefly with Boyd Raeburn's Orchestra. The same year he had a solo act at New York's Café Society playing various saxophones and brass instruments. He played also in the bands of Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnet before, most importantly, joining Stan Kenton for three years from 1950. Kenton's music was brash and powerful. Ferguson was ideal for it and to Kenton the young Canadian was a godsend. Ferguson joined the Kenton band at the same time as another trumpeter, Shorty Rogers. Rogers was a fine arranger and recorded with his own big band, Shorty Rogers and the Giants:

When I first put my scores in front of Maynard he looked at his trumpet part and said to me shyly,

"Is it all right if I play it an octave higher?" An octave higher! Wonderful! From then on I wrote his parts an octave higher and it gave the ensemble a huge power that wouldn't have been there without him.

Ferguson's spot-on playing in the trumpet section, almost inevitably an octave higher than anyone else, was a more indelible trademark than his solo work. He seemed like a fish out of water if he wasn't operating in the area of double high C.

Leaving Kenton in 1953, he worked in the Paramount studios for three years, at the same time recording under his own leadership a series of powerful jazz sessions, the epitome of West Coast jazz, for the Mercury record label.

Briefly married to the singer Kay Brown in the early Fifties, he divorced and shared a flat in Los Angeles with the trombonist Milt Bernhart, whose marriage had also broken up. "Like most musicians I'd spend an hour or so practising every morning when we got up," said Bernhart. "Maynard never did. I asked him, 'Why don't you practise?' 'Why should I?' he asked."

All his life he never did. No wonder other musicians knew him as "The Lip".

In 1956 he moved to New York, where he formed a band filled with burgeoning young stars and arrangers called the Birdland Dream Band. Its life was brief, but it was the first of a series of 12- to 14-piece bands based on the methods of Count Basie and Kenton that he was to lead for the rest of his life. But by 1965 he was touring with a sextet.

From 1967, when he travelled to India to study at the Rishi Valley School, his work drew in powerful influences from Indian music as well as from rock.

"In 1967 I'd booked Maynard to play as a solo at my Club 43 in Manchester, had the tickets printed and everything, but he didn't show up," recalled the trumpeter Ernie Garside:

Through no fault of Maynard's he wasn't told of the booking. When he came to Manchester later to publicise a new mouthpiece I told him about the booking and he was distraught. He imme-

diately offered to play at the club for the next week to make up for it. He was travelling in an old Dormobile and I helped him to unload it. There were a lot of fibre cases, which, it turned out, contained the music library for his big bands. I had a 12-piece rehearsal band that met on Sunday afternoons and I asked him if I could borrow some of the charts for that Sunday. He came along to the rehearsal and was so pleased that we brought the band into the club to play behind him. It went so well we were hugging ourselves and he decided to stay in Manchester and lead the band as his own. Because he was Canadian he wasn't subject to the Ministry of Works restrictions on American musicians.

Drawing more on rock than most conventional big bands, the band was a huge success. Garside became its manager and the Manchester musicians flowered under Ferguson's tutelage. Soon it was touring Europe and, at a gig in Holland in 1970, was heard by the impresario Tito Burns, who arranged a six-month contract for the band to play on London Weekend's Simon Dee Show. Dee's career took a downturn, but the band's went up, and the television company presented a Sunday-evening programme called The World of Maynard Ferguson.

The band recorded albums (Ferguson recorded more than 60 during his career) and had a particular success with "MacArthur Park", done in London in 1970. He captured a new young audience by using disco rhythms and having the band wear disco-era clothes. Work was so plentiful that Ferguson and the band moved to the US in 1974. He and his wife Floralou, whom he had married in 1954 and who died in 2005, settled in Ojai, California. Gradually the English musicians were replaced by Americans.

In 1977 Ferguson's album Conquistador entered the Top Forty chart. It included the jazz-crossover track "Gonna Fly Now" - the theme from the 1976 film Rocky - and won the first of three Grammy nominations for the trumpeter.

As the years passed the band was gradually cut down in size and by 1987, known as High Voltage, it had become a septet. Next came Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band, a wonderful group that continually took in new young talent and lasted until his death. The band recorded one quite outstanding broadcast, typically blues-drenched and exciting, for the BBC in Glasgow in 1990.

For many years Ferguson and his wife made annual trips to India to study with the guru Sai Baba and in 1992 the band toured India, playing to an audience of 20,000 at Sai Baba's temple in Bangalore.

In September 2004 a four-day tribute to Ferguson was mounted in Los Angeles and former members of his bands came from all over the world to be there.

Ferguson involved everyone in his music and loved to teach. "A professional is simply an amateur with a job," he said. "Outside influences are fine, but the greatest delight for any musician is when you begin to sound like yourself."

Nobody will ever sound like Maynard Ferguson.

Steve Voce

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

Corporate Communications Manager - London - £60,000

£55000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone