|Birth Name:||Walter Maynard Ferguson|
|Born:||4 May 1928|
soprano saxophone, baritone horn
|Years Active:||1950s - 2006|
|Associated Acts:||Big Bop Nouveau, Stan Kenton Orchestra|
|Notable Instruments:||Superbone, Firebird|
Walter Maynard Ferguson (May 4, 1928 – August 23, 2006) was a Canadian jazz trumpet player and bandleader. He came to prominence playing in Stan Kenton's orchestra, before forming his own band in 1957. He was noted for being able to play accurately in a remarkably high register, and for his bands, which served as stepping stones for up-and-coming talent.
Walter Maynard Ferguson was born in Verdun, Quebec (now part of Montreal). Encouraged by his mother and father (both musicians), Maynard was playing piano and violin by 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 purchase him one. At age thirteen, Ferguson first soloed as a child prodigy with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra and was heard frequently on the CBC, notably featured on a "Serenade for Trumpet in Jazz" written for him by Morris Davis. Ferguson won a scholarship to the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal where he studied from 1943 through 1948 with Bernard Baker.
Ferguson dropped out of Montreal High School at age 15 to more actively pursue a music career, performing in dance bands led by Stan Wood, Roland David, and Johnny Holmes. While trumpet was his primary instrument, Ferguson also performed on other brass and reed instruments. Ferguson later took over the dance band formed by his brother Percy, playing dates in the Montreal area and serving as an opening act for touring bands from the United States. During this period, Ferguson came to the attention of numerous American band leaders and began receiving offers to come to the United States.
Ferguson moved to the United States in 1949 and initially played with the bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnet. The Barnet band was notable for a trumpet section that also included Doc Severinsen, Ray Wetzel, Johnny Howell, and Rolf Erickson. Ferguson was featured on a notoriously flamboyant Barnet recording of Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" that enraged Kern's widow and was subsequently withdrawn from sale. When Barnet temporarily retired in 1949 and disbanded his orchestra, Ferguson was free to accept an offer to join Stan Kenton's newly formed Innovations Orchestra.
Stan Kenton had a longstanding offer to Ferguson but had temporarily disbanded when Ferguson moved to the United States. Kenton's bands were notable for their bombastic brass sections and Ferguson was a natural fit. In 1950, Kenton formed the Innovations Orchestra, a 40-piece jazz concert orchestra with strings, and with the folding of the Barnet band, Ferguson was available for the first rehearsal on January 1, 1950. While the Innovations Orchestra was not commercially successful, it made a number of remarkable recordings, including "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. Contrary to the natural assumption, Ferguson was not Kenton's lead trumpet player, but played the third chair with numerous solo features, as noted in the scores written for the Kenton band during this period. Notable recordings from this period that feature Ferguson include "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet", "What's New?" and "The Hot Canary".
In 1953, Ferguson left Kenton to become a first-call session player for Paramount Pictures. Ferguson appeared on 46 soundtracks including The Ten Commandments. Ferguson still recorded jazz during this period, but his Paramount contract prevented him from playing jazz clubs. While he enjoyed the regular paycheck, Ferguson was very unhappy with the lack of live performance opportunities and left Paramount in 1956.
In 1956, Ferguson was tapped to lead the Birdland Dream Band, a 14-piece big band formed by Morris Levy as an "all-star" lineup to play at Levy's Birdland jazz club in New York City. While the name "Birdland Dream Band" was short-lived and is represented by only two albums, this band became the core of Ferguson's performing band for the next nine years. The band included, at various times, such players as Slide Hampton, Don Ellis, Don Sebesky, Willie Maiden, John Bunch, Joe Zawinul, Joe Farrell, Jaki Byard, Lanny Morgan, Rufus Jones, Bill Berry and Don Menza. Arrangers included Slide Hampton, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Holman and Marty Paich.
As big bands declined in popularity and economic viability in the 1960s, Ferguson's band performed more infrequently. Ferguson began to feel musically stifled and sensed a resistance to change among American jazz audiences. According to a Down Beat interview, he was quoted as saying that if the band did not play "Maria" or "Ole," the fans went home disappointed. Ferguson began performing with a sextet before finally officially disbanding his big band in 1967.
Following the path taken by many jazz artists in the 1960s, Ferguson left the United States. Feeling that he needed a period of spiritual exploration, Ferguson moved with his family to India and taught at the Krishnamurtl-based Rishi Valley School near Madras. He was associated with the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning's Boys Brass Band, which he founded and helped teach at for several years. Whilst in India, Ferguson was influenced by Sathya Sai Baba, whom he considered as his spiritual guru.
In 1969, Ferguson relocated to Manchester, England, manufacturing personally-designed trumpets and mouthpieces and performing with a variety of ensembles in Europe.
That same year, Ferguson signed with CBS Records in England and formed a big band with British musicians that performed in the newly popular jazz/rock fusion style. The band's repertoire included original compositions as well pop and rock songs rearranged into a big band format with electronic amplification. This British band's output is represented by the four "MF Horn" albums, which included arrangements of the pop songs "MacArthur Park" and "Hey Jude."
In 1970 he led his big band on UK television as part of BBC's Simon Dee Show (also known as Dee Time). Ferguson often quipped with Dee, similar to his contemporary Doc Severinsen's rapport with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. By the end of the late sixties, Ferguson was a household name in Britain.
Ferguson's new band made its North American debut in 1971. With a revived career, Ferguson relocated to New York in 1973 and gradually replaced his sidemen with American performers while reducing the band size to twelve: four trumpets, two trombones, three saxophones and a three-piece rhythm section plus Maynard. The quintessential recording of this period is the album MF Horn 4 & 5: Live at Jimmy's, recorded in 1973 in New York. Ferguson latched on to the burgeoning jazz education movement by recruiting talented musicians from colleges with jazz programs (notably Berklee College of Music, North Texas State University and the University of Miami) and targeting young audiences with performances and master classes in high schools. This practical and strategic move helped him develop a strong following that would sustain him for the remainder of his career.
In 1976, Ferguson performed a solo trumpet piece as part of the closing ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Montreal.
1976 was also the year that Ferguson began working with producer Bob James on a series of commercially successful albums. These were complex studio productions featuring large groups of session musicians, including strings, vocalists and star guest soloists. The first of these albums was Primal Scream, featuring Chick Corea, Mark Colby, and Steve Gadd. The second, Conquistador in 1977, resulted in a top-30 (#28) pop single, "Gonna Fly Now" (from the movie Rocky), a rare accomplishment for a jazz musician in the 1970s. Aside from an exciting Jay Chattaway arrangement and dense Bob James production, the single was also helped by the fact that it was released prior to the official soundtrack album of the hit movie. Ferguson maintained a hectic touring schedule during this period, with well-attended concerts that featured concert lighting and heavy amplification.
Ferguson continued with this musical model for the remainder of the 1970s, receiving considerable acclaim from audiences but an often tepid response from some jazz purists, who decried his commercialism and questioned his taste. Ferguson reportedly also began to experience great frustration with Columbia over being unable to use his working band on recording projects and having difficulty including even a single jazz number on some albums. Ferguson's contract with Columbia Records expired after the 1982 release of the Hollywood album, produced by Stanley Clarke.
Ferguson recorded three big band albums with smaller labels in the mid '80s before forming a more economical fusion septet, "High Voltage," in 1986. This ensemble, which featured multi-reed player Denis DiBlasio and trombonist Steve Wiest among an abridged horn section, recorded two albums and received mixed reviews. The format was ultimately unsatisfying to Ferguson, who had grown up in big bands and developed a performing style most appropriate to that structure.
In 1988, Ferguson returned both to a large band format and to mainstream jazz with the formation of Big Bop Nouveau, a nine-piece band featuring three trumpets, one trombone, two reeds and a three-piece rhythm section. The band's repertoire included original jazz compositions and modern arrangements of jazz standards, with occasional pieces from his '70s book and the Birdland Dream Band; this format proved to be successful with audiences and critics. The band recorded extensively, including albums backing vocalists Diane Schuur and Michael Feinstein. Although in later years Ferguson did lose some of the range and phenomenal accuracy of his youth, he remained an exciting performer, touring nine months a year with Big Bop Nouveau for the remainder of his life. In 1992, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
Just days after completing a weeklong run at New York's Blue Note and recording a studio album in New Jersey, Ferguson developed an abdominal infection that resulted in kidney and liver failure. Ferguson died on the evening of August 23, 2006 at the Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, California.
In the mid 1970s, Ferguson settled in Ojai, California, where he lived to the end of his life. Ferguson's first marriage was to singer / actress Kay Brown in 1951. Maynard's second marriage to Flo Ferguson (in 1955) lasted until her death on February 27, 2005. Ferguson had three daughters: Corby, Lisa and Wilder, and a step daughter, Kim, from Flo's first marriage. Kim Ferguson is married to Maynard's former road manager, Jim Exon. Wilder Ferguson is married to pianist (and former Big Bop Nouveau member) Christian Jacob. Lisa Ferguson is a writer and film maker living in Los Angeles. At the time of his death, Ferguson had two granddaughters, Erica and Sandra. A son, Bentley, preceded his parents in death.
Maynard Ferguson was one of a handful of virtuoso musician/bandleaders to survive the end of the big band era and the rise of rock and roll. He demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to the musical trends that evolved from the 1940s through the 2000s. Ferguson's albums show an evolution from big band swing, bebop, cool jazz, Latin, jazz/rock, fusion with classical and operatic influences. Through his devotion to music education in America, Ferguson was able to impart the spirit of his jazz playing and technique to scores of amateur and professional trumpeters during the many Master Classes held throughout his long career.
Ferguson was not the first trumpeter to play in the extreme upper register, but he had a unique ability to play high notes with full, rich tone, power, and musicality. While regarded by some as showboating, Ferguson's tone, phrasing and vibrato was instantly recognizable and has been influential on and imitated by generations of amateur and professional trumpet players. A direct connection to Ferguson's style of playing continues in the work of the trumpeters who played with him, notably Roger Ingram, Wayne Bergeron, and Patrick Hession. Although some had believed that Ferguson was endowed with exceptional facial musculature, he often shared in interviews that his command of the upper registers was based mostly on breath control, something he had discovered as a youngster in Montreal. Ferguson also attributed the longevity of his demanding bravura trumpet technique through his later years to the spiritual and yoga studies he pursued while in India.
While Ferguson's range was his most obvious attribute, perhaps equally significant was the personal charisma Ferguson brought to a musical genre that is often seen as veering towards the cold and cerebral. As Ferguson's obituary in the Washington Post declared:
"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."
Ferguson designed and popularized two unique instruments, the 'Firebird' and the 'Superbone'. The Firebird was similar to a trumpet, but had the valves played with the left hand (instead of the right) and a trombone-style slide played with the right hand. The Superbone was another hybrid instrument, which was fundamentally a trombone with additional valves played with the left hand. Ferguson regularly incorporated Indian instruments and influences in albums and concerts.
The Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz Studies at Rowan University was created in 2000, the same year Rowan bestowed Ferguson with his only Honorary Doctorate degree. The Institute, currently under direction of Ferguson's longtime friend and fellow musician Denis Diblasio, supports the Rowan Jazz Program in training young jazz musicians.
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