The Jazzcat

The Great Trumpet Player Maynard Ferguson has passed.

by on Aug.23, 2006, under News

Jazz Fans Mourn Famed Trumpeter, Bandleader Maynard Ferguson

By Doug Levine

06 September 2006

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Famed jazz trumpeter and bandleader Maynard

Ferguson died of kidney and liver failure at a hospital in Ventura,

California on Wednesday August 23. He was 78 years old. Like the late

Dizzy Gillespie, Ferguson was an ambassador of jazz. When he wasn't

producing, composing or teaching music, Maynard Ferguson took his bands

to countries all over the world. As VOA's Doug Levine reports, Maynard

Ferguson was destined for international stardom.

One of Maynard

Ferguson's greatest gifts was his unlimited repertoire. He played

swing, bebop, funk, rock and classical music. He recorded over 60

albums during a career that began in some of the world's most famous

big bands. His ability to hit extremely high notes with such

consistency and ease amazed both critics and audiences alike.

Maynard Ferguson was born on May 4, 1928, in Montreal, Canada. He

began playing piano and violin at age four. At age nine, he discovered

the trumpet. Four years later, he won a scholarship with the French

Conservatory of Music, and was invited to perform with the Canadian

Broadcasting Company Orchestra. As a student in Montreal, he was the

leader of a warm-up band for some of the era's best-known orchestras,

including Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman and

Dizzy Gillespie. In a 1996 interview, Ferguson said Dizzy Gillespie was

second only to Louis Armstrong as his favorite horn player.

“If any of us were to pick an early hero, let's call it, it would be

Louis Armstrong, sure. I think I've heard Wynton Marsalis say that and

I think I've heard a lot of the great players say that,” he said. “And

then of course you start spreading it out and I think we were all

influenced by Dizzy Gillespie's playing and his creative harmonic


Maynard Ferguson moved to the United States in 1949. While still in

his teens, became a respected soloist in Stan Kenton's Innovations

Orchestra. Ferguson made his mark as a bandleader after a successful

engagement at a famous New York City nightclub.

“In the beginnings of my American band as a bandleader, I was the

guy that was chosen to be the leader of the Birdland Dream Band, which

was an all-star band that was put together for three weeks at Birdland

for which we recorded two albums,” he said. “This is many years ago.

And from that, I formed a band and I had 14 weeks out of the year in

two-week segments at Birdland, which in the early days was very helpful

in holding a band together and getting it known.”

For the next 20 years, Maynard Ferguson alternated between the pop

and jazz world. In 1977, he landed on the charts with “Gonna Fly Now,”

the theme song from the hit film Rocky.

Fans young and old were drawn to Ferguson's trumpet virtuosity.

Critics said he played higher than any jazz trumpeter in history. Even

into his sixties he was hitting notes that musicians half his age only

dreamed they could play. Ferguson said he never regretted choosing the

life of a jazz trumpeter.

“Even if I had become the world's greatest classical trumpet player,

I think I still would never have become a serious musician. I mean it's

a fun thing that we do,” Ferguson said. ” I think it's very fortunate

that your favorite toy as a kid becomes what you do in life, you know.”

Maynard Ferguson's many bands included such stellar jazz players as

Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Bob James, Slide Hampton and Joe Zawinul.

Ferguson was touring the U.S. as recently as July with his Big Bop

Nouveau Band. The band had just finished recording a new album. The

Ferguson family is planning a memorial concert to take place in St.

Louis, Missouri. Past and present band members are expected to attend.




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