Friday, August 25, 2006

Move Over Gabriel

The last “great” trumpet player of the big band era is gone. From his family's press release: Walter "Maynard" Ferguson, one of the most influential musicians and band leaders in the history of Jazz, passed away August 23rd at 8:00 pm Pacific Time at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, California.

For any trumpet player, you have your favorites. And I have many, even more than this post will allow.

Some are more technically proficient than others. Others coax sound and emote differently. Others reveal their skill through the tonality they convey from the horn.

Doc is often overlooked for how well he played his horn mostly because of his overexposure on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Man, what I’d give for that band to be back playing every night in the age of digital sound. Of course, that's back when that show worth a damn to watch.

No, I'm not a "Jay" fan. See my post from August, 2005 - "In the World of What Should Have Been & Would Be If I Were King--"The Tonight Show, Starring David Letterman,"
if you have any thoughts on that one, or want to see mine.

Here is a clip from The Late Show with David Letterman on the first show after Johnny Carson's death. It features Doc, Tommy Newsom, and Ed Shaughnessy from the NBC Orchestra. "Here's That Rainy Day" was one of Johnny's favorites, and something you'd expect of Dave to line up as a tribute. As you watch this, keep in mind, Doc, on flugelhorn is about 80 years old. Is it his best performance ever?

Hardly, but the cat can still bring it.

Some Trumpet players bring the soul of the instrument out unlike anyone else before or since. And there have been some really fine horn players over the years. Unquestionably, though, there is one name and one name only for whom the label "Master" applies – Miles.

My high school band mate, Melvin, fancied himself Miles Davis.

He would stand like him when he played. He captured the "breathiness" of his soulful playing. At the time, I was not at a place where I could appreciate it. Miles didn’t impact me fully until my late college days, but Melvin introduced him to me in high school, and he’s been a companion, along with Coltrane, ever since. When I think "trumpet" and "jazz," I think of only one name -

You'll find no one to play with such effortless mastery.

Enjoy this clip from 1959.

See, when I was learning my instrument, I didn’t care so much about the soul of the instrument, I just wanted to play – to scream – to play as high as I could – because at that time, my idol was MF, Maynard Ferguson.

Maynard could play higher than anyone I’ve ever heard. It was unreal, even impossible, yet, there it was. Super C was nothing to him. The highest I could ever get in my prime was G above high C. And I was dying to hit that.

Stratospheric was a label attributed to MF's talent.

Maynard's penchant for lip trills is unrivaled, and may never be matched. It takes masterful control of breath support to do that.

My first Maynard album was “Conquistador.” It was that album that featured “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky.

Every high school band played Maynard’s version of that song.

Modulated down, significantly, of course.

Maynard's albums were among the regularly played on my stereo. My Holton Trumpet is based on Maynard's trumpet - the economy version, of course.

I saw him in concert in Memphis when I was in college. In the words of my high school jazz band teacher, Jackie Thomas, it was a "monster."

As the years have gone by and I've tried to recover a number of recordings that mattered to me in digital form, I've had my eye on Maynard's work.

As I've grown older I've found my favorite recordings of Maynard were not from the latter part of his career - those recordings that I had as a teenager and young adult. I'm taken more by his work as a kid - when he got his start, with Stan Kenton, and later on his own.

This clip is a performance from Stan Kenton's Innovations Orchestra, as they performed on Toast of the Town, hosted by Ed Sullivan, which would later become The Ed Sullivan Show. This piece, self-titled, "Maynard
," features a 22 year old lively trumpeter just flat out bringing it. This is from somewhere in the early 50's. The video quality is poor, but you get the point of how special this guy was.

I'm still waiting for a re-release of some of that material, because I'm not going to pay collector's prices for what's out there.

The Boss.

The Lip.

The Screamer.

Maynard was the man.

In a press release upon his death, it was said that someone in the family commented that Gabriel was going to have to move to 2nd chair -

Maynard's in the house.


Kathy said...

What a great tribute to music that should never be forgotten. Thanks for the memories.

And am I to guess that you are ready for football season with your Memphis Blue blog format? Sorry to say that one of us will be unhappy on September 30 (and I'm hoping it's not me).

Chris said...

You said it... Maynard was a screamer, a monster. I think Mark Knoplfer had a line in one of his songs that I always think of, " ain't what they call rock and roll." Maynard, Miles, Thelonius, Coltrane, Bird - they certainly rocked. No loud Barry Goudreau guitar riffs, or Tommy Lee upside-down-over-the-crowd drum solos but somebody standing up there, as you said, just bringin' it. Maynard and his genius will be missed!