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Monday, August 28, 2006

Good-Bye, Maynard

Maynard Ferguson is dead. Yes, he was 78 years old, which is a pretty ripe old age. But it still seems wrong for him to die. I have seen Maynard perform many times - including a few years ago when he had broken the 70-year mark. The life-force of this man was so strong. I thought he would still be blowin' those double high C's for another decade or so.

I was one of the MF Horn knuckleheads back in the '70's. I was a trombone guy, not a trumpet player, but Maynard's wild, flamboyent approach to screech trumpet haunted my musical dreams and filled me full of animal spirits. Here is a great article from the Washington Post that explains this feeling. And Maynard played a wild trombone, also (he invented an instrument with valves and a slide, dubbed the "Superbone." Snicker). I think he took up the trombone to give his trumpet chops a rest.

Maynard was the ultimate trooper. He dragged his big band to countless high school gymnasiums. He played tiny little nightclubs that didn't have a stage large enough for his band. He pumped out an amazing number of albums. During the 1970's and 1980's, he kept big band jazz alive. His sheer stamina boggled the mind. Maynard's music may not have pleased every jazz critic in the world, but every brass player understood his greatness. It is rumored that one of Maynard's fans was the famously judgemental Miles Davis. One night many years ago, Miles had a night off in New York. His piano player said, "Hey Miles - what are you going to do on your night off?" Miles replied, "I'm going down to the Vanguard to listen to Maynard blow those f---ing high notes, man."

He always staffed his band with young people. Some became relatively famous - Bobby Shew on trumpet and Don Menza on tenor sax come to mind. Many faded away, perhaps ending up as high school music teachers or lawyers that played trombone on weekends. Here is a great blog entry from "Powerline" that includes a YouTube clip of Maynard Ferguson Band from the 1970's, full of hairy young people, playing Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

Yeah, Maynard loved to grab those mega-hit pop songs and play the shit out of them. His biggest hit might have been his version of "Gonna Fly Now," the theme from the Rocky movie. He loved to get an audience screaming. He was a fantastic showman. AND he was Canadian! Yes, Maynard was one of Canada's biggest contribution to jazz, along with Oscar Peterson.

Maynard was unique and now he is gone. The masters all fall eventually, and some of us are bereft.