Maynard Ferguson – Birdland
Published on Jul 31, 2008
Walter Maynard Ferguson, best know for his extreme high register control on trumpet, was a Canadian jazz trumpet player and bandleader. Born in Verdun, Quebec (now part of Montreal) Maynard by the age of four was playing piano and violin but at 9 years of age he switched to cornet. At age thirteen, Maynard 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. Maynard won a scholarship to the French Conservatory of Music where he studied from 1943 through 1948 with Bernard Baker. Maynard 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. During this period, Maynard came to the attention of numerous American bandleaders and began receiving offers to come to the United States. Maynard 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. When Barnet temporarily retired in 1949 and disbanded his orchestra, Maynard was free to accept an offer to join Stan Kenton’s newly formed Innovations Orchestra, a 40-piece jazz concert orchestra with strings. 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, Maynard continued with him. So popular was Maynard with Kenton that for three years running, 1950, 1951, and 1952, he won the Down Beat Readers’ Poll as best trumpeter. In 1953, Maynard 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, Maynard 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 Maynard’s performing band for the next nine years. 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. Maynard formed a new band and it made its North American debut in 1971. Maynard latched on to the burgeoning jazz education movement by recruiting talented musicians from colleges with jazz programs 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 1988, Maynard formed the group 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. 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, Maynard 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.
Maynard gives Birdland a whirl… and it is good. Of course! My cuz played bass with Maynard for a good while.