Maynard! Master of the Trumpet Stratosphere
Maynard Ferguson, the dynamic, musically stratospheric and charismatic bandleader/trumpter who died in August of 2006, is the subject of a new book.
Not surprisingly, the work was not able to find a traditional book publisher.
Maynard! was written and assembled by Grammy Award-winning record producer Ralph Jungheim, is a collection of interviews with many of Maynard’s personal and professional colleagues through the years, including reedman Lanny Morgan, Don Menza and Bud Shank; drummers Rufus Jones, Shelly Manne and Peter Erskine’ singer Irene Kral; guitarist Mundell Lowe; trumpeter Lew Tabackin; and various others.
Maynard! is self-published and the good news is that it was published at all, in a day and age when traditional book retailers are going under, and the only works that seem to get traditional book deals these days are works by politicians, conservative and otherwise.
Lee Mergner, Editor of Jazz Times magazine, who first wrote about this on the JazzTimes.com site, is optimistic when it comes to print publishing and jazz. He should know, as Jazz Times ceased publishing recently until, thankfully, it found another buyer and is back in business.
“Print is most assuredly not dead,” Mergner said. “Nor is the oral history. If anything, the difficulties of bookstores have created a do-it-yourself submarket, in which projects heretofore viewed as commercial risks become unabashed labors of love, published via print-upon-demand or eBook or no-frills self-publishing.”
Ferguson’s life and music are worthly of a full-fledged bio. Dr. William Lee did write an authorized biography of Maynard about ten years ago, but its scope was surprisingly limited.
Born in Quebec in 1928, Ferguson was a child trumpet prodigy who quit school at 15, performed with, and eventually led a bunch of bands there. He came to the United States circa 1949, and spent road time with the likes of Jimmy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn, and the leader who really groomed Maynard Ferguson to be a star, the equally charasmatic Stan Kenton, with whom he spent the years 1950 to 1953. Leaving Kenton, he was a Paramount studio player until 1956. In 1957, he led his first, U.S. band, known as “The Birdland Dream Band.”
It lasted, in various incarnations, until the bottom dropped out of the jazz business around 1967. But MF’s band was astounding, and those a part of it during those salad days likened it to what it must have been like to be a member of The Rolling Stones.
The array of talent that passed through that 12-piece group was incredible, and included artists such as Joe Zawinul, Don Ellis, Bill Chase, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Ford, Don Menza, Jake Hanna, Rufus Jones, Jaki Byard, John Bunch; and an equally wonderful array of arrangers and composers. The band recorded prolifically for Roulette. Volume-wise, they could blow groups twice the size off he stage. Subtle, it wasn’t. Swinging, it was.
Call Maynard Ferguson the “Buddy Rich of the trumpet,” if you will. No one has yet been able to equal his trumpet range and the clarity of his range—no one, quite simply, could play higher—and the energy, feeling, and enthusiasm he brought to the stage was consistently infectious and exciting. By God, it’s even been said that Miles Davis liked his playing.
Ferguson had become, like Harry James before him and Doc Severinson afer him, as much of a personality as a musician, though he never, ever compromised his musical vision.
Times were tough in the latter 1960s for everything that was jazz, and were at a particularly low ebb for big bands. Woody was scuffling, Basie was recording Beatles’ tunes, and Ellington was surviving. Buddy Rich, however, did begin to make something of a splash on the scene around 1967, but Maynard couldn’t ignore increasing audience disinterest. He first cut down to a small group, spent some time studying and teaching in India, and ended up living in Manchester, England, circa 1969.
He has no idea that a second, very successful career was in the offing, via his signing with CBS Records in England in 1969, and later forming an all-British band, with the accent on more contemporary material with a contemporary beat.
Maynard came back to the states permanently in 1973 and resumed a hectic touring schedule, with the emphasis on high school and college bookings, and in-residence teaching “clinics,” a concept pioneered by Stan Kenton. The band became a favorite of younger music fans via their choice of material, and in fact, made it to the coveted “top 40” with “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from the film, “Rocky,” in 1977.
Demand for the band—as well as its prices—went up, and Maynard Ferguson was able to maintain the group, through several names and musical configurations, until just days before his death on August 23, 2006.
As a person? There are only two musicians in the history of jazz that no one—no one—has ever heard a negative word about. Louie Bellson. And Maynard.
The source material for Maynard! was a series of interviews recorded by author in 1978, when Ferguson and the band were playing in Santa Monica, CA. His wife transcribed the many hours of interviews.
“Jungheim had hopes of getting a book deal based on the interviews,” Lee Mergner explained, but there were no takers” from the major publishing houses.
“So I put it in a box and pretty much forgot about it,” said Jungheim. “Every once in a while I’d take it out and read it, but then I’d forget about it. I had a bout with cancer about two and a half years ago, and my son suggested that I make it an eBook and finally get the thing out.”
Ultimately, Maynard! was released as a print-on-demand project. The 240-page paperback is now available via MaynardFerguson.com, Amazon.com and the author’s own BusterAnnMusic.com.
Matt Keller, who has reviewed the work for the Ferguson web site, describes it “as an absolutely compelling read for Maynard fans… from the musicians who played with him in the first 30 years of his career.” Though this work is incomplete as well, in that Ferguson performed for almost 30 more years after these interviews were done, Keller says that the book “ provides a fascinating verbal accounting of the first half of Maynard’s recording and performing career.”
Perhaps the entire story will someday be told.