Saturday, August 26, 2006

MF Horn No More

Yesterday morning my good friend, Dan Nelson, came into my office and said, “My heart is heavy.” With Dan, I never know if an opening line like this is to be taken at face value or if there is a tongue jammed into one cheek or the other. It turned out that he was quite serious and that he came to tell me that Maynard Ferguson had died on Wednesday. This information has an immediate impact on us because the legendary trumpeter is booked to play on our Jazz at the Point series later this year. His passing will require us to do some quick adjusting but there will be plenty of time for that. We talked a while longer and reminisced about when we first heard Maynard and what his music meant to us.

In the middle 1970's when I was a teenager growing up in a small town outside of Niagara Falls, New York, Maynard could be heard on AM radio playing his versions of MacArthur Park and the theme music for Rocky. His albums were marketed with splash and energy, and his band was always filled with some of the most amazing young players I had ever heard. As a young pianist trying to find a way into contemporary music of that day, Maynard's recordings caused me to seek out the music of Chick Corea and Stan Kenton. As my listening to jazz stretched both forward and backward, I was hooked for life.

In a time when all pop music was dominated by guitar driven bands of one flavor or another, Maynard carved out a successful niche for himself and inspired a generation of band geeks to keep playing and listening. I doubt anyone knows how many concerts and clinics Maynard gave in High School auditoriums over the last 30 years.

As Dan and I reminisced yesterday, he commented, "This is really the end of an era." Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and Maynard Ferguson were the last of the serious touring big bands. Kids like us dreamed of being good enough to be picked up by one of them. The personalities that led these bands were towering figures for us and with their passing we feel smaller, more vulnerable.

P.S. Here is an amazing video on YouTube of Maynard from the 1960's playing 'Round Midnight. This is fabulous!

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