Ferguson was born in Montreal in 1928. He moved to the United States in 1949, and played with several big bands, including Tommy Dorsey's and Charlie Barnet's. Former Four Freshmen guitarist Bill Comstock was a Charlie Barnet fan and remembers seeing the band in West Virginia: "Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinson were both with the band. Maynard was the high-note man, and he could play notes that only dogs would respond to."

In 1950, Stan Kenton formed his Innovations Orchestra; and, Ferguson worked with Kenton for three years. "Stan Kenton made me a star," claimed Ferguson in one interview. But it was actually Ferguson's powerful, high-note trumpet playing that electrified audiences. He made himself a star.

Ferguson freelanced in LA for a few years before hitting the road with a 13-piece orchestra called the Birdland Dream Band from 1957-'65, with super-sidemen such as Clifford Brown, Al Cohn, Hank Jones, Slide Hampton, Don Ellis, Don Sebesky, John Bunch, Joe Zawinul, Willie Maiden, Elvin Jones, Jaki Byard, and Don Menza.

"In 1963, I saw the Maynard Ferguson Band at a club called the Minor Key," recalls Comstock. "The Four Freshman were all there, and Maynard brought all the horn players down off the stand to our table, where they surrounded us. Four trumpets, four trombones, and five saxes, and they were really wailing. It was loud, but it sounded great.

"Maynard did a lot to advance the trumpet," Comstock continues. "Trumpet players were always trying to emulate him."

In 1965, Ferguson trimmed his band down to a sextet, later moving to England to tour with a big band. He returned to the U.S. in the late '70s, experimenting with jazz/rock, which led to his '80s band, High Voltage, an electronic-fusion septet. Ferguson formed his current band, Big Bop Nouveau, in the '90s.

Ferguson has recorded more than 200 albums and has twice been nominated for a Grammy. He tours the country, performing at schools to help introduce young musicians to jazz. "Maynard Ferguson does these concerts as fundraisers for the schools," Southwest Band Director Richard Flores explains. "Profits will go to the Band Booster Scholarship Fund." For his efforts, Ferguson was inducted into the Jazz Educators Hall of Fame in 1992. He tells kids that you don't have to suffer for your art, "just enjoy what you're playing." •

February 6
Southwest High School
11914 Dragon Lane

More by Hank Harrison



Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.