Maynard Ferguson Biography

4 May 1928, Verdun, Quebec, Canada, d. 23 August 2006, Ventura, Califonia, USA. Already a band leader in his native land by his early teenage years, trumpeter Ferguson played in the bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnet in the 40s. His breakthrough into public consciousness came in 1950 when he joined Stan Kenton, electrifying audiences with his high-note playing. Unlike many other high-note trumpeters, Ferguson proved that it was possible to actually play music up there rather than simply make noises. However, it is possible that not all his fans appreciated the skills he was demonstrating. After leaving Kenton in 1953 Ferguson worked at Paramount studios in Los Angeles before turning to band leading, sometimes with a big band, at other times with a small group. Skilful use of arrangements often allowed the Ferguson bands to create an impression of size; the 12-piece band he led at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival had all the power and impact of many groups twice its size.

Among the many fine musicians who worked with Ferguson in the 50s and 60s were Slide Hampton, Don Sebesky, Bill Chase, Don Ellis and Bill Berry. In the late 60s Ferguson moved to the UK, where he formed a big band with which he toured extensively. In the USA again during the 70s, he moved into jazz rock and reached a new audience who found the music and the flamboyance with which it was presented extremely attractive. He even scored a US Top 30 hit in 1977 with ‘Gonna Fly Now’, used on the Sylvester Stallone movie Rocky. During the 80s Ferguson formed the funk band High Voltage before returning to jazz with the big band-orientated Big Bop Nouveau, a unit with which he continued to work on a regular basis into the new millennium.

Ferguson also played several other brass instruments with considerable skill, but it is as a trumpeter that he made his greatest impact. His technical expertise on the instrument made him a model for many of up-and-coming young musicians. It is fitting that his final album, recorded a few weeks before he died in 2006, found him blasting away in typical style.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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