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Maynard Ferguson: Jam Sessions

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Born in Verdun, Canada, Maynard Ferguson quickly outgrew the dance bands he played with in Montreal and Quebec. Though his main instrument was the trumpet, Ferguson could play a range of brass instruments in his teens. By the late 1940s, he was being courted by bandleaders in the U.S. who were eager for a hot trumpet—the rock guitar of its day—especially one who could double on instruments. When Ferguson came down to the States in 1948, he intended to join Stan Kenton's band. Except that Kenton had just decided to break up his orchestra. So Ferguson played in a variety of other bands, including those led by Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnet.

Ferguson finally did join Kenton in 1950, becoming a high-energy, high-note player and winning the Down Beat reader's poll for best trumpeter in 1950, '51 and '52. By the early '50s, Ferguson lived in Los Angeles and had left Kenton to record on film soundtracks. In February 1954, he assembled a top-notch ensemble to record for EmArcy, Mercury's new jazz subsidiary. The album he recorded would become known as Dimensions. Three days later, Ferguson united with a septet of top West Coast jazz soloists for a studio jam session. Two songs were recorded. A day later, two more were captured.

The four songs filled two EmArcy albums, with one song on each side. The first album released was Jam Session Featuring Maynard Ferguson. The second was Maynard Ferguson's Hollywood Party. The same personnel appeared on all four tracks: Maynard Ferguson (tp,v-tb), Milt Bernhart (tb), Herb Geller (as), Bob Cooper (ts), Claude Williamson (p), John Simmons (b) and Max Roach (d). More recently, both albums were united on one CD called Maynard Ferguson: Hollywood Jame Sessions (Fresh Sound).

I revisited this album quite by accident. I was listening to Ferguson's Dimensions, a personal favorite. When the album ended, the jam session began, since my music is always organized chronologically. I was in a writing fog, so I didn't notice the change. At some point—probably during the second track—Somebody Loves Me—my ear was blown away sufficiently that it nudged my brain, forcing me to wonder what album I was listening to. You know the feeling.

The four tracks are Night Letter, Somebody Loves Me, Our Love Is Here to Stay and Air Conditioned. If you want to feel the West Coast jazz heat early on, these albums are sensational. The solos churn and sizzle all the way through, especially when it's Ferguson's turn. Pay special attention to Claude Williamson's piano solo on Our Love Is Here to Stay. Enough said!

JazzWax clip: Here's Somebody Loves Me...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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