StLJN Saturday Video Showcase: The legacy of Maynard Ferguson


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The week, let's take a brief look at the legacy of the late trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, as carried on by some of his former sidemen. Billed as the M.F. All-Star Band, they'll be playing in St. Louis on Saturday, April 23 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center as part of the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival.

(This year's GSLJF also will feature a concert on Friday by St. Louis favorite John Pizzarelli, with the UMSL Jazz Ensemble directed by Jim Widner as opening act for both nights. In addition, the festival includes three days of adjudicated performances and clinics for high school jazz ensembles from around the area, beginning on Thursday and continuing through Saturday.)

Known particularly for his exceptional high-note prowess on trumpet, outgoing personality, and showmanship, Maynard Ferguson first gained wide notice as a member of Stan Kenton's band in the 1950s. He formed his own big band in 1957, and after a sabbatical in the late 1960s, Ferguson rose to even greater prominence in the 1970s, thanks to incessant touring and a series of fast-selling albums featuring original charts tinged with funk and rock plus brassy renditions of then-current pop tunes.

What also happened around that time was that, as Wikipedia puts it, “Ferguson latched on to the burgeoning jazz education movement by recruiting talented musicians from colleges with jazz programs (notably Berklee College of Music, North Texas State University and the University of Miami) and targeting young audiences with performances and master classes in high schools and colleges. This practical and strategic move helped him develop a strong following that would sustain him for the remainder of his career."

Although not all of Ferguson's more commercially oriented music was well-received by critics, his late-career return to a more mainstream jazz sound with the nine-piece Big Bop Nouveau provided ample evidence that he was more than just a high-note specialist, and also was popular enough to keep him busy touring and recording right up until his death at age 78 in 2006.

The group of former Ferguson sidemen who will be performing in St. Louis will include trumpeters Wayne Bergeron and Frank Greene, trombonist Steve Wiest, baritone saxophonist Dennis DiBlasio, and drummer Stockton Helbing.

Today's collection of video clips shows them performing music associated with their former boss in a variety of settings, including a 2008 tribute show that yielded the first video up above, a version of the Ferguson band's arrangement of “MacArthur Park" featuring Wayne Bergeron on trumpet.

After the jump, there's another clip from the same show of “Gonna Fly Now," better known as the theme from the film Rocky, which was recorded by Ferguson in 1977 and here features solos from Eric Miyashiro, Patrick Hession, and Bergeron.

Next, there's a version of “Got the Spirit," a Slide Hampton composition that was a staple of Ferguson's 1970s and 80s touring repertoire. This clip was recorded in 2013 by the University of North Texas' One O'Clock Band, directed by Steve Wiest and featuring as special guests Frank Greene, Denis DiBlasio, and Stockton Helbing.

Wiest steps into the spotlight in the next video, wielding a customized trombone with Denver's Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra as the featured performer on “Superbone Meets The Badman." The chart by arranger/composer Jay Chattaway originally was heard on Ferguson's popular 1974 album Chameleon; this version is from a 2014 show by Wiest and the MJO at Dazzle Jazz Club in Denver.

That's followed by another clip from the 2008 tribute show, a Fergusonized version of Herbie Hancock's “Watermelon Man" that includes a solo turn from Denis DeBlasio.

The baritone saxophonist also is featured in the sixth clip, which is from a Ferguson band performance sometime in the 1980s and provides a vivid example of the leader's typical onstage demeanor. As DeBlasio solos and scat-sings on Dizzy Gillespie's bebop standard “Salt Peanuts," Ferguson is right there alongside, getting into the music and visibly exhorting him.

The final clip, from a Big Bop Nouveau performance in 1988, doesn't feature any of the musicians who will be at the Touhill, but instead serves as a reminder of some of Ferguson's other popular arrangements that could end up being part of the show. The video of “The MF Hit Medley" starts with “Chameleon" and moves through abridged versions of “MacArthur Park", “Frame For The Blues", “Maria", and “Blue Birdland".

You can see the rest of today's videos after the jump...

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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