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Music Review: Maynard Ferguson — The Essential Maynard Ferguson

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There is simply no possible way that any (or all) of my words will ever live up to the task of adequately presenting to you my thoughts on the music contained on the 2 CDs that make up The Essential Maynard Ferguson. Snowballs have a better chance in hell, quite frankly.

How could simple words express the emotions that are flooding from the speakers and into my heart as I write this? On this collection, the many musical facets of Maynard Ferguson are all revealed. Whether it is the plaintive cry of adoration that is “The Way You Look Tonight,” or the wistful daydream of “Over The Rainbow.” Or perhaps the sinful glide of “Everybody Moan,” and the echoing footfall melody of “’Round Midnight.” The way the righteous big-band funk of “Superbone Meets the Bad Man,” or the liquid elasticity of “The Cheshire Cat Walk” caresses your ears. From the bombastically emotional Hollywood verve of “Gonna Fly Now,” to the gorgeous flights of fanciful memory of “Birdland,” all the way down to the big-band-does-salsa melody of “Manteca.” Maynard simply does it all here in a way that is amazingly distinct.

As wonderful and iconic as Armstrong, Miles, and Coltrane were as horn players, there is no denying the sound of Ferguson’s horn as it glides and slides around a piece of music. It is all at once classy, classic, soulful, playful, respectful, and extremely deserving of respect.

From his earliest days, Ferguson’s bands have provided a spawning ground for an amazing group of artists. These include Chick Corea, Bob James, Bill Chase, Chuck Mangione, Slide Hampton, Don Ellis, Willie Maiden, Peter Erskine, and many others. The recording of “Gonna Fly Now” from “Rocky,” though, catapulted Maynard into the heady sphere of popular music — giving him a top 10 single, gold album, and one of his eventual three Grammy nominations in 1978. Such fame and familiarity, though, only served to allow him to continue to do what he did best — make wonderful music and inspire others to do the same.

Sadly, Ferguson eventually lost his battle with cancer in August 2006. Thankfully, for those of us not quite old enough to be able to have been fans of Ferguson in his prime, Sony Music has provided a wonderful starting point to those interested in getting to know the man and his wonderful music.

Even sadder, to my eyes though, is that I have managed to find myself at the end of this review after having fulfilled the promise of inadequacy that I mentioned in the beginning. No words of mine will ever be able to describe how lovely the sound of Maynard’s horn sounds on “Everybody Loves The Blues.”

My closing suggestion is that you simply pick up your own copy of The Essential Maynard Ferguson and let this man’s amazing music speak for itself.

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About Michael Jones

  • You know that old saying “never let them see you sweat”? I’ve got a new one for ya. Never let them see you doubt your own skills. Especially as a writer. Words to live by Mr. Jones.


  • I don’t mind showing that I’m nothing special when compared to the music of Mr. Ferguson. I’d like to think I’m “okay” as a writer and finding myself as a reviewer… but I’ve yet to achieve any words that will thunder as awesomely as “Gonna Fly Now”.

    Mind you, I said “Yet” 🙂

  • Doug Tart

    Don’t doubt yourself for a minute regarding your words about the great Maynard Ferguson. Most of the jazz world still doesn’t get it. What you have written is accurate, warm, heartfelt, and shows that his music makes you feel like all of his faithful followers feel. He was far more than a musician. He was a kindred spirit, someone that we all looked up to. His home web site is probably one of the most active among musicians who have left this world for the next. We revere in continuing to discuss his amazing talent, charm, charisma and dedication to pleasing his audience every single show. Thank you for a wonderful review of some of his amazing body of work.

  • Art Kohl

    Great article, your words remind me of the emotions I feel when listening to Maynard play. And it’s true, the feeling really can’t be described in words. Lots of players can play high notes, but only Maynard was able to fully dominate the horn. He made the horn a part of himself, and made sure his audience could feel that. Big Band music is definitely not pop music, but on this album Maynard’s forceful athletic approach offset by sweet melodic interludes appeals to a popular audience. Lots of horn players are musicians’ musicians so to speak, but Maynard appealed to a much broader crowd. He was a natural leader–his sound naturally made people want to join up and fight alongside him. I think that’s why we still talk about him and why we miss him so much. RIP Boss