If trumpeter extraordinaire Maynard Ferguson came along just a little too late for the height of the big band craze, the heyday of Glen Miller, Benny Goodman and the like, he got there just in time to catch the wave well before it died, in plenty of time to make a name for himself with jazz lovers all over the world.
Born in Canada, he moved to the States in 1948 and played in a number of bands before joining up with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1949. It wasn’t until 1956, after some years with Kenton and a stint in Hollywood, that he was called to New York to front a band to play at Birdland, the famed jazz club. This marked the beginning of a career as a big band leader that lasted off and on until his death in 2006, even as economics made touring a large ensemble a costly venture.
Real Gone Music, a newly formed reissue company announcing that it is “dedicated to combing the vaults for sounds that aren’t just gone—they’re REAL gone,” will be releasing a single CD containing two albums Ferguson recorded with his big band for Cameo in 1963 after leaving Roulette records. New Sounds of Maynard Ferguson first came out in April and Real Gone’s reissue includes a previously unreleased bonus track, “The Song is You.” The second album, Come Blow Your Horn, was originally released in September of 1963. The two albums along with the bonus have a total of 21 tracks. Extensive liner notes by Bret Primak provide an excellent guide to the music and the performers.
New Sounds offers a playlist of classic big band tunes played with style and showcasing the high register that Ferguson is famous for. It opens with the Billy Strayhorn favorite made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, “Take the “A” Train.” It includes an inventive arrangement of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee,” best known in the Charley Barnet version (Ferguson had played with Barnet when he first came to the States); this version is a tour de force for the alto sax of Lanny Morgan. Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” and the Tommy Dorsey theme song “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” round out what seem like a set of tributes to the big band era.
There is a funky arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” which features a nice interchange between Morgan and Ferguson. Ferguson shows off his mellow chops as well as his high notes on an elegant rendition of the traditional “Danny Boy,” and “Bossa Nova De Funk” takes the band in another direction and features the song’s composer Willie Maiden on tenor sax.
The tunes on the Come Blow Your Horn album, except for a six minute romp through “Chicago That Toddling Town,” are less well known. The title song which ends the album was written for the Neil Simon play of the same name. Then there is the theme from TV’s Naked City and a couple of pieces from films. The “Anthony and Cleopatra Theme” from the (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) film Cleopatra that has Ferguson playing at the top of his game, and maybe at the top of his range. Elmer Bernstein’s “Blues for a Four String Guitar” is from The Caretakers, and according to Primak the composer conducted at the session.
Maynard Ferguson may never have achieved quite the popular fame of a movie star trumpeter like Harry James, but jazz fans have long recognized his technical virtuosity and emotional brilliance. If you like big band music, you’ll love this CD. If you haven’t paid all that much attention to the big bands, this CD will make you regret what you’ve been missing. Maynard Ferguson can play with the best of them, and he put together a band that swings.