Spirit of St. Maynard
Sad news today at imnotsayin HQ: legendary jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson passed away Wednesday, at age 78.
Maynard, who was touring (and still nailing super-C's) until just weeks ago - he played New York's Blue Note, and recorded and album in July - will be missed. He was a fixture in our youth (imnotsayin was a proud band geek), and had the generation-crossing longevity that made it seem like he would always be around.
For those of you who are saying, "Huh? That's like mourning the loss of Lawrence Welk..." I give you Maynard's 'La Fiesta' from 1990's Chamelion. Click the iTunes link and listen to the whole clip:
Maynard got his start as a Canadian teen, wowing the 1940's ballroom crowd at Crystal Beach amusement park in Ft. Erie, Ontario. He quickly gained a reputation for hitting impossibly high notes - a trumpeter's Holy Grail, and an endorphine rush for brass fans.
Ferguson, best known by the mainstream for his lava-lamp-conjuring, disco-fueled Rocky theme, "Gonna Fly Now", was at his best in the 1970's, wailing high-flying trumpet solos miles above the massive sound wall of his rock-solid brass ensemble. Maynard, who often traded technical accuracy for the sheer energy of mind-blowing screams and glass-shattering squeals, was the jazz equivalent of a supersonic test pilot - taking his horn to the edge of the sonic stratosphere and pushing the musical envelope to its most thrilling limits.
My friends and I discovered Maynard during High School in the Buffalo area, where his "Spirit of St. Frederick" chart had for years been an anthem for our throwback jazz ensemble (the Checkmates had logoed V-neck sweaters and those Lawrence Welk-style music stands...nonetheless, we rocked!).
If Maynard had groupies in 1980's Buffalo, it was us: my crew never missed a show when he came to town. During shows, we'd high-five each other at Maynard's signature move: he'd thank soloists with a Buddhist "wai" - a miniature bow he likely picked up during his mid-60's contact with Timothy Leary and subsequant conversion to Buddhism. His occasional vocal turns - his singing voice was comically nasal - were so hilareously bad, we had to love 'em.
On one occasion, he played the Tralfamadore Jazz Café, which had a strict 21-and-over policy. Our music director, Chris Revett had bragged that he had great seats, and as teens, we'd lost hope for catching the gig.
The morning of the show, as consolation, my buddies and I skipped class to catch Maynard on the local morning TV show (we were seen on the teachers' lounge TV, Ferris Bueller-style, throwing Maynard questions from the studio audience). After the show, Maynard's tour manager - recognizing us from countless Buffalo-area concerts - set us up with a front row table at the gig. That night, we toasted our Revett with the round of drinks sent over "complements of the band"!
The year after graduation, Revett achieved something we'd only fantasized about, landing Maynard as the headliner for the school's annual Guest Artist concert. My brother, in the right place at the right time, volunteered to drive Maynard around the city all day. After the show, I sat in the back seat of Dad's car, watching the groggy Legend doze off while we dodged city traffic.
I'd seen Maynard a couple of times since those days, and saw the ad for his Blue Note show a few weeks ago. I passed it off, thinking "I'll see him another time." It was his last gig.
"The Spirit of St. Frederick", Its My Time, 1980 - mp3
"Give it One", M.F.Horn, 1970 - mp3