Maynard Ferguson - trumpet, conductor; Don Sebesky - trombone; Slide Hampton - trombone; Charles Greenlee - trombone; Jerry Tyree - trumpet; Don Ellis - trumpet; Chet Ferretti - trumpet; Jimmy Ford - alto sax; Wayne Shorter - tenor sax; Willie Maiden - tenor sax; Frank Hittner - baritone sax; Joe Zawinul - piano; Jimmy Rowser - bass; Frankie Dunlop - drums
A trumpeter of extraordinary power, particularly in the high register, Maynard Ferguson first came to the attention of the jazz public as a pyrotechnic soloist with Stan Kenton's Innovations Orchestra during the early '50s. He formed his own big band in 1957 and debuted his big brassy well-oiled machine at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year. Ferguson's Friday afternoon set at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival was an uncanny display of energy, chops and abandon melded with thoroughly polished charts by arrangers Don Sebesky and Slide Hampton. (And it was apparently performed with very little sleep since the band played a set ending at 3 a.m. that morning at Pep's in Philadelphia and they drove directly to Newport after the gig).
They kick off their July 3rd Newport set in exuberant fashion with a exhilarating remake of the chops-busting Sonny Rollins bop anthem "Oleo," which is teeming with clever reharmonizations in the horn section. Hampton's bop-fueled trombone solo here is both expressive and burning while trumpeter Jerry Tyree follows with a bristling solo of his own. Pianist Joe Zawinul (who would subsequently have a two-year stint with singer Dinah Washington followed by a nine-year tenure with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet before collaborating with Miles Davis and eventually forming the innovative fusion band Weather Report) provides an edge throughout with his spiky comping. Zawinul also offers a scintillating piano solo, which is followed by some strong solo statements from alto saxophonist Jimmy Ford. Ferguson enters the fray near the end of the piece and his opening stratospheric statements are both bracing and instantly identifiable. The premiere of the suite-like "Newport," an involved Slide Hampton composition that travels through many moods and textures, is a triumph of Ferguson's set. From a moody, funereal dirge to a 3/4 section to a swinging uptempo blues vamp underscored by some scintillating call-and-response between the brass and reed sections, "Newport" is an Ellington-inspired extended work that showcases the full power of the big band while also highlighting the bandleader's raw intensity on trumpet and unparalleled facility in the upper register. The piece, which appeared on Ferguson's 1960 recording for Roulette Records, Newport Suite, also features a brilliant trombone solo by Slide Hampton and a particularly original solo by the group's fresh-sounding 26-year-old tenor saxophonist at the time, Wayne Shorter (who would be in the Ferguson big band for a short time before joining the Jazz Messengers and subsequently gaining international renown in the mid '60s with the Miles Davis Quintet). The meeting of Shorter and Zawinul in the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra in 1959 is also historically significant because it sparked a connection that would ultimately lead, 11 years later, to the formation of Weather Report, perhaps the most innovative and influential group of the '70s fusion movement.
Next up is an inventive Willie Maiden arrangement of the lush ballad "Tenderly" that reveals Ferguson's more romantic and lyrical side, though he does unleash some signature stratospheric blowing at the tag. Slide Hampton's energetic uptempo romp "The Mark of Jazz," based on a riff from Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche," features burning solo contributions from alto saxophonist Ford, trombonist Hampton (catch his sly quote from "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" in the midst of his boppish solo turn) and tenor saxophonist Shorter, who blows over the changes with a remarkable facility and a fertile imagination. Ferguson takes the energy up a notch with yet another pyrotechnic trumpet solo. Bassist Jimmy Rowser and former Thelonious Monk drummer Frankie Dunlop are also spotlighted on this exhilarating number. For an encore (a rare occurrence at these tightly-run George Wein affairs), the MF Orchestra launches into the spirited Willie Maiden blues "No More Foxes," a two-trumpet call-and-response showcase for Jerry Tyree and Don Ellis. Maynard, of course, gets his two cents in on this brassy jam. As the applause died down on this scintillating set by the Maynard Ferguson Orchestra, the band members packed up and headed to their cars, ready to drive all the way back to Philly for their 9 p.m. set at Pep's. Road warriors indeed.
Born on May 4, 1928 in Montreal, Canada, Walter Maynard Ferguson started off playing piano and violin in elementary school before switching to trumpet at age nine. By age 11, he was already quite advanced on the instrument and became the cornet soloist in a noted marching band in Montreal. He was the star trumpeter in high school at age 14 and soon after turned his attention toward jazz and memorized popular recordings of the day by trumpeters Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Bunny Berigan and Harry James. He led his first big band at age 17 and after relocating to the United States in 1948 got his earliest gigs with the bands of Charlie Barnet, Boyd Raeburn and Jimmy Dorsey before joining Stan Kenton's Innovations Orchestra in 1950. After his three-year tenure in Kenton's band, during which time he became a bona fide trumpet star, Ferguson worked in the studios of Los Angeles and in 1956 led the all-star Birdland Dreamband. From 1957 to 1965, he recorded prolifically for the Roulette label with his own big band. He performed with a sextet at Expo '67 in Montreal and later spend some time in India, a period of spiritual study and deep introspection for the normally extroverted trumpeter. He later moved to England and worked and recorded with a new band there. After moving back to the U.S. in 1974, Ferguson began experimenting in a more commercial vein, resulting in 1974's Chameleon, 1975's Primal Scream and 1976's gold-selling Conquistador, which included a version of "Gonna Fly Now," the theme from Sylvester Stallone's Rocky. Ferguson continued to tour with a big band through the '80s, led a funk group called High Voltage from 1987-1988 and returned to his jazz roots with his 10-piece Big Bop Nouveau Band (four trumpets, one trombone, two reeds and a three-piece rhythm section). He made a series of acclaimed recordings that reflected his ongoing interest in Indian music and culture, including 1993's Live From London, 1994's These Cats Can Swing and 1998's Brass Attitude with that outfit through the '90s, The trumpet great continued touring the world up until his death from kidney and liver failure on August 23, 2006. (Milkowski)
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