Maynard Ferguson


Maynard Ferguson : biography

May 4, 1928 – August 23, 2006

When Kenton returned to a more practical 19-piece jazz band, Ferguson continued with him. Contrary to the natural assumption, Ferguson was not Kenton’s lead trumpet player, but played the third chair with numerous solo features, as noted in the scores written for the Kenton band during this period. Notable recordings from this period that feature Ferguson include "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet", "What’s New?" and "The Hot Canary".

So popular was Ferguson with Kenton that for three years running, 1950, 1951, and 1952, he won the Down Beat Readers’ Poll as best trumpeter.

In 1953, Ferguson left Kenton to become a session player for Paramount Pictures, soon becoming the first-call player. Ferguson appeared on 46 soundtracks including The Ten Commandments. Ferguson still recorded jazz during this period, but his Paramount contract prevented him from playing jazz clubs. This was sometimes circumvented by appearing under aliases such as "Tiger Brown", "Foxy Corby", and others. While he enjoyed the regular Paramount paycheck, Ferguson was very unhappy with the lack of live performance opportunities and left Paramount in 1956. Ferguson can clearly be discerned on several soundtracks from the time, including the Martin and Lewis films "Living it Up" and "You’re Never Too Young."

The Birdland Dream Band

In 1956, Ferguson became the leader of the Birdland Dream Band, a 14-piece big band formed by Morris Levy as an "all-star" lineup to play at Levy’s —Birdland jazz club in New York City. While the name "Birdland Dream Band" was short-lived and is represented by only two albums over the course of a year, this band became the core of Ferguson’s performing band for the next nine years. The band included, at various times, such players as Slide Hampton, Don Ellis, Don Sebesky, Willie Maiden, John Bunch, Joe Zawinul, Joe Farrell, Jaki Byard, Lanny Morgan, Rufus Jones, Nino Tempo, Bill Berry, Bill Chase, and Don Menza. Arrangers included Slide Hampton, Jay Chattaway, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Holman and Marty Paich.

In 1959 Ferguson guested with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Bernstein performing "The Titan Suite", a complicated modernist piece featuring the extreme high register of the trumpet. It is argued that at the time, perhaps no trumpeter but Ferguson could have played the piece at all. Since then, only a handful have attempted to perform the work.

As big bands declined in popularity and economic viability into the 1960s, Ferguson’s band performed more infrequently. Ferguson began to feel musically stifled and sensed a resistance to change among his American jazz audiences. According to a Down Beat interview, he was quoted as saying that if the band did not play "Maria" or "Ole," the fans went home disappointed. Ferguson began performing with a sextet before finally officially disbanding his big band in 1966.

Millbrook, India and psychedelic spirituality

After leaving his long-time recording contract and the end of his main club gig, Ferguson moved his family to the Hitchcock estate in Millbrook, New York in November 1963 to live with Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, and their community from Harvard University. He and his wife Flo used LSD, psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs for spiritual awakening. They lived at Millbrook for about three years, playing clubs and recording several albums. In 1967, as the Millbrook experiment was ending, Ferguson moved with his family to India, and taught at the Krishnamurti-based Rishi Valley School near Madras. He was associated with the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning’s Boys Brass Band, which he founded and helped teach at for several years. While in India, Ferguson was influenced by Sathya Sai Baba, whom he considered as his spiritual guru.A picture of Ferguson with the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning’s Boys Brass Band can be found at: