Maynard Ferguson


Maynard Ferguson : biography

May 4, 1928 – August 23, 2006


In 1969, Ferguson moved to just outside Windsor (about 20 miles from London) in a very small place called Oakley Green. He had two houses while he was in the UK, the final one being a 3 story house down by the River Thames.

That same year, Ferguson signed with CBS Records in England and formed a big band with British musicians that performed in the newly popular jazz/rock fusion style. The band’s repertoire included original compositions as well as pop and rock songs rearranged into a big band format with electronic amplification. This British band’s output is represented by the four "MF Horn" albums, which included arrangements of the pop songs "MacArthur Park" and "Hey Jude".

In 1970 he led his big band on UK television as part of BBC’s Simon Dee Show (also known as Dee Time). Ferguson often quipped with Dee, similar to his contemporary Doc Severinsen’s rapport with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. By 1971, Ferguson was a household name in Britain.

Return to the U.S.

Ferguson’s new band made its North American debut in 1971. With a revived career, Ferguson relocated to New York in 1973 and gradually replaced his sidemen with American performers while reducing the band size to twelve: four trumpets, two trombones, three saxophones and a three-piece rhythm section plus Maynard. The quintessential recording of this period is the album MF Horn 4 & 5: Live at Jimmy’s, recorded in 1973 in New York. Ferguson latched on to the burgeoning jazz education movement by recruiting talented musicians from colleges with jazz programs (notably Berklee College of Music, North Texas State University and the University of Miami) and targeting young audiences with performances and master classes in high schools and colleges. This practical and strategic move helped him develop a strong following that would sustain him for the remainder of his career.

In 1976, Ferguson performed a solo trumpet piece as part of the closing ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Montreal, symbolically "blowing out the flame".

Recordings for a 1975 album were abandoned and the next year Ferguson began working with producer Bob James on a series of commercially successful albums. These were complex studio productions featuring large groups of session musicians, including strings, vocalists and star guest soloists. The first of these albums was Primal Scream, featuring Chick Corea, Mark Colby, Steve Gadd, and Bobby Militello. The second, Conquistador in 1977, resulted in a top-30 (#22) pop single, "Gonna Fly Now" (from the movie Rocky), a rare accomplishment for a jazz musician in the 1970s. Aside from an exciting Jay Chattaway arrangement and dense Bob James production, the single was also helped by the fact that it was released prior to the official soundtrack album of the hit movie. Ferguson maintained a hectic touring schedule during this period, with well-attended concerts that featured concert lighting and heavy amplification. The commercial success allowed him to add a guitarist and an additional percussionist to his band’s line-up.

Ferguson continued with this musical model for the remainder of the 1970s, receiving considerable acclaim from audiences but an often tepid response from some jazz purists, who decried his commercialism and questioned his taste. Ferguson reportedly also began to experience great frustration with Columbia over being unable to use his working band on recording projects and having difficulty including even a single jazz number on some albums. Ferguson’s contract with Columbia Records expired after the 1982 release of the Hollywood album, produced by jazz bassist Stanley Clarke.

Ferguson recorded three big band albums with smaller labels in the mid ’80s before forming a more economical electronica-fusion septet, "High Voltage," in 1986. This ensemble, which featured multi-reed player Denis DiBlasio and trombonist Steve Wiest among an abridged horn section, recorded two albums and received mixed reviews. Though regarded favorably for this attempt to remain fresh and experimental, the format was ultimately unsatisfying to Ferguson, who had grown up in big bands and developed a performing style most appropriate to that structure.