Maynard Ferguson : biography
Big Bop Nouveau
To mark his 60th birthday in 1988, Ferguson returned to a large band format and to more mainstream jazz. That then led to the formation of Big Bop Nouveau, a nine-piece band featuring two trumpets, one trombone, three reeds and a three-piece rhythm section which became his standard touring group for the remainder of his career. Later, due to the increasing responsibilities being placed on the trumpet players, the baritone sax position was replaced by a third trumpet player. The band’s repertoire included original jazz compositions and modern arrangements of jazz standards, with occasional pieces from his ’70s book and even modified charts from the Birdland Dream Band era; this format proved to be successful with audiences and critics. The band recorded extensively, including albums backing vocalists Diane Schuur and Michael Feinstein. Although in later years Ferguson’s playing occasionally lost some of the range and phenomenal accuracy of his youth, he always remained an exciting performer, touring an average of nine months a year with Big Bop Nouveau for the remainder of his life.
In the mid 1970s, Ferguson settled in Ojai, California, where he lived to the end of his life. Maynard’s marriage to Flo Ferguson (in 1955) lasted until her death on February 27, 2005. Ferguson had three daughters: Corby, Lisa, and Wilder, and a stepdaughter, Kim, from Flo’s first marriage. A son, Bentley, preceded his parents in death. Kim Ferguson is married to Maynard’s former road manager, Jim Exon. Wilder Ferguson is married to jazz pianist (and former Big Bop Nouveau member) Christian Jacob. Lisa Ferguson is a writer and film maker living in Los Angeles. At the time of his death, Ferguson had two granddaughters, Erica and Sandra. Maynard Ferguson died Wednesday, August 23, 2006, at Community Memorial Hospital. His death was reported as being due to kidney and liver failure brought on by an abdominal infection.
Maynard Ferguson was one of a handful of virtuoso musician/bandleaders to survive the end of the big band era and the rise of rock and roll. He demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to the musical trends that evolved from the 1940s through the 2000s. Ferguson’s albums show an evolution from big band swing, bebop, cool jazz, Latin, jazz / rock, fusion with classical and operatic influences. Through his devotion to music education in America, Ferguson was able to impart the spirit of his jazz playing and technique to scores of amateur and professional trumpeters during the many Master Classes held throughout his long career.
Ferguson was not the first trumpeter to play in the extreme upper register, but he had a unique ability to play high notes with full, rich tone, power, and musicality. While regarded by some as showboating, Ferguson’s tone, phrasing and vibrato was instantly recognizable and has been influential on and imitated by generations of amateur and professional trumpet players. A direct connection to Ferguson’s style of playing continues in the work of the trumpeters who played with him, notably Patrick Hession, Roger Ingram, Wayne Bergeron and Eric Miyashiro. Although some had believed that Ferguson was endowed with exceptional facial musculature, he often shared in interviews that his command of the upper registers was based mostly on breath control, something he had discovered as a youngster in Montreal. Ferguson also attributed the longevity of his demanding bravura trumpet technique through his later years to the spiritual and yoga studies he pursued while in India.
Musician Al Kooper has written and stated that Maynard Ferguson’s orchestra inspired Kooper’s formation of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears. Trumpeter and bandleader Bill Chase and scores of other trumpeters were clearly influenced by Ferguson’s playing and performing style.
While Ferguson’s range was his most obvious attribute, perhaps equally significant was the personal charisma Ferguson brought to a musical genre that is often seen as veering towards the cold and cerebral. As Ferguson’s obituary in the Washington Post declared: