I saw in the paper this morning that Maynard Ferguson is dead.
My guess is most of you will have no idea who he was. But if by any chance you played in your high school's jazz band, you probably do.
This obit captures some of how I feel:
...We all keep secrets. One of mine is that if I were to be somebody else in life, I would be a trumpet player. Playing the trumpet is a primal experience, human lips pressed next to cold brass, no need for a quivering reed in-between, and somehow flesh and metal together produce a sound at the other end that is clear, clarion, bold, the call that heralds angels. Playing the trumpet combines aesthetics with athleticism. It is the height of macho. Chops, cheeks, breath control, tight stomach, tight butt, erect posture, flexed biceps, spit. And now I will tell you a dirty little secret. One of my favorite trumpet players is a guy named Maynard Ferguson. I was once a member of the Maynard Ferguson fan club. This is a dirty secret because Maynard would never be the choice of self-respecting jazz aficionados, and I'm afraid that naming him as one of my guilty pleasures will probably discredit me among my music colleagues here.
Listening to Maynard was only rarely a guilty pleasure for me. When I was in high school, there was no guilt. By the time I graduated, my tastes had, too, and there wasn't much listening anymore.
But I was different from the guy who wrote the quoted text: I was
a trumpet player, and when I was in high school, I had my own big band, modeled after Maynard's. Kids, some of whom were too young to drive, came from several counties away to play in it. We played Maynard's charts; I played his parts, imitated the physicality (it works), and killed countless brain cells playing high and loud enough that I regularly came close to blacking out from oxygen deprivation. I wasn't as strong or near as talented as Maynard (he really was a freak of nature), but I might have been good enough to hold down one of the seats in his trumpet section. By the time I got to college, that didn't look so attractive, but there you go.
Putting together and performing with that band was, even now, some of the most fun I've ever had. And we were better than you'd expect: a couple of the guys who played in my band went on to play in bands like Stan Kenton's and the Ellington band.
Ironically, Crooks & Liars ran a video
of one Maynard's most amazing feats just a week or so ago. Give it look.
In retrospect, the music was crude and camp and hardly jazz at all.
But damn, it was fun.
And that's what is going through my head today.