Maynard Ferguson - trumpet, bandleader; Rick Kiefer - trumpet; Jerry Tyree - trumpet; Chet Ferretti - lead trumpet; Mike Zwerin - trombone; Kenny Rupp - trombone; Frank Hittner - baritone sax; Willie Maiden - tenor sax; Joe Farrell - tenor sax; Lannie Morgan - alto sax; Jaki Byard - piano; Charlie Saunders - bass; Rufus Jones - drums
No one in jazz demonstrated such dazzling facility on his instrument as high-note trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. A child prodigy who became a valued member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra of the early '50s, Ferguson rose to stardom with his own big bands during the late '50s and early '60s. His appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival coincided with his recent release at the time, Newport Suite, recorded in March of that year for the Roulette label.
The well-oiled juggernaut opened its June 30th set at Freebody Park with the exhilarating "Three More Foxes," a chops-busting Ferguson original that showcases the leader alongside trumpeters Rick Kiefer and Jerry Tyree. The three execute tight unison lines upfront before each takes off on individual solo passages. Kiefer goes first on this uptempo burner, showing remarkable proficiency on his horn and ability to blow over the changes. Tyree is next, exhibiting a penchant for the high register in his fluent solo. Then Maynard enters with his uncanny and instantly recognizable high-note prowess; as emcee Willis Connover joked in his band introduction, "Maynard plays notes that only dogs can hear." Following their extended solos, the three trumpeters engage in some bristling exchanges of eights and fours before the piece comes to an exciting climax with a rousing three-trumpet fugue.
The saxophone section (Frank Hittner on baritone, Joe Farrell on tenor, Lanny Morgan on alto and Willie Maiden on tenor) is featured on Maiden's sophisticated, syncopated arrangement of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein classic "Ol' Man River" (from the 1927 musical Showboat). Farrell, who replaced Wayne Shorter in the Ferguson orchestra, sounds particularly strong on his solo here, and the leader sounds right at home blowing in the stratosphere on a frenzied double-time section of the piece. Morgan contributes a poignant solo when the piece returns to a more relaxed ballad tempo, but they take it out in grandiose fashion with Maynard blowing in the dog whistle range over the song's dramatic crescendo.
Pianist Jaki Byard is featured along with saxophonists Morgan and Farrell on "The Lamp Is Low." Rather than handling this tender piece as a ballad, as is usually the case with this 1939 chestnut, their rendition swings blithely, highlighting some spirited exchanges between Morgan and Farrell along the way. The enigmatic Byard, who would later flaunt his more outré tendencies in the Charles Mingus Quintet, sounds relatively inside here, swinging confidently over the changes with just a hint of the unorthodox choices that would come to define his renegade approach to the piano. Ferguson follows with another fierce trumpet solo that fairly bursts with bristling intensity. The rhythm section drops out to showcase the close interplay between the horns on an acappella section, and then Ferguson returns with more stratospheric blasts from his horn to take the piece out on a high note, literally.
Slide Hampton's elaborate "The Newport Suite" is a profound work that actually saw its premiere at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival. This rendition of the expansive, tempo-and-mood-shifting suite includes particularly strong solo contributions from tenor man Farrell over an aggressively swinging section. The noir-ish mid-tempo section with Byard's dissonant comping is a feature for alto saxophonist and Bird disciple Morgan, who digs in and takes his time developing his pungent-toned, blues-inflected solo. Ferguson also takes his time, gradually building to his trademark high note histrionics. Drummer Jones follows with a whirlwind barrage on the kit before the piece returns to the somber opening theme.
"The Mark of Jazz," another piece that Ferguson premiered at the 1959 Newport festival, opens with a flurry from drummer Jones. A Slide Hampton original based on a riff from Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooche," it features alto saxophonist Morgan in uptempo burn mode. Baritone saxophonist Hittner channels some Serge Chaloff energy on his bop-informed solo while tenor saxophonist Farrell sounds particular inspired in this hard-driving uptempo setting. Ferguson follows those scorching solos with some blazing trumpet work that elevates the proceedings a notch. Saunders' nimble bass solo is underscored by Byard's sparse piano accompaniment, and the piece builds to an ecstatic crescendo with Speedy Jones' extended and extroverted drum solo, putting an exclamation point on this dynamic set-closer.
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, memorizing popular recordings of the day by trumpet heroes like 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.
Ferguson performed with a sextet at Expo '67 in Montreal and later spent 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, he 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, leading a funk group called High Voltage from 1987-1988 and ultimately returning 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 with that outfit through the '90s 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. The trumpet great continued touring the world up until his death from kidney and liver failure on August 23, 2006. (Milkowski)