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Maynard Ferguson

Wow: the Formative Years

ASV LIVING ERA AJA 5659 [78:58]



1. Diz Duz Everything
2. Body And Soul
3. All The Things You Are
4. Maynard Ferguson
5. Take The A Train
6. Short Wave
7. Love Locked Out
8. The Band Ain't Draggin'
9. Hot Canary
10. What's New
11. King's Riff
12. Wow
13. The Way You Look Tonight
14. All God's Chillun Got Rhythm
15. Over The Rainbow
16. Hymn To Her
17. Wonder Why
18. C'est The Blues
19. Miss Pitlack Regrets
20. Maynard The Fox
Maynard Ferguson (trumpet) with his Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. Stan Kenton and his orchestra, Ben Webster and his sextet
rec. 1949-56


Ferguson’s recent death focused attention once again on this prodigious and bravura high note specialist. Of course his more poetic mid-range moments have tended to be swept aside in favour of the coruscating brilliance of his playing, tending to shroud things such as The Way You Look Tonight where he plays with fluid and mellow perception before a jaunt to the stars in the last chorus.

It’s easy to forget just how young Ferguson was when he emerged, seemingly fully formed as to technique, in these earliest tracks. He was twenty-one when he bursts out the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra in this live performance of Diz Duz Everything. The tribute to trumpet hero Gillespie is apposite – and the way Ferguson launches into his solo is evidence of the blistering talent already on the scene. His apprenticeship was short indeed. But we can also hear vestiges of the big vibrato that he surely inherited from players such as Harry James and Ziggy Elman – try the live Body And Soul as evidence, though we also find here other examples of his youthful extravagance yet fully to be shed – gauche quotations and a Bunny Berigan style I Can’t Get Started cadenza.

Much of the playing is simply spectacular. Naturally the Kenton Innovations in Modern Music band plays the song written for him by Shorty Rogers – Maynard Ferguson, which is awe inspiring in the extreme, even now. Even Rogers’s use of strings doesn’t detract. Fortunately it’s not all high-powered stuff. The Band Ain't Draggin' is a jivey workout complete with vocal contributions from the band Ferguson was by now leading in 1950. A few names culled from that organisation; Shorty Rogers and Al Porcino, Milt Bernhart and John Graas, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Jimmy Giuffre – and a drummer called Shelly Manne. Not bad.

The stellar company that Ferguson kept is evident throughout these sides. There’s a single track with Ben Webster - who goes a bit berserk in his second chorus – and plenty with the West Coast octet and orchestra he led. Articulate and ear catching saxophone solos pepper these sides as they do in the later recordings with the likes of Herb Geller, Al Cohn and Budd Johnson.

So there are always things to admire, even if one perhaps tires of Ferguson’s stratospheric outings from time to time. The recordings are fresh and immediate, and Digby Fairweather’s notes are, as ever, written from the inside.

Jonathan Woolf

Fresh and immediate recordings of Ferguson’s stratospheric outings ... see Full Review


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