An instrument designer, record producer, composer, educator and clinician, symphonic guest artist and film soundtrack artist, this three-time Grammy nominee and consistent Down Beat and Playboy Jazz Poll winner will stage a jazz clinic for all Valley high school students from 4 to 5 p.m. Monday in the Southwest theater.
Born May 4, 1928, in Montreal, Ferguson was playing piano and violin by age 4. He took on the trumpet at age 9.
Ferguson won a scholarship to the French Conservatory of Music, where he received formal training and, in 1941, at age 13, soloed as a child prodigy with the Canadian Broadcasting Co. Orchestra.
At 16, Ferguson first came to the attention of the great band leaders of the big band era.
"I led the warm-up band in Canada for all the great orchestras when they passed through Montreal, including Basie, Ellington, Woody Herman, Kenton, Dizzy and both Dorsey brothers," recalls Ferguson. "I received a lot of different offers."
In 1949, while still a teen-ager, Ferguson dissolved his Canadian band and moved to the United States, planning to accept a standing offer from Stan Kenton to join his orchestra. However, Kenton decided to take a year off.
Still, that year Ferguson got the opportunity to play in the Boyd Rayburn, Jimmy Dorsey and Charlie Barnett bands.
He next did a three-year stint with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, where his technique and phenomenal upper-register playing catapulted him to stardom.
After leaving Kenton's orchestra, Ferguson worked as a first-call studio musician for some three years, recording numerous film soundtracks for Paramount Pictures, including "The Ten Commandments." He also was featured in 1955 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, performing William Russo's composition "The Titans," conducted by Leonard Bernstein.
His recording of "Gonna Fly Now" on Columbia — the theme from the motion picture "Rocky" — rocketed him to "pop" fame with a top-10 single, a gold album ("Conquistador") and a Grammy nomination in 1978.
Leonard Feather wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "‘Conquistador' earned Ferguson a unique place in the big band world: He alone was able to crack the pop charts."
More commercial-sounding recordings followed, featuring movie themes with studio bands. In a 1990 interview with Down Beat magazine, Ferguson said of his commercial period: "I did enjoy the ‘Rocky' chart, but I can now look back at some of the other recordings I did in the 1970s and have to admit that I don't like some of them … I'm very proud that those albums were not my hits."
At the start of the 1980s, Ferguson began fronting his own fusion-funk band, High Voltage, which released two albums.
By the close of the decade, Ferguson had formed the Big Bop Nouveau Band, which in 1985 recorded "These Cats Can Swing," an album chock full of rising jazz stars.
Said Ferguson: "Stan Kenton used to introduce me every night when I did my feature by saying, ‘Here's a guy who will someday have his own big band here as he did in Canada.'
"I try to be that way with all the young guys in my band, encouraging them in their careers," he said. "I always say that I am only mad with people that leave my band if they're not successful afterwards. I learned that from Stan."
Big Bop Nouveau alumni include Don Ellis, Chuck Mangione, Bill Chase, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Bob James, Joe Zawinul, Slide Hampton, Greg Bissonnette, Willie Maiden and Peter Erskine.
When not playing on stage with Big Bop Nouveau, Ferguson has taken to music education, often taking the time to teach music students in the communities in which he performs.
"When I was young I listened to as many different trumpeters as possible and tried to learn from each of them," he said. "If a student is a Maynard Ferguson freak, I immediately tell him to go out and buy some records by Dizzy, Miles, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and Louis Armstrong. I try to teach them that one of the funnest rewards of playing music is when you start to sound like yourself."
In February 2000, Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J., established the Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz Studies.