I was digging through my “archives” [i.e., a bunch of musty old newspapers in a cardboard box in my office) in search of something when I stumbled on this story from college.
Unfortunately, it focused more on Maynard Ferguson’s backstory and the concert than the interview I got to do with him beforehand – and that’s the part that left the biggest impression on me.
I was a nerdy, nervous college kid way who felt way out of my depth in the presence of a man who simply exuded greatness. But Ferguson put me at ease in minutes in the faded, decades-outdated space that passed for ESU’s backstage dressing room. He was humble, polite, funny, and very conversational.
He asked me if I played anything, and when I told him about my high school jazz band days on valve trombone he instantly treated me like we’d been friends for years; peers, even (hah!). We talked about that unmistakable seven-note bass line in “Birdland,” emptying spit valves, the buzzy feeling your lips get after playing for a long time, and the often-overlooked value of music education in schools.
As I reread the story tonight, I got goosebumps remembering that I bonded over brass with such a legend, and didn’t even realize the significance of it at the time. I do know that for quite awhile afterward, I dreamt of playing again, missing it with a deep ache.
One of the other things we talked about was his practice of meditation (he was just finishing up when I arrived to do the interview, and I had to wait outside. I think he even had some candles lit on the vanity table when I walked in). He told me how he’d learned to use yoga, long before it was “cool,” to help his breathing and how it helped him hit those high notes he was so well known for. Later, in concert, he literally blew us all away and made our ears ring for hours afterward. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
So, in tribute to Maynard, click on the link below for a hair-raising version of “Birdland.” If you want the true Ferguson experience, crank it up to 11 and put your ear next to the speaker when he solos (Note: this will cause deafness. If there truly are trumpets in heaven, I’m sure he’s leading the seven-angel band — the man could blow down walls with a single note.)
#maynardferguson #jazz #birdland
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