Reflections on an interview with Maynard Ferguson

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 But Ferguson put me at ease in minutes in the faded, decades-outdated space that passed for ESU’s backstage dressing room.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

Music for Earth Day


Earth Day, lichen, moss, environment
© 2016, Patrick F. O’Donnell

Did you know Earth Day was originally the brainchild of a former plastics industry guru? No? Neither did I.

That was in 1969, and the gentleman, John McConnell, had designed one of the first plastic plants years before on the West Coast. He was reportedly fascinated by science and nature, concerned for the environment, and worked on developing a plastic using walnut shells, as well as finding ways to reuse waste products.

McConnell’s Earth Day was March 21, the spring equinox. And although we now recognize the first official U.S. Earth Day, established by Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970, the U.N. and many countries around the world celebrate both days.

Earth Day sparked the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, as well as laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and more.

It’s frightening that after all the progress we’ve made in the years since, the current administration is hell-bent on gutting the rules and regulations that protect our earth in favor of protecting the pocketbooks of already rich businessmen and women.

There’s hope, though. Today’s March for Science proves that.

In honor of Earth Day and The March for Science, I put together a YouTube playlist of songs that revolve around science and the environment. Some might be obvious choices, others perhaps not, but all celebrate, mourn or caution us in some way.

Clicking on the first video below should start the playlist, and they should play through in order.



In a vinyl frame of mind

On turntables, music and the hi-fi life

Last year I wrote a really fun column (Can Vinyl Get My Groove Back?) about a void in my life: the absence of a turntable.

Last night I finally took the plunge and bought one.

Yes, vinyl can get your groove back.

I didn’t opt for any of the hyper-expensive options I researched in my column, though — out of my budget and pointless, given my mid-line, older receiver/speaker setup.

Instead, I was kind to my wallet and bought a Sony PSLX300USB. That’s a fancy way to say it’s a simple stereo turntable that (if I were so inclined) can “rip” albums to a digital format. I can now play 33s and 45s, it sounds good and, bonus: I realized I kinda missed the hiss and crackle of those wax platters.

There was one thing I’d forgotten, though: How just the slightest bump will send the needle flying. There is some value to digital formats that can’t skip.

Despite that, I’m really excited about my turntable – I’ve missed the incredible, large-format album artwork, homey sound of vinyl and the warm fuzzies I get from putting the needle on the record.

Next stop: A record shop for some new-to-me hot wax.