Friday, April 27, 2018

Maynard Ferguson-"Superbone Meets the Bad Man"

"Maynard Ferguson? He's that high note trumpet freak who played those over the top arrangements of crappy pop tunes." That's the Maynard Ferguson stereotype a lot of people, including jazz critics who really should know better, have.

Granted, Maynard did play his share of over the top arrangements of crappy-or at least mediocre-pop-pop tunes. The album this cut is from, 1974's Chameleon, includes, for instance, an unlistenable treatment of Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City". But Maynard did 60-some albums in his own name, and the vast bulk are at least good. Some, like the ten-CD Mosaic set of Maynard's Roulette output (late 50's-mid 60's) are justifiably seen as classics, and will run you a good $500 should you like to get it on EBay.

That Roulette era band featured players such as Joe Zawinul, Don Ellis, Jaki Byard, and Joe Farrell, and included writers Slide Hampton, Ernie Wilkins, Mike Abene, Willie Maiden, and more. As much a fan as I am of "competitors" Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Woody Herman, Terry Gibbs, etc from that period, Maynard really did have the best band, for both players and writers.

(Roulette, by the way, was very possibly a Mafia front-"roulette"-gambling, get it?), but Maynard and Count Basie both recorded there, and the sound quality was most excellent for its era. Ferguson supposedly was not paid for his output but likely was not inclined to protest vehemently.

All that said, to the track at hand. This, as noted, is from 1974's Chameleon album ("Chameleon" being the hit tune from the pen of Herbie Hancock). It was at this point that the record label (Columbia-now Sony) pushed Ferguson to go commercial in a way that was far less successful artistically than the earlier MF Horn albums. The remaining Columbia albums (Maynard allowed his contract with the label to expire around 1980) were typically half good cuts with Maynard and his band, bad ones with MF and a whole crapload of studio guys. On more than a few of these, Ferguson wasn't even mixed prominently, which he may've been thankful for.

On "Superbone..." Maynard plays his own-design valve-slide trombone opposite Bruce "Bad Man" Johnstone on baritone sax. Here Ferguson belies his high note trumpet player image and gives us some very swinging playing on that superbone. Great stuff.

One day a good biography of Ferguson will be produced, covering his whole career-teen aged bandleader in Montreal, the Kenton years, his tenure as Principal Trumpet at Paramount studios, the years in Europe, etc. One of the most important bandleaders in jazz and one of the 20th century's great multi-instrumentalists deserves no less. 

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