Trumpet icon Maynard Ferguson has been around the world with his legendary jazz recordings, pop hits and a half-century of touring, but now he and a number of other distinguished jazz players are getting “Stratospheric” at an upcoming Los Angeles jazz celebration.
The four-day Stratospheric Jazz Festival, which will culminate with a performance by the Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau on the final day of the festival, is scheduled for 10 a.m. to midnight Thursday, 9 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday, September 30th to October 3rd, at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel, 9750 Airport Blvd., Westchester.
Tickets are $325 for an all-inclusive four-day pass or $10-$40 per individual festival event.
The event will feature concerts, panel discussions, lectures and film screenings.
Ferguson is now 76 years old, full of anecdotes about sharing the stage with Miles Davis like they were yesterday, and hails from a generation where many of its most memorable musical figures are long gone. But one could never guess this from looking at his current tour schedule. He plays about 200 concerts a year, rivaling the energy of any young pop act looking to break its major label debut.
Stratospheric will be four days devoted to Ferguson, his abundance of sidemen, and the influence their creations have had on the world of jazz over the years.
The Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau will perform the final concert of the festival at 8 p.m. Sunday, October 3rd, but Ferguson says this won’t be just another tour stop for him.
He plans to attend all four days of the festival, meet and greet old friends and fans, enjoy the various jazz concerts and perhaps even lecture on some jazz history.
“I’m going to be sure and catch some of the wonderful other bands like The Bill Holman Band (5 p.m. Thursday, September 30th) and the Christian Jacob Trio (2:15 p.m. Sunday, October 3rd),” Ferguson tells The Argonaut.
Ferguson became a star in the early 1950s with the Stan Kenton Orchestra when jazz was still at the helm of pop music.
His stardom grew with his own orchestra, which released popular albums and did film scores for milestone motion pictures like The Ten Commandments.
Big Band jazz has never not had an audience, but there’s no question its pop culture influence waned with the rock ‘n’ roll revolution in the 1950s and ’60s. Ferguson was one of the few big band greats that has been able to translate his music into gold records and pop chart hits in the rock-drenched decades of the ’70s and ’80s, rough times for aspiring jazzmen.
He had a gold album with Conquistador and a top ten single “Gonna Fly Now” in 1978, which was the theme song of the movie Rocky.
He took a turn away from pop and shifted back towards his early jazz roots in the late ’80s when the Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau ensemble was formed — the group name he still performs under to the present day.
The only difference between the pop musicians and the jazz musicians is the type of musical education and training the individual players had, says Ferguson.
He says he enjoyed doing the pop music projects, but being a jazz band is what’s closest to his heart.
Ferguson has been so influential in jazz music that the jazz program at Rowan College has been officially named the “Maynard Ferguson Institute of Jazz.” The institute is run by flutist/sax player Denis DiBlasio, a former member of Ferguson’s ensemble, who will also be performing at the Stratospheric festival.
Why does jazz get a much more scholarly reputation and scholarly treatment than other forms of music?
“Because we don’t make as much money,” says Ferguson with a laugh.
But truth be told, becoming a master jazz musician often takes a serious interest and effort that is cultivated from a young age, says Ferguson. The musical structure and depth is much more complicated than much of rock ‘n’ roll.
But Ferguson says he holds no grudges against rock ‘n’ roll.
“I enjoy it,” he says. “I did a cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water,’ which may not quite be rock ‘n’ roll, but is pretty darn close.”
Ferguson says that the popular dominance of rock ‘n’ roll didn’t hurt his career, because he was already established and had a fan base, but it’s likely that some younger jazz guys may have some resentment.
“It’s one thing to have resentment if you simply hated it, but I didn’t hate it. I liked it,” he says of early rock.
Ferguson says he also became influenced by the cultural music of India after he spent time there.
His early band experience came playing in his brother’s band — Percy Ferguson and the Montreal High School Serenaders — in his home town, one of the first Canadian areas to bring an instrumental music program into its high school curriculum.
“Percy and me went on to become professional musicians. The rest of the guys in the band all got rich,” Ferguson says with a laugh.
With the American Stan Kenton Orchestra and later with his own ensemble, Ferguson decided that a life on the road was the life for him.
“I was born to be a gypsy,” says Ferguson.
He preferred touring the world playing jazz concerts even over being in the studio creating hits, he says.
Through his early touring during the era of jazz clubs, he was able to become friendly with fellow legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, he says.
Jazz music was one of the earliest ways the racial barrier was broken in the South, says Ferguson.
“I remember there being a little anxiety when I invited my father-in-law from Oklahoma City to see us play in the early 1950s,” says Ferguson. “I told him, ‘If it’s gonna bother you to see black men with beautiful blonde girls, then don’t come.'”
Since those days, he has kept up a rigorous tour schedule, sometimes doing 200 concerts a year.
The age of the jazz club is over, where performers could earn a living booking two weeks of paid dates at clubs internationally, but Ferguson still keeps a full schedule of concert hall engagements.
Neither road weary nor tired of his life as a jazz performer and hitmaker, Ferguson says he still has some room left for accomplishment in his musical career
“I’ve still got some areas to explore in the upper register,” says Ferguson about the high octave, high octane style of trumpeting he’s famous for.
Reservations, (562) 985-7065.