April 8, 2005
Twenty years had passed since I last saw Maynard Ferguson. As a jazz saxophone player, I was always in awe of his ability to keep a stream of extremely talented musicians filling the seats of his Big Bop Nouveau band. I was concerned about his ability to play as he approaches his 77th birthday, but those concerns were put to rest when he played his first note.
Before Maynard took the stage, a couple of his band members with new CDs played a couple of songs each. Drummer Stockton Hebling (yes, that’s his real name) gave a preview of his skills, only to surpass this demonstration later in the concert. Musical director and trombonist Reggie Watkins also gave us a taste of his new release, and his incredible technical and musical skills got the crowd ready.
Then came the Boss. Sporting a cast on his wrist and older than I expected, Maynard walked on with the same confidence that indicated he was still the leader of the band. His playing time was limited, and the notes were not as high as they were 20 years ago, but the notes he played still had that rich, broad tone that only a trumpet master can produce. His skill as a musician has been surpassed by his skill as a music leader. He has put together a band of young, brilliant musicians who play with enthusiasm, skill, smiles, and laughter.
The show was in the 600-seat Beethoven Hall, and we found third-row tickets once we arrived in town. I hear there are no bad seats in the auditorium, but that was no concern to us, as we were close enough to hear them clear their spit valves.
Maynard’s trademark was his ability to play very high notes. Now he has a young stud, Patrick Hession, who plays his parts on a medley of classic tunes that made Maynard famous, like Gonna Fly Now (theme from Rocky), MacArthur Park, and others. But the thrill of the night was when they finished with Birdland, and Matt Parker made his tenor sax sing like few can do it.
I had fun – just plain giddy fun sitting there with my son (a trumpet player) and watching his eyes light up as he experienced something he had never seen. I understood great jazz before the concert. We appreciated it together for hours after the concert. Catch Maynard Ferguson if he comes to your town. Or drive 5 hours with a kid and watch a new dimension in music enter his world in a matter of a couple of hours.
From journal San Antonio on a Whim