I saw Maynard Ferguson in Keller tonight, and I have to say that it was one of the best shows I've seen him do in several years; he seemed to be in better health than anytime in recent memory, and he put on a particularly strong performance.
I've seen Maynard a gazillion times, going back to my undergrad days, and the four most recent times have been in just a little over three years (the 2004 show was reviewed here). At nearly 78 years of age, it could be totally understandable if Maynard had lost a step or two; indeed, I had been concerned about his condition the last few times I'd seen him. But tonight, he was "on" in a big way.
I've noted before that Maynard has a certain M.O. when it comes to his recent shows: He always plays at an area high school, where he knows he'll draw a young, energetic crowd that will go well with his young, energetic band (and will also totally eat up every screaming high trumpet note from himself and his first lieutenant, Patrick Hession). He always closes the main portion of the show with a comprehensive medley of his best-known hits, and he'll always come back for "one more trip to Birdland" as an encore.
After a couple of opening small-group tunes (from trombonist/musical director Reggie Watkins and drummer/UNT alum Stockton Helbing, who sounded great), the rest of the Big Bop Nouveau band took the stage, followed by the man himself. From Maynard's first note, there was something different about tonight; not only did he look like he'd lost weight, but his sound had a renewed sense of power and vigor that had seemed to have diminished in recent years. People who had come here last year had told me that he had been particularly haggard during that show, but tonight he was back; it's as if twenty years had just vanished from the calendar.
The set contained a few new (at least to me) tunes; most impressive was a fiery Latin arrangement of Cole Porter's "I Love You," which featured some amazing horn section work (I'd be interested in seeing their charts, just to find out how they get such a big sound out of six horns--alto, tenor, trombone and three other trumpets). A few of the usual gags had been retired, and the hit medley was longer on some tunes (especially "Pagliacci") and shorter on others (most notably "Hey Jude," which didn't send the trumpets into the audience for the first time in recent memory).
As always, the band is filled with top-notch players, including some with whom I was familiar (UNT alum Brian Mulholland on bass, and the aforementioned Helbing) and a few new faces (alto saxist Julio Monterrey and pianist Jeff Lashway, one of the older guys I've seen in MF's band in a while). During the hit medley, Maynard handed off quite a few of the screaming parts to Hession, who nearly brought down the house on "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." But nobody begrudges the master his moments of relaxation; he's earned the right to rest on his laurels a bit and let the younger generation take over the mantle. Besides, he'd always come in eventually and let loose with plenty of great and fiery moments himself.
I'm really glad that Maynard is doing so well these days, and I hope to see many more shows like this one. No matter whether someone was a seasoned listener like myself or was seeing him for the first time, this performance definitely delivered. Same time, next year?
Another link in the chain, perhaps: Two years ago, when I did my review of this show, I mentioned getting to shake hands with Patrick Hession when he came out into the audience on "Hey Jude." Much later, I found out that he linked to my review on his website. I wonder if I'll get a repeat mention now...