Thursday, September 21, 2006

One Final Trip to Birdland

There was always a certain energy in the lobby of anyplace that hosted a Maynard Ferguson concert (which, in my experience, was often a local high school; I've noted before that Maynard knew his target audience, and he tended to capture them at an early age and keep them throughout adulthood). That same energy was in evidence last night at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus, where the Maynard tribute concert was held. In fact, you could probably call this crowd a representative cross-section of every Maynard audience in the country, and there's little doubt that, like ourselves, people had converged upon UMSL from all points of the compass.

The usual table of gear was out front (How could I not think there would be gear? I was kicking myself later for not having enough cash for both the newest CD--M.F. Horn VI--and the obligatory custom T-shirt; I opted for the shirt and got to listen to my friend's CD on the flight home), along with a gallery of Maynard portraits, copies of which themselves were for sale. But the biggest attraction would be the music itself, along with the personaliities involved, and the opportunity to bid a fond farewell to someone who had given so much to all of us through his music and his legacy as a bandleader and launcher of young talent.

I don't even know where to start in terms of a rundown of this concert; I was half-tempted to just post the list of tunes from the program and who soloed on what tune, but nothing (not even the forthcoming DVD of the performance) can really do this evening justice, so I'll just list some of the highlights:
  • Wayne Bergeron, totally on fire all evening long. I see now why his nickname is "Waynard." His rendition of "MacArthur Park" was unbelievable.

  • Yet another kller lead player, Roger Ingram, tearing it up on a really cool arrangement of "Watermelon Man."

  • The realization that Maynard was indeed an international phenomenon, as personified by two special guests: Japanese trumpeter Eric Miyashiro and the Italian Andrea Tofanelli, both of whom were outstanding.

  • Two high-profile former sidemen, Steve Wiest and Denis DiBlasio (both of whom have also been guest artists at our jazz camp), exchanging friendly fire on "Superbone Meets the Bad Man."

  • A very clever solo piano tribute to Maynard, performed by Christian Jacob (who, it turns out, is also married to one of Maynard's daughters). I never would have imagined a successful melding of "Maria" and "Give It One," for example, but he pulled it off quite nicely.

  • Patrick Hession, Maynard's first lieutenant of recent years, hitting insanely high notes on several tunes. It really did go out of hearing range at times; somewhere on campus, a dog heard those notes and got a little bit hipper because of it. (And yes, I'd dig Hession's playing even if he hadn't linked to me a few years ago.)

  • The great Diane Schuur hitting Maynardesque high notes of her own on renditions of "Just Friends" and "Besame Mucho."

  • Getting to see so many UNT alums up there: Wiest, Keith Oshiro, Glenn Kostur, Chip McNeill, Ray Brinker, Mike Dubaniewicz, and of course the more recent members, Brian Mulholland and musical director Stockton Helbing, who did a fine job helping to put this night together.

  • The whole Ferguson family in attendance and getting recognized during the evening.

  • Ever imagine a version of "Chameleon" with 17 trumpets? I don't have to imagine that anymore....and, unlike what would be the case at most such gatherings, everybody nailed the high stuff.

  • A grand finale of "Gonna Fly Now" featuring the entire alumni contingency--around 40 people--on stage, followed (of course) by the play-on and play-off theme, "Blue Birdland."
Another great moment took place at the beginning of the second set (this concert was a marathon, going from 7:30 until nearly 11 p.m.), when a collection of video archives were shown. The clips went all the way back to a Stan Kenton appearance on the Ed Sullivan show back when Maynard was first with the band. (Seeing this footage made me realize why Maynard always went with an energetic young band during his days as a leader: When he started with Kenton, he was only a kid himself.) The video tour went all through the decades (driving the point home that, at least in terms of hair and clothing, the 70's really weren't very kind to anyone), with one of the funniest moments being when Maynard played with the entire Purdue marching band backing him up (he noted that "my accountant is going to freak out when he sees the size of the new band"). There were also some video clips interspersed throughout the night from people who couldn't make it in person, incluiding Arturo Sandoval and Paul Shaffer.

Even though the concert was billed as a celebration, it was evident that the guys on stage were getting pretty emotional when the final bar of "Blue Birdland" had been played; as Wiest would tell me after the concert, "it was graduation night for a lot of the guys up there." For those of us who had been sufficiently touched by the man's music, we could only imagine what the night was like for those who had been in the band over the years. But no matter what one's previous contact with Maynard, I doubt that anyone who was there last night, no matter how much they spent or how far they traveled to get there, would disagree that this was totally worth it.

And watching all those musicians on stage, I realized just how much Maynard will live on through the lives and music of his former sidemen; he sent so many of them out into the world that there's no way this legacy will ever die. I don't know who the next person will be who can pick up the mantle--the person who will combine chops and charisma in the way that Maynard did, all filtered through the heart of a true teacher--but maybe that person was in attendance last night.

I can't wait for the DVD...

Reviews of Maynard Concerts on The Musings of Kev:
Still Going Strong (2/26/06)
One More M.F.-ing Jazz Concert (2/17/04)

UPDATE: I missed this in my original tribute post, but check out this beautiful post from Steve Wiest on the Maynard message board. And here's a great article on Maynard from the Washington Post from a few weeks ago.

FURTHER UPDATE: This review has been linked in the official Maynard forum. Thanks to webmaster and board administrator Matt Keller for doing that! (And be sure and read the whole thread; among other things, someone takes the local St. Louis paper to task for not even reviewing the concert at all. I guess that's what we bloggers are for...)

ONE MORE UPDATE: And now it's been linked on the front page of Maynard's website. Thanks again for the links, Matt, and welcome to all those who are visiting from there.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review! A small matter, though: trumpet star Eric Miyashiro is an ethnic Japanese, of course, but born and raised in Hawaii. He's American through-and-through, although he now makes Tokyo his home.

Doug Walsdorf said...

The MF board linked your review--very nice. As someone in the third row, I can tell you the power put out by the 3 finale songs was simply amazing. My old roomie from NTSU went with me--both bigf MF fans since W.T. White HS in Dallas.

Again, very nice review.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, really can't wait for the DVD, now (since I was unable to make it to the event).

- Jittery Jim

Kev said...

Anon 11:58--duly noted. I only mentioned Eric's supposed origin because I could've sworn that the MC of the concert had said he was actually from Japan (emphasizing the international impact of Maynard's music). At any rate, he was great, and I stand (OK, I'm sitting) corrected.

Doug--welcome, fellow NT alum! Were you one of the ones on the 7:15 a.m Southwest flight back to Dallas the next morning? I saw a few folks with concert T-shirts on there with us.

Gary P. said...

Wayne and I exchanged some emails several months ago about the possibility of him playing a set with the TI Band. I've kind of put that on hold for now as we're waiting to see how the changes play out that the CCCC administration is making regarding the status of the TI Band and charging for tickets/renting the JAT/etc.

I hope we'll be able to bring him in at some point. He'd be a great guest to have for the Jazz Festival or Jazz Camp (hint! hint!)

Kev said...

Gary--until that point, here's something to tide us over: Wayne will be the guest artist for the One O'Clock's fall concert on Nov. 21 (a good night to have rehearsal cancelled? LOL).

Bob Leek said...

Sorry I missed it. Would have gladly made the trip to St. Louis. First saw MF live at Wolftrap in '74 with the big band, but had been playing his charts (some were bought thru Kenton's organization) in the Navy music program. Last saw him at Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis doing "Just Friends" with Bip Bop Nouveau. -- Does anyone have the chart for "Taps"? I'm working on a tribute set for the next Navy Musician Association reunion in Va. Beach next April.

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