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Battle Trumpet Galactica: Jazzman Maynard Ferguson has long been famous for his prowess on the highest notes around.

Maynard Ferguson keeps on swinging

By Andrew Gilbert

NO ONE HAS EVER accused Maynard Ferguson of exceptional taste, but then no one has ever denied he's one awesome trumpeter. When the Canadian-born hornman debuted with the brass-heavy Stan Kenton Orchestra back in 1950, he could play higher and louder than anyone in jazz (a skill that came in handy cutting through Kenton's often unwieldy charts). Over the years, he's led some excellent bands and recorded some very good music, though it was in the '70s that he became a household name with his atrocious recordings of themes from Rocky, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. While jazz fans were horrified by Ferguson's commercial recordings, young musicians were dazzled by his high-note prowess, and he influenced a generation of aspiring trumpeters.

The 70-year-old trumpeter is still capable of hitting the stratosphere, and in the last few years he has assembled Big Bop Nouveau, a fine straight-ahead group that swings with real energy. Throughout his career, Ferguson has demonstrated a good ear for talent. When he put together his Birdland Dreamband in the late '50s, Ferguson hired such top-flight improvisers as Slide Hampton, Joe Zawinul, Lanny Morgan, Joe Farrell, Bill Berry and Don Menza. Big Bop Nouveau also boasts some impressive sidemen. Saxophonist Matt Wallace and trumpeter Carl Fischer (from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) are both strong soloists. And trombonist Tom Garling, who's also responsible for many of the band's arrangements, released a fine CD of his own on Concord last year.

Ferguson keeps up a rigorous touring schedule, hitting a couple hundred one-nighters a year, and the band plays with the precision one would expect with all that practice. On his two recent Concord releases, One More Trip to Birdland and These Cats Can Swing, Ferguson leads the band through a program of jazz standards such as "Milestones," "Caravan" and "Manteca," as well as original material generated from within the group. What the arrangements sometimes lack in subtlety, the band makes up for with hard-charging spirit.

Maynard Ferguson with Big Bop Nouveau (Benny Velarde Mambo Combo opens) play Saturday (June 27) at 8pm at the Agenda Lounge, 399 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $18. (BASS)

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From the June 25-July 1, 1998 issue of Metro.

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