Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jazz Trumpeter Maynard Ferguson Dies

Jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, known for his soaring high notes and for his hit recording of "Gonna Fly Now," which lent the musical muscle to the "Rocky" movies, has died. He was 78.

Ferguson, who lived in Ojai, Calif., died last night (Aug. 23) at Community Memorial Hospital of kidney and liver failure due to an abdominal infection, friend and manager Steve Schankman said. Ferguson's four daughters, Kim, Lisa, Corby and Wilder, and other family members were at his side when he died.

"Someone just said, `Gabriel, move over to second trumpet,'" Schankman said from his St. Louis office. "He was the last of the greats. That era is closed. There is no Kenton, no Basie, no Ellington, and now, no Ferguson."

Born into a musical family in Montreal, Ferguson began playing the piano and violin at age 4, took up the trumpet at 9 and soloed with the Canadian Broadcasting Company Orchestra at 11. He quit school at 15 to pursue a career in music.

The next year he was leading his own dance band, the first of a number of big bands and smaller ensembles he eventually fronted in a career that produced more than 60 albums and three Grammy nominations.

Ferguson, also a much admired teacher, became identified with ear-piercing power and dizzying high notes that he was still able to play with precision. He was named Down Beat magazine's "trumpeter of the year" three times.

"My instrument is a thing of pleasure, and I play it only because I enjoy it," he once said. "The most important thing is doing what feels right for me." The trumpeter -- who stood just 5 feet 9 -- credited yoga with enabling him to harness the full capacity of his lungs and routinely hit a double-high-C.

As with many esteemed jazz players, mainstream success largely eluded Ferguson. But he scored a top 10 hit with his version of "Gonna Fly Now," and the single spawned a gold album and a Grammy nomination in 1978.

"I knew it was going to be a hit," he once said of the Bill Conti composition. "Sylvester Stallone was in the studio when we recorded it," punching a speed bag to the rhythm of the song.

"If you listen very close to the original recording, you can hear in the mix the sound of him hitting the small bag," Ferguson said.

Billboard - AP

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