A Letter from Los Angeles
“ Some of the giants who came to pay their respects to 'the boss' -- specifically those with trumpet in hand -- are monsters as well, and their earsplitting high notes ricocheted and reverberated through and around the California Ballroom ”
October 6. 20004
Nearly forty-eight hours have elapsed since I returned to Albuquerque from Los Angeles, and my feet have barely touched the ground. It's not often that one has the chance to spend a long weekend walking among and even conversing with honest-to-goodness giants. But thanks to impresario Ken Poston and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute, I was given that chance at Stratospheric, an electrifying four-day alumni reunion and all-star tribute to the incomparable "monarch of the high c's," trumpeter / bandleader Maynard Ferguson. While the world at large may not look on Maynard, Slide Hampton, Lanny Morgan, Bill Holman, Don Menza, Bobby Shew, Eddie Bert, Don Rader, Mike Abene, Dick Hafer and the many others who took part in the event as giants, I do. To me, they are giants because they have so greatly enriched my life that I am unable to summarize in mere words the enormous impact their towering presence has had, as expressed through the uplifting spirit and power of America's music, Jazz.
Some of the giants who came to pay their respects to "the boss" specifically those with trumpet in hand are monsters too, and their earsplitting high notes ricocheted and reverberated through and around the California Ballroom at the LAX Four Points Sheraton, all but stripping the paint from the walls in a series of breathtaking exchanges the likes of which have seldom been heard anywhere. Standing ovations were not the exception but the norm as Shew, Rader, Stan Mark, Dennis Noday, Wayne Bergeron, Bob Summers, Scott Englebright, Roger Ingram, Adolfo Acosta, John Chudoba, Mike Bogart, Pete DiSiena and the incredible Eric Miyashiro engaged in hand-to-horn combat and showed no mercy as the audience of roughly three hundred-fifty enthusiasts roared its approval.
Maynard was there too, a seventy-six-year-old wellspring of energy who attended many of the concerts, took part in several of the eight panel discussions and herded the latest edition of his nine-member Big Bop Nouveau through its paces in Sunday evening's grand finale. The high notes no longer make dogs cringe and run for cover as in the old days, but Maynard showed on a number of occasions that there's more than a liter of fuel left in the tank. Personally, he remains every inch the showman, snapping off clever one-liners that left his audience howling and gasping for breath.
But I am getting somewhat ahead of myself. Perhaps we should start at the beginning.
The four-day homecoming got under way at 10 o'clock Thursday morning, September 30, with the first of three films documenting various landmarks in Maynard's career. This one, entitled "The '50s," included silent home movies shot by drummer Shelly Manne and trombonist Eddie Bert; an appearance on Ed Sullivan's television show Toast of the Town on which Maynard plays "Maynard Ferguson," the dazzling Shorty Rogers composition written especially for him; two excerpts from the Dean Martin / Jerry Lewis TV show; another from a television production of Cole Porter's Anything Goes (with Maynard's silhouette representing the leading character in "Blow Gabriel Blow"). Afterward, most of us in the audience strolled outside to see and hear the first of four noontime concerts held poolside by college bands, this one showcasing the Cal State-Fullerton ensemble directed by Chuck Tumlinson. The band was quite good, boasting an excellent trumpet section and strong soloists, as were the stylish charts by Tadd Dameron, Neal Hefti, Bob Mintzer, Don Sebesky, Quincy Jones, Mike Abene and Alan Baylock.
Next up was the first of eight panels, canvassing the early Charlie Barnet / Stan Kenton years with moderator Kevin Seeley and panelists Bert and saxophonist Dick Hafer. Buddy Childers and Pete Rugolo, who were scheduled to appear, couldn't make it (nor could saxophonist Herb Geller who was to lead his own trio and was greatly missed). One of the best stories concerned the Barnet band's late-night stop at a rural diner where Charlie noticed one of his tunes was on the juke box. "Hey, that's one of our songs," he said to the proprietor. "I'm Charlie Barnet." "Yeah, and I'm Franklin D. Roosevelt," the skeptical owner replied. Whereupon Barnet went outside to the bus, where the band members were sleeping, and yelled, "Okay, everybody out!" He promptly marched the sleepy sidemen inside the diner where they played "Cherokee" for the startled proprietor.