Maynard Ferguson: Gonna Fly Now
Yes, Maynard Ferguson was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon; yes, he is irreplaceable; yes, he will be greatly missed, not only by his family, friends and fellow musicians but by music-lovers all over the world, among whom his name is as well-known as that of any jazz musician on the planet. We all know that. What bears repeating is that Maynard was much more than a remarkable high-note technician. He was first and foremost a jazz musician, highly proficient on a number of instruments including trumpet and valve trombone, and anyone who believes that he couldn't really "play jazz" is welcome to stop by my house anytime and allow me to disprove that misconception in a matter of moments.
So long, Maynard. Thanks for the memories, and for leaving behind so many marvelous recordings. You'll be with us as long as they are.
Meanwhile, Back at the Summit
Depressing as was the news about Maynard, life must move on, and so did we, flying first to Phoenix and then making the scenic two-hour drive northward to Prescott, home of the sixth annual Jazz Summit. This year's three-day event was of course dedicated to Maynard's memoryand to that of pianist / educator Clare Willey whose vision gave rise to the annual gathering and to whom this and future Jazz Summits are dedicated.
This was to be a special time for Betty and me, as we were staying at Jeanne Watkins' cozy Pleasant Street bed and breakfast with one of the weekend's stellar performers, pianist Bob Florence, his lovely wife Evie, and newlyweds Norm and Faye Tompach. When Summit organizer and former Stan Kenton lead trumpeter Mike Vax was a young man, Norm was his teacher. He and Mike remain close friends and are among the mainsprings of the Oakland-based nonprofit group, Friends of Big Band Jazz. Norm and Faye, who attended high school together some years ago (how's that for putting it delicately, Norm?), had been married for a week when they arrived in Prescott. Another fascinating story, but one we'll save for a more auspicious time.
The Summit, as usual an explicitly spontaneous and laid-back affair, began at noon Friday with a free outdoor concert at Prescott's picturesque Courthouse Square, with a handful of the weekend's headliners on hand to help jump-start the charming series of events. Ace trombonist Scott Whitfield, in from California, was among a group that included Vax, local trumpeter Steve Annibale, guitarist Jack Petersen, pianist Les Czimber, bassist Bob Lashier and drummer Larry Kantor. Later, they were joined by Florence, trumpeter Marvin Stamm, drummer Gary Hobbs and vocalist Blaise Lantana, music director at radio station KJZZ in Phoenix, who also served as the Summit's co-emcee with Al McCoy, the voice of the Phoenix Suns NBA team.
Highlights included Bird's "Au Privave," Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" (vocal by Whitfield), Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Meditation," Lantana's vocal (to her own lyrics) on Gerry Mulligan's "Bernie's Tune," and Stamm and the group's more-than-appropriate salute to Maynard, "There Will Never Be Another You."
Friday evening's concert at the Elks Theatre was preceded by the annual fund-raising dinner at the Hassayampa Inn for Friends of Big Band Jazz, a sold-out event that helped offset a mildly disappointing turnout for the concert. Less than half the seats in the Elks auditorium were filled, and even more of them were empty following a first set that ran for more than two hours. As a result, not many were there to hear and enjoy Florence's spine-tingling solo medley, "In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning" and "When I Fall in Love," which raised the curtain after intermission. Their loss.
The concert was opened by the Sedona Jazz on the Rocks Youth Band (whose pianist, Nick Day, was quite impressive), and the noontime performers were augmented by bassists Dwight Kilian and Tom Winker and tenor saxophonist Tony Vacca, whose smooth and swinging approach was invariably pleasing to the ears. The concert ended with everyone onstage for a fiery rendition of Juan Tizol's "Perdido."
Saturday morning was free (Norm and I listened to some CDs I'd brought along), while the afternoon was devoted to brief performances at the Ruth Street Theatre by high-school bands followed by clinics and workshops with the professionals. Taking part were groups from Chino Valley and Prescott high schools (Prescott's No. 1 and No. 2 bands) and the splendid Ellington ensemble from Tucson's Arizona Jazz Academy, ably directed by Doug Tidaback.
AJA was especially admirable on its two numbers, Ellington's "Such Sweet Thunder" and Fletcher Henderson's driving arrangement of the standard "Avalon." Not to disparage anyone else, but the AJA boasts an excellent trumpeter/trombonist in James Williams. If he can read as well as he plays, Williams seems destined to enhance some topnotch college band in the near future. I'd planned to write something more about the AJA after seeing them in Prescott last August; I'll have to redress that oversight this year.