Maynard Ferguson: Live at the Top

Jim Santella By

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Maynard Ferguson
Live: At the Top
Brentwood Home Video

Filmed in 1974 for Public Television at the Plaza Hotel in Rochester, New York, Maynard Ferguson's big band went over the top with a powerful concert that would broaden its appeal to a wider audience. Staid fans from the big band era could enjoy the trumpeter's performance in the same manner that a modern jazz cat or a casual pop music fan could soak it up. Ferguson's band was exciting.

While the live recording setup buries several of the band's soloists amid the massive force of this fourteen-piece band, the whole product thrills with a memorable essence. The leader pierces through with his usual stratospheric grace. Check out his body language as he reaches for those high notes.

While Ferguson's vocal feature remains forgettable, his spirit on the horn proved a rich breeding ground for up-and-coming jazz artists. The final two selections on the program offer the best look at how the trumpeter could communicate through his orchestra when the musical arrangement suited them. Both "Gospel John and "Got the Spirit reach deep inside and pull out a heartfelt feeling from the band and its soloists. Ferguson, too, takes both of these selections to heart with a searing, soul-searching stride. His band of young lions came through with no holes barred.

I know several of these guys. They sure did look different back then (didn't we all). Hairstyles and fashion aside, this band served as an excellent training arena and proving ground. With Ferguson's band, many promising young jazz artists found their way and paid their dues up front. The band was hot, and created a sensational performance that night in Rochester.

Tracks: MacArthur Park; Chameleon; La Fiesta; I Can't Get Started; Gospel John; Got the Spirit (58:00).

Personnel: Maynard Ferguson: trumpet, leader; Bob Summers, Lynn Nicholson, Stan Mark, Ernie Garside: trumpet; Don Hans: trumpet, flugelhorn; Andy Mackintosh: alto sax; Brian Smith: tenor sax; Bruce Johnstone: baritone sax; Randy Purcell, Jerry Johnson: trombone; Alan Zavod: electric piano; Rick Petrone: acoustic bass, bass guitar; Danny D'Imperio: drums.

Program notes: Directed by Jim Dauphinee; 58 minutes. Special features: photo gallery; interview with Gregg Dispenza, "Being There ; audio clips from Carnegie Hall performance (25 minutes); biographical slide show with audio.

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