In baseball parlance, one could say he went down swingin'. In July, 2006, less than a month before his passing at age seventy-eight, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson led Big Bop Nouveau and a handful of the group's notable alumni into a studio in Englewood, NJ, to record what is arguably his finest album in years, and one that presumably no one, least of all Maynard himself, suspected might be his last.
On the other hand, we'll never know if Ferguson may have had a premonition of some sort, as he clearly pulled out all the stops, not only playing remarkably well for someone his age (or much younger) but returning to his straight-ahead roots with an array of impressive charts by Chip McNeill, Steve Wiest, Denis DiBlasio and pianist/son-in-law Christian Jacob. In the notes, each arranger says he tailored his work especially to suit Maynard's temperament and strengths, the wisdom of which is apparent in the end result. The leader gets a healthy workout but is deftly supported by the ensemble and a number of other blue-chip soloists.
The One and Only opens with McNeill's zestful arrangement of Vincent Youmans' "Without a Song, featuring the leader on trumpet and flugelhorn, McNeill on soprano sax, trumpeter Serafin Aguilar, pianist Jeff Lashway and forceful drumming by Stockton Helbing. Wiest arranged "Besame Mucho and Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone, the former showcasing high-note maestros Ferguson and Wayne Bergeron (one of those celebrated alumnithe others are McNeill, Jacob, DiBlasio and Wiest), the latter sharp solos by Maynard, trombonist Wiest and tenor McNeill.
DiBlasio composed and arranged the charming "Vita Bella, on which Maynard's flugel and McNeill's tenor shine, and the rapid-fire "Dr. Fox, Ph.D, a double-edged salute to Ferguson's honorary doctorate from Rowan University and his nickname "The Fox from the Birdland Dream Band days (exuberant solos courtesy of Maynard and alto Mike Dubaniewicz). Jacobs' soulful "Lost Horizons (on which he solos superbly) refers to Maynard's favorite film, James Hilton's Lost Horizon, while DiBlasio's edgy "Surviving Soho alludes to a sardonic remark made by Ferguson during the band's hectic gig some years ago at Ronnie Scott's nightclub in London's infamous Soho district.
DiBlasio also arranged Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses, on which his baritone sax is heard alongside the leader's trumpet and Lashway's piano, and the standard "Darn That Dream. There's a cadenza near the end of that one wherein Maynard squeezes off one last improbable high note, evoking memories of his once-incomparable mastery and showing everyone present that even after sixty years he was still "the Boss. What a way to go.
Without a Song; Besame Mucho; Ain
Maynard Ferguson: leader, trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn; Patrick Hession trumpet, flugelhorn; Serafin Aguilar: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ken Edwards: trumpet, flugelhorn; Mike Dubaniewicz: alto sax; Chip McNeill: tenor, soprano sax; Denis DiBlasio: baritone sax; Steve Wiest: trombone; Jeff Lashway: piano; Brian Mulholland: bass; Stockton Helbing: drums, cymbals; Christian Jacob: piano (6).