Cult Classic: Maynard Ferguson-M.F. Horn 4 and 5:Live At Jimmy’s.

The first time many jazz fans heard Canadian jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, was when he joined the when the twenty-four year old joined Stan Kenton’s new Innovations Orchestra in 1949. This was home for Maynard Ferguson for the next four years and was where he first came to prominence.

Suddenly, Maynard Ferguson’s star was in the ascendancy and this resulted in him winning the prestigious Down Beat reader’s poll for best trumpeter in 1950, 1951 and 1952. This was quite a feat as he was up against many top trumpeters, including Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. However, a year after winning his third Down Beat award, Maynard Ferguson left Stan Kenton’s employ and became a session musician at Paramount Pictures.

At Paramount Pictures, Maynard Ferguson soon became their first choice trumpeter and featured on forty-six soundtracks, including The Ten Commandments in 1956. However, his work at Paramount Pictures didn’t take up all of Maynard Ferguson’s time and he was still able to record with other artists. This offered another lucrative source of income for him. However, his contract with Paramount Pictures stated that he wasn’t allowed to play in jazz clubs. 

Some nights, Maynard Ferguson circumvented this band by using an alias, and playing in clubs under the moniker Tiger Brown or Foxy Corby. However, by then, he was becoming increasingly  unhappy about his lack of live performances and gradually became disillusioned with life at Paramount Pictures. As a result, he left Paramount Pictures in 1956.

Having spent February and March of 1956 recording Havana 3 A.M. with the Pérez Prado Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson was installed by Morris Levy as the bandleader of the Birdland Dream Band. This was a fourteen-piece all-star band that played at Morris Levy’s Birdland jazz club in New York. Alas, the Birdland Dream Band was a short-lived venture and only recorded two albums over the next year. After recording the two albums, Morris Levy’s dream of an all-star jazz band came to an end. However, many members of the Birdland Dream Band joined the new band that Maynard Ferguson formed in 1957. 

Having spent much of last few years working at Paramount Pictures, and a sideman, and then with the Pérez Prado Orchestra and the Birdland Dream Band, Maynard Ferguson decided that from now on, he was going to concentrate on his own band. While he made the occasional guest appearances as a sideman, Maynard Ferguson concentrated his efforts on his new band

Over the next three decades, Maynard Ferguson’s band featured some of the top jazz musicians of the day, and also, some the best up-and-coming musicians. When he came across one of jazz’s rising stars, he was more than willing to give them an opportunity to showcase their skills. They had plenty of opportunity to do so, and between 1957 and 1973 Maynard Ferguson’s band had released over twenty albums and once again, the bandleader’s star was in the ascendancy. 

By Tuesday the ‘10th’ of July 1973, forty-five year old Canadian bandleader Maynard Ferguson was regarded as one of the top jazz trumpeters, and was able to hold his own with the best in the business. That was despite fierce competition from Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry, Donald Byrd, Jack Johnson, Woody Shaw and Art Farmer. However, Maynard Ferguson had been around since the late-forties and had a wealth of experience and planned to put to good use at a very special lunchtime gig on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973.

The concert was part of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival, which had relocated to New York a year earlier, in 1972. Maynard Ferguson had been booked to play a series of gigs at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on West ‘52nd’ Street during the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. Although Maynard Ferguson was always busy recording and playing live, he was able to find time to play at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival. However, what Maynard Ferguson hadn’t planned on doing was recording a live album at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on the ’10th’ of July 1973. That wouldn’t have happened if some very special visitors hadn’t come to see him play live.

One of the hottest tickets of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival was Ella Fitzgerald concert at the Carnegie Hall. Many jazz fans struggled to find a ticket and the scalpers were doing a roaring trade that night. However, many within the music industry were fortunate enough to have a ticket. However, saxophonist, composer and producer Teo Macero was on business, and was at the Carnegie Hall to record the concert. He was joined by music critic Mort Goode and they witnessed a peerless performance from the Queen of Jazz that was one of the highlights of the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. After the concert, Teo Macero and Mort Goode decided to head to Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on West ‘52nd’ Street where they wanted to see Maynard Ferguson live.

Maynard Ferguson was now signed to Columbia, and had already recorded and released five albums for the label. That number would soon rise to six. When Teo Macero and Mort Goode arrived at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club they met a handful of Columbia executives, and got talking before Maynard Ferguson and his band took to the stage. They were spellbound during what was a barnstorming performance. 

That night, everything just fell into place during an almost flawless performance. Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club had brought out the best in Maynard Ferguson and his band. 

After the performance, Teo Macero, Mort Goode and the Columbia executives and went backstage to see Maynard Ferguson, and congratulate him on his performance. Soon, the talk turned to Maynard Ferguson recording a live album at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club during the 1973 Newport Jazz Festival. While that was a good idea, the logistics made this impossible.

Maynard Ferguson explained that he was only playing two more nights  at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club, and then, had to move on. He had a busy schedule and couldn’t even stay for an extra day to record a live album. This was a huge disappointment for everyone in the room. When Maynard Ferguson checked his diary, he realised that he could return a couple of days later on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973. Was this any use to Columbia Maynard Ferguson wondered?

Eventually, it was decided to grab the bull by the horns and record a live album at lunchtime at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973. It was the perfect venue for Maynard Ferguson to record a live album. That album became M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s which was released in 1974..

Having made the decision to record the live album that became M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s, the Columbia executives had to work out the logistic of recording the album. They needed the personnel with the knowledge and skills to record a live album. Teo Macero was given the job of producing the concert, and the necessary equipment would be in place for the recording of  M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s at lunchtime at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973. There was one more thing that was needed for a live album, an audience.

Selling tickets at short notice was impossible for the executives at Columbia. Ideally, they wanted the same type of audience that had been at Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club the first night they saw Maynard Ferguson. They were enthusiastic and excited but respectful of Maynard Ferguson and his band. That would’ve been the perfect backdrop for Maynard Ferguson’s live album M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s. However, after some thought Columbia executives came up with a ready-made alternative audience. The press and record company executives were invited to hear Maynard Ferguson and his band play a special two-hour concert that started at midday.

On Tuesday the ’10th’ of July 1973, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson was joined by the twelve members of his band on the stage of Jimmy Ryan’s jazz club on West ‘52nd’ Street. It was a multitalented band that featured a mixture of top musicians and also a number of up-and-coming players that was drawn from three continents.

Maynard Ferguson’s band featured three British musicians, including drummer Randy Jones, Pete Jackson who played electric piano and saxophonist and flautist Andy MacIntosh. They were joined by flautist and baritone saxophonist Bruce Johnstone from New Zealand, while Ferdinand Povel from the Netherlands was a flautist and tenor saxophonist. The remainder of the twelve strong band were American.

This included Rick Petrone who switched between acoustic and electric bass. In the horn section were Lin Biviano, Danny Cahn, John de Flon and Bob Summers who played trumpet and flugelhorn. They were joined by trombonists Randy Purcell and Graham Ellis, while Andy MacIntosh played alto and soprano saxophone and flute. This all-star band would accompany Maynard Ferguson during his two-hour session which was being recorded by Teo Macero.

As Maynard Ferguson and his big band took to the stage, they opened the show with a six-minute version of Pete Jackson’s Teonova which he had dedicated to Teo Macero who was sitting just off the stage recording the concert. As he watched on, Maynard Ferguson and his big band were soon showcasing their considerable skills during solos, vamps and when they played as one. Already, there’s an energy and intensity, especially when Maynard Ferguson plays with power as he unleashes a blazing and dazzling solos. Other times, his playing is slightly more restrained, but still full of emotion, as he and his big band set the bar high for the rest of the album. 

Maynard Ferguson and his big band then cover Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur Park. Initially they stay true to the original, before Maynard Ferguson’s trumpet adds a rueful, emotive sound. However, when the tempo increases, the track is transformed as it heads in the direction of jazz-funk, fusion, funk, Latin and rock. Bandleader Maynard Ferguson allows his band to shine as the track takes a series of twists and turns and enthusiastic audience enjoy this masterful reinvention of a classic track.

Pete Jackson’s genre-melting Left Bank Express bursts into life, and is six minutes of majestic rock-swing that is partly built around a pulsating Bossa Nova vamp. Whether it’s during the solos or when they play as a big band, the all-star ensemble reach new heights. After that, there’s no stopping Maynard Ferguson’s big band. Especially  during a cover of the standard I’m Getting Sentimental Over You. It takes on a beautiful, rueful, late-night sound, before giving way to a fast and furious swinging bebop inspired version of Don Menza’s Two for Otis. Following hard on its heels is the Maynard Ferguson composition Stay Loose For Bruce. It’s memorable bluesy, mid-tempo  track that certainly swings. So does Nice ‘n Juicy which heads in the direction of jazz-funk and fusion as Maynard Ferguson takes the big band sound in a new direction.

Mike Abene’s The Fox Hun is a breathtaking example of bebop where Maynard Ferguson and his big band play at breakneck speed. It’s followed by the bluesy Got The Spirit, a near ten minute track where Bruce Johnstone on baritone saxophone plays a leading role. There’s also a hint of fusion before the tempo rises and the big band stretch their legs. When they’re in full flight it’s a joy to behold and it’s no surprise that the enthusiastic audience make their appreciation felt. Closing the show was Blue Birdland where the horns swing, and Maynard Ferguson introduces the band before bidding the audience farewell.

The following year, 1974, Maynard Ferguson released his sixth album for Columbia, M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s to critical acclaim. It was a double album that featured ten tracks that lasted sixty-three minutes. M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s was an irresistible reminder of Maynard Ferguson and his all-star big band at the peak of their powers. 

The big band was led by composer, trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson, who in 1973 was one of the top jazz trumpeters. He led a multinational big band that featured familiar faces and new names who were talented and versatile musicians. This is apparent throughout M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s and finds the big band switching seamlessly between and combing musical genres. This included bebop, blues, funk, fusion, jazz, jazz-funk, Latin and rock. However, always, though, Maynard Ferguson returns to the big band sound which he reinvents throughout M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s. 

Nowadays, M.F. Horn 4 and 5: Live At Jimmy’s is regarded as one of the finest albums that Maynard Ferguson released during his Columbia years, and this cult classic is the perfect introduction to that period of the jazz superstar’s long and illustrious career

Cult Classic: Maynard Ferguson-M.F. Horn 4 and 5:Live At Jimmy’s.


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