morris mn - We're a community on the grand, seemingly endless prairie of the Upper Midwest. Empty, you might say? It's the epitome of richness, both in the overall environment and the hardy souls who populate. Morris is home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, a small public liberal arts college of distinction.
History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Unforgettable artistry of Maynard Ferguson
I remember once seeing a parade float for the Maynard MN community, about an hour before the start of the Glenwood Waterama parade. It was unattended. It would have been a wonderful photo-op for me, if only I had my trumpet.
The "Maynard" name was prominently displayed at the top. I could have filed this novelty photo away as a tribute to a trumpet icon. This individual left us six years ago.
You may remember the name: Maynard Ferguson. He was one of those artists who bridged the gap between pure artistry and popular appeal. His appeal among the boomer generation of high school musicians was huge.
His rather sudden death in 2006 left a void.
Touring as a musician was the only life he knew. Nevertheless he had a family. He recorded a tribute piece to his wife: "Go with the Flo." That was during the "direct-to-disc" phase of his recording (and yes, his wife's name was "Flo"). It was the kind of stable marriage that can contradict the musician's lifestyle.
Del Sarlette of Morris was another fan. Del and his wife Carlene are in the music business. There is some M.F. memorabilia at their establishment. The bursting forth of the Internet gives them a chance to connect with other members of "the fraternity."
I'm not really active doing this, but I do check out the official M.F. site sometimes. Del is a participant.
I think the time is coming when we just have to "move on" because of Maynard's passing. Problem is, there's just no new M.F. stepping out of the wings. Partly this is because he was a unique artist. Secondly, I don't think economics works with the idea of a traveling "big band."
Young musicians probably don't see the lifestyle as very appealing. In an earlier time I think it had a definite allure. As kids we thought traveling with Maynard would be ecstasy. "What else is there?"
But boys used to dream of running away with the circus too, a la "Toby Tyler." We would dream of playing baseball. Finally we were handed reality. Even us boomers had to land on our feet. Del and I were born at the height. Boomer fans would stream through the turnstiles to hear Maynard.
Maynard fans have recordings tucked away to re-live the past times. Maynard put out a series of albums with the "M.F." initials beginning in 1970. The album "M.F. Horn" was seminal and the essential building block. After that came albums identified by number: "2, 3 and 4-5."
The "4-5" was a two-record (vinyl) set, recorded "live" but maybe with an asterisk, as reportedly there was over-dubbing done later.
The M.F. organization got tired of numbers after 4-5. Along came the "Chameleon" album which had a firm rock edge. His foray into pop as opposed to pure jazz artistry grew. Dan D'Imperio took his seat at the drums, replacing the more jazz-oriented Randy Jones.
Maynard (a.k.a. "The Boss") got some jeers from the artistic community. His boomer fans thought the transformation was quite essential though.
We expected more of same after "Chameleon" but Maynard surprised us. He and his handlers decided they just had to join the disco realm! He achieved the closest he'd ever get to a pop "hit." This was his cover of the "Rocky" theme.
He then tried "Battlestar Gallactica" and "Star Wars." He did the original "Star Trek" theme which was put on two different albums, oddly. He even did the theme for the new "Star Trek" which didn't even make it onto an album.
All this stuff had the classic disco trappings from the mid-1970s. Perhaps I should write "infamous" disco trappings. The genre flamed out.
Maynard's star faded a little and he began recording for smaller labels, leaving disco totally behind. He had had his "run." His artistry ensured he would still have a fan base that sustained him. The pop phase could be acknowledged with a wink.
M.F. went "back home" to a quite pure form of jazz. His long-time fans who had been enthralled by his pop stuff were ready to go along. They (we) had matured, or at least I hope. The old corduroy pants might not fit quite as well.
Through it all Maynard traveled. Many of his gigs were at educational institutions. He played at our University of Minnesota-Morris twice.
By way of introduction, lest you not be aware, Maynard was a high-note specialist, wowing audiences. He led both big bands and combos. The combos might have been necessitated at times by economics.
The most devoted fans always felt the larger ensembles really allowed Maynard to flower. The combos could conjure up a "beatnik" motif.
Maynard's groups were known as a stepping stone for rising talent.
He was born in the "ghost city" of Verdun, Quebec, which I learn is now part of Montreal. His parents were musicians, which always helps. He heard a cornet in church at age 13 and got interested. I played a trumpet solo in church in my late teens but I doubt I inspired anyone.
It doesn't take much for a trumpet sound to fill a church sanctuary.
Maynard's career included countless stops on college campuses, ironic since he was a high school dropout! He got a plaque late in his career for his contributions to college-level music education. I have to smile. Hats off to those who simply go out and "do" things.
Maynard played a style of trumpet often called "scream." People not so fond of the style say "screech." I once heard our high school band director in Morris (the current one) say "screech." I can't blame her, because this isn't really a style you want to steer your students toward.
Ah, there's another big irony: the idea that Maynard with his highly idiosyncratic, unique style could be put forth as an example for young musicians. It seems to me a lot like showing a knuckleball pitcher to high school baseball athletes.
And yet the education establishment embraced him. Probably this is simply because he showcased traditional musical instruments. You know, saxophone, trombone, trumpet etc. It seemed a nice alternative to grinding rock guitars.
But Maynard certainly harnessed electronic amplification. I heard him in a concert in Willmar where he got way overboard on this. That was in the mid-1970s when kids demanded "loud" music. Today they may be paying a price with their hearing. ("What did you say?")
Kids could go wild at a Maynard concert. Del and I saw this (were actually part of it) repeatedly in the Twin Cities, mostly at the St. Paul Prom ballroom.
I attended Maynard's concert at Orchestra Hall in the midst of his disco "glory." Maynard was in his playing prime at that time. He couldn't have played better at Orchestra Hall. You want to put your best foot forward there.
Some promoters thought all this success could be parlayed into an arena type of setting. So it was tried at the old Met Sports Center, since razed, in Bloomington. The Mall of America is there now. Yes, I was there at the Met Center concert. It is remembered as a failure in terms of attracting an audience.
I remember Maynard playing well that night, not being disheartened or anything, although it seemed like a short concert. I remember him pointing upward just before reaching up to a particularly high note on "Stella by Starlight."
Here's a trivia question: Who was the "warm-up band" that night? It was "Matrix," a "Chicago" style (the group) ensemble. We all had a good time. I filled my car (my unforgettable '67 Olds Toronado) with friends from St. Cloud State University.
Maynard lost some of his physical command of his instrument over the last few years. If you took a friend to a concert you might say "Maynard isn't quite what he used to be, but you should know he's a legend."
His bands were good enough to be worth the price of a ticket. Since his passing, I'm not aware of any traveling groups even close to filling the void. The traveling "big bands" with traditional instruments might be R.I.P. The best they might hope for is to back up a big-name singer, like at a casino.
I had no camera handy for that day when I spotted the "photo-op" of the Maynard (community) float in Glenwood.
But Del was once able to achieve a novelty photo like this. He did it here in Morris. Holding up his trumpet proudly, Del had his photo taken under the "Massey Ferguson" sign (farm implements). "Massey" was close enough. Del used to joke this was Maynard's brother.
When posing, he presumably made sure no one was passing by to observe, lest they think he was nuts. But we're both boomers and in our lifetime may have done several things that seem "nuts" or avant garde or whatever.
Today kids just get lost in social media. No need to go on the road to find excitement as a musician. It's gone with the wind.
But the long-time MF fans can play recordings, close their eyes and imagine they're back at the Prom Ballroom, feeling the adrenalin flow as Maynard's band breaks into the theme song "Blue Birdland."
Click on the link below to read an earlier tribute post I wrote about Maynard Ferguson: