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Volume 12 (2020)

Jazz chronology has a long history, with great contributions made by such pioneers as Walter C. Allen in his magnum opus Hendersonia and continued by others including Ben Young (Dixonia) and Chris DeVito et al. (The John Coltrane Reference). In Allen’s time, producing this kind of detailed research meant paging through crumbling newspapers, tracking down rare copies of obscure periodicals, and spending hours squinting at microfilm readers in hopes of locating the occasional needle in a haystack. Fortunately, the modern age has introduced more and more digital tools that can assist the researcher. Digitized historical newspapers are easier to search and often more readily available than their print counterparts. These tools are becoming more widely available in libraries, and a large amount of chronology work can now be done remotely without ever leaving home. Of course, the compiling, checking, and editing work remains, but the payoff is still magnificent because the hard-won nuggets can be used again and again to confirm or refute other information from discographies or interviews. Chronology also serves as the scaffold for more detailed biographical studies. Too many biographies have already been produced without that necessary framework. Chronology gives us a window onto what happens between the record dates, providing a fuller view of the musician, his collaborators, and the venues where music is made. At its best, it is revelatory.

Which brings us to this volume’s entry. The big band that trumpeter Maynard Ferguson led in the late 1950s into the 1960s was remarkable for a number of reasons. It had a dual mission and succeeded at both. To hardcore jazz fans, it was a powerhouse of virtuosity and creativity. It showcased exceptional modern improvisors such as Carmen Leggio, Jimmy Ford, Lanny Morgan, Don Menza, Ronnie Cuber, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Farrell (just staying in the saxophone section); the rhythm section was explosive, with the likes of pianists John Bunch, Joe Zawinul, Jaki Byard, Mike Abene; bassists Jimmy Rowser, John Neves, and Gene Cherico; drummers Frankie Dunlop, Jake Hanna, and Rufus Jones, and featured charts by some of the best cutting-edge jazz arrangers, including Willie Maiden, Slide Hampton, Don Sebesky, and Bob Freedman. Simultaneously, Ferguson maintained the idea of attracting “civilians,” largely through the band’s dance repertoire and booked the orchestra to play high school concerts, country clubs, college proms, and ROTC balls in between engagements at nightclubs and festivals. It is also worth noting that the Ferguson orchestra was one of the last new touring big bands, in the tradition of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Buddy Rich. Unlike the Monday night ensembles that have (thankfully) kept large ensemble jazz alive since the 1960s, Maynard Ferguson worked primarily on the road, as can be seen in the detailed chronology that Thomas Herb has compiled. This first installment shows how Ferguson moved from being a top Hollywood recording studio player to the leader of a roaring big band that produced music that still excites six decades after the fact.

Maynard Ferguson’s Birdland Dream Band: A Performance Chronology of the Years 1956–1959

Thomas Herb

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