Review of "MAYNARD!" by Ralph Jungheim
September 5, 2009
By Matt Keller

MAYNARD! book coverIn 1978, Ralph Jungheim sat down with thirty people (mostly musicians) who knew Maynard Ferguson, and rolled tape. Ralph's new book, "MAYNARD!", collects those interviews and gives the reader thirty different perspectives on Maynard Ferguson the man, musician, and bandleader.

Though all of these interviews were recorded in 1978, the subject matter discussed goes as far back as 1947 or 1948, to what may have been Maynard's first American gig. The book (a 240 page paperback) is arranged chronologically, placing musicians with the earliest Maynard associations first, and putting those who were still on the band in 1978 (such as trumpeter Stan Mark) last.

A little over ten years ago, Dr. William F. Lee released an authorized biography of Maynard, called "MF Horn: Maynard Ferguson’s Life In Music". Jungheim himself reviewed this book for in 1998, saying "Sixty years of this Canadian-born phenom’s musical life in a mere 256 pages. With little and/or nothing about those sometimes equally colorful aspects of his personal life."

Clearly, Jungheim set out to put some of the "colorful aspects" of Maynard's life on the record with this project. The thirty perspectives in this book are quite varied, and sometimes they even contradict each other. There is a common thread of respect and admiration throughout each testimonial, although many of the interviewees do not shy away from personal or career difficulties that Maynard ran into from time to time. This book simultaneously reinforces Maynard's reputation for being super-human "When I worked with him he never missed that double high C. No, he never missed. To make it at all is astounding. He never got to the climax and fluffed it. Never." (Bill Berry), and reminds us that he was a human being "That 'Ridin High' session was a mess. Maynard decided to do the whole thing in one day, which was a mistake, obviously. Maynard wasn't quite in his top form and it's a lot of pressure and takes a lot of endurance to do an album like that in one day." (Lew Tabackin).

Some of the interviews shed light on events or recordings that have become Maynard lore over the years. For instance, Charlie Barnet recalls the recording of "Rhapsody in Blue":

That "Rhapsody in Blue" recording was one take. We had finished what we were going to do and had some time left and Jim Conkling was producer on the date and he said, "You got anything else you want to throw in here?" And I said, "Yeah." So we did the "Rhapsody". And that was it. It was one take. No, outside of one wrong - a little baritone note. Manny Albam made a false entrance. Just a little "boop," like that. Otherwise, it was perfect.

Over the course of these thirty sets of recollections, a few themes emerge: Maynard's talent came naturally to him. Maynard gave everything he possibly could to every audience in every performance. Maynard was not a bandleader that put a high priority on discipline or rigidity, but he did not tolerate negativity on his band. The 1960s were a turbulent time in Maynard's life and career, and it took him a few years to regain his footing. Maynard staged an enormously successful comeback in the 1970s, blending traditional jazz with contemporary music to create a style that would keep young people interested in his recordings for generations to come.

This is an absolutely compelling read for Maynard fans that are interested in learning more about Maynard, from the musicians who played with him in the first 30 years of his career. However, the picture assembled here is incomplete. In fact, Maynard had nearly 30 more years of performing and recording after these interviews were conducted that included a Grammy nomination, induction into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame, and his return to a more straight ahead bebop-influenced big band sound in the late 90s. Nonetheless, this book provides a fascinating verbal accounting of the first half of Maynard's recording and performing career.

MAYNARD! is a 240 page paperback published by Buster Ann Music in 2009, and includes interviews with Charlie Barnet, Shelly Manne, Bud Shank, Don Ellis, Rufus "Speedy" Jones, Lanny Morgan, Don Menza, Lew Tabackin, Bob Summers, Stan Mark, Dennis Noday, Lynn Nicholson, Joe Mosello, Mike Migliore, Peter Erskine, and many others.

"MAYNARD!" is available in the Maynard Ferguson store.