“Dancing Nitely” (1955) and (1973) Maynard Ferguson

“Dancing Nitely”

Composed and arranged by Bill Holman.

Recorded by Maynard Ferguson and His Orchestra for EmArcy Records on November 10, 1955 in Los Angeles.

Maynard Ferguson, first and solo trumpet, directing: Buddy Childers and Ray Linn, trumpets; Bobby Burgess and Milt Bernhart, trombones; Herb Geller, alto saxophone; Bill Holman and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Bud Shank, baritone saxophone; Lorraine Geller, piano; Ray Brown, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums.

The story: Walter Maynard Ferguson  (May 4, 1928 – August 23, 2006) was a Canadian trumpeter and bandleader. He came to prominence in Stan Kenton’s orchestra in the early 1950s before forming his first standing big band in 1957. His bands often served as stepping stones for talented young musicians. Ferguson was noted for his ability to play in the very high register of the trumpet. He could also play several other instruments well.        

Ferguson was born in Verdun (now a part of Montreal) Quebec. Encouraged by his mother and father (both musicians), he started playing piano and violin at the age of four. At nine years old, he heard a cornet for the first time in his local church and asked his parents to buy one for him. When he was thirteen, he soloed with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra. He was heard frequently on the CBC, notably featured on a “Serenade for Trumpet in Jazz” written for him by Morris Davis. He won a scholarship to the Conservatoire de Musique du Quebec a Montreal, where he studied with Bernard Baker from 1943 to 1948.

Ferguson dropped out of the High School of Montreal when he was fifteen to pursue a career in music, performing in dance bands led by Stan Wood, Roland David, and Johnny Holmes. Although trumpet was his primary instrument, he also performed on other brass and reed instruments. He took over the dance band formed by his saxophonist brother Percy, playing dates in the Montreal area and serving as an opening act for touring bands from Canada and the U.S. During this period, he came to the attention of American bandleaders and began receiving offers to go to the U.S.

In 1948, Ferguson moved to the United States, intending to join Stan Kenton’s band, but it no longer existed because Kenton was on a hiatus, so Ferguson played with the bands of Boyd Raeburn, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnet. (The Barnet trumpet section is pictured below: L-R: Rolf Ericson, Doc Severinsen, Ray Wetzel, Ferguson, Johnny Howell.) Ferguson was featured on Barnet’s recording of Jerome Kern’s classic melody  “All the Things You Are.” The recording enraged Kern’s widow and was withdrawn from sale.(1)

In January 1950, Kenton formed the Innovations Orchestra, a 40-piece jazz orchestra with strings. After the folding of the Barnet band, Ferguson was available for the first rehearsal on January 1. One of the Orchestra’s recordings was named “Maynard Ferguson,” one of a series of pieces named after featured soloists. When Kenton returned with a 19-piece jazz band, Ferguson continued with him at third chair with numerous solo features. Notable recordings from this period that feature Ferguson include “Invention for Guitar and Trumpet” (composed and arranged by the young tenor saxophonist Bill Holman), “What’s New?,” and “The Hot Canary.”

In 1953, Ferguson left Kenton and spent the next three years as a session musician at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. He appeared on 46 soundtracks, including The Ten Commandments. (Above: Maynard, in striped shirt, in the Hollywood studios – mid-1950s with trumpet heavyweights L-R: John Best, Conrad Gozzo and Ray Triscari.) He also played on several other non-Paramount film soundtracks, usually those with jazz scores. Ferguson can clearly be discerned on several soundtracks from the time, including the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis films “Living it Up” and “You’re Never Too Young.” He still recorded jazz (as on the recording session that produced the 1955 version of Bill Holman’s “Dancing Nitely” presented here), but his Paramount contract prevented him from performing in jazz clubs. This was something he circumvented by appearing under such aliases such “Tiger Brown” or “Foxy Corby.” Although he enjoyed the steady income afforded by his position at Paramount, he was unhappy with the lack of live performance opportunities and left that studio in August of 1956. (2)

Ferguson began leading the Birdland Dream Band in Manhattan in August of 1956 for several months, then returned to Los Angeles to lead another all-star band for a few more months. His first permanent 13-piece band was in operation by March of 1957. It played regularly at Birdland in New York, and toured. Ferguson retained his association with arranger Bill Holman in this band, and in addition used arrangements by Willie Maiden and Slide Hampton. The band achieved substantial popularity rather quickly, finishing second to Count Basie’s band in the 1959 Down Beat readers’ poll. Among the musicians who were associated with Ferguson from the late 1950s into the 1960s: trumpeters Rolf Ericson, Bill Chase and Don Ellis; trombonist Slide Hampton; pianist Jaki Byard, and arrangers Don Sebesky and Don Rader.

By the mid-1960s, Ferguson was finding it difficult financially to maintain a touring 13-piece band full-time. He began to take gigs as a soloist, gradually phasing out his big band. He moved to England in 1967, and eventually formed a big band there comprised initially half of British and half of American musicians. This band toured extensively, including in the United States, and gradually evolved into a loud, rock oriented ensemble that provided a showcase for Ferguson’s stratospheric trumpet playing on various rock tunes, and the theme from the feature film Rocky. Scattered in were a few jazz-based arrangements. (I saw this band on a freezing night in the mid 1970s when I was in school in western Ohio. I knew little about jazz at that time, but was impressed by Maynard’s trumpet playing, as well as the musicianship of the band he led that night.) Ferguson had moderate success with the jazz-rock format through the 1970s and 1980s, as he continued playing many dates at colleges and universities.

The music: The 1955 performance of “Dancing Nitely” presented here is a delightful swing arrangement of a simple theme created by Bill Holman (shown above left in 1960), using the chords of the venerable early jazz tune “Jada,” which was composed in 1918. The ad hoc band Ferguson gathered to make this recording was comprised of younger musicians, and swing era veterans like Georgie Auld and Ray Linn. The tasty piano solo is played by Lorraine Geller, wife of saxophonist Herb Geller, and the tenor saxophone solo is played by Auld. Maynard contributes a rather subdued Harmon-muted trumpet solo, and also robustly leads the brass through the climactic passages toward the end of the piece. It is clear to me in listening to this fine performance that Maynard had not yet arrived at a point where he understood how to present his trumpet stylings in an optimal way.That conundrum had been solved by the time he made the recording of “Dancing Nitely” presented below.

“Dancing Nitely”

Maynard Ferguson, solo and lead trumpet, with an orchestra comprised of German (and possibly other European) musicians. (This performance was recorded circa 1973, probably in Germany. The orchestra was conducted by Rolf Hans Muller. The LP album from which this recording was taken, MPS/BASF MB 20662, has absolutely no liner notes or discographical information.) I consider this a borderline felonious omission and an insult to the musicians who made the music on the album. (If any of my swingandbeyond.com friends have more specific discographical information about this recording, please send it to me. I will post it here and give you full credit.)

The music: Maynard Ferguson had been a remarkable trumpet virtuoso since his teens. (Trumpeters from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis respected Ferguson’s trumpet prowess. Maynard is shown at right with Armstrong in the early 1960s.) But it took him quite some time before he successfully and consistently coordinated his instrumental skills, his jazz expression, and his commercial/audience appeal. By 1973, he had played in front of various bands and various audiences enough so that he completely understood what worked for him musically and commercially. There is no doubt that his bravura trumpet playing was what most people thought of and expected whenever they either bought his recordings or attended his concerts. So he usually doled out what audiences wanted somewhat judiciously in his concert and recorded performances. In this 1973 recording, all of those factors are in perfect balance.

The original Bill Holman arrangement has been beefed-up and extended to include an excellent jazz solo by Ferguson on open trumpet, more aggressive drumming than on the original, as well as fine solos by the pianist (who also comps Maynard quite nicely), and tenor saxophonist . (I recall that Bruce Johnstone was in the Ferguson band when I saw it, probably in early 1974. He was playing baritone saxophone.) There is also a new and attractive tutti added after the tenor solo, played without any rhythm accompaniment. As on the 1955 recording, Maynard plays strong first trumpet, but here he goes off into the stratosphere, quite effectively and tastefully, in the finale. Ferguson’s approach to “Dancing Nitely” had evolved positively over the eighteen years between these recordings. Bravo Bill Holman and Maynard!

(1) I listened to a Charlie Barnet recording of Dennis Farnon’s arrangement of “All the Things You Are,” which was made on June 22, 1949 from a broadcast from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey while preparing this post. It includes a lot of very high, sometimes screeching Ferguson trumpet, and is a generally wild performance. I can understand why Mrs. Jerome Kern would have been aghast when she heard it. But what struck me was that in this performance, Maynard was using a vibrato that was very similar to that used by swing era trumpeter Charlie Spivak, which was definitely outmoded in 1949. He soon abandoned that vibrato. This arrangement was recorded by Barnet and Maynard for Capitol on August 16, 1949.

(2) The biographical summary for Maynard Ferguson presented in this post is based on the one for him that appears on Wikipedia.

The recordings presented in this post have been digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike, thank you! I’d forgotten how nice of a chart this is! I dug it out and will play with my band on our gig next month! Love the pictures too! Especially of Johnny Best, Goz and Maynard. Classic!

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