We were at a Maynard Ferguson tribute concert in Allen, TX a couple of years ago showing some of Maynard’s things we had brought down from the museum in Sherman. A lot of people who went to the concert had Maynard stories, and when and where they had heard him play, etc. I have to admit I only heard him play about four times in my life, yet some people had heard him hundreds of times. He was, after all, one of the greatest trumpet players of all time!
Imagine my surprise when an older man (I say that while I still can) approached me saying he had a live tape of Maynard playing in 1963. I really didn’t believe much of the story until he sent me a cd of the concert. He had to go home and transfer the tape he had made to cd, so it took a few weeks. When it came, I realized I was hearing music history and a tape almost no one had ever heard before.
As the man told me that night in Allen, the professional musicians union would not allow any taping of a live concert, for the protection of the musicians. So taping of any kind was forbidden. Because of that, these kind of tapes don’t exist, except that I was listening to one and you are, too, now. This is a buried treasure he had saved for about 50 years before he gave it to me. I think he wanted me to preserve and share it, which is what I’m doing.
In order to get the recording, the man had to climb up into the attic of the auditorium and drop down a microphone enough that it would record, but not be seen. He also had to haul up a reel to reel tape deck, which was very heavy in those days. Portable tape decks weren’t very available in 1963, or very good. This was a pretty good recording, although the distortion you hear at times is because his record level was set too low for Maynard and the band. Maynard and the band kept overblowing the recording levels he had set. That’s how much power the band and Maynard had that night. I did a little bit of editing to take out the distortion so you can hear Maynard, but just remember how far away the microphone must have been in a large auditorium. It’s not a bad recording, considering the location of the microphone.
Here’s what I think about when I hear this rare recording: Maynard was only 35 at the time, he was playing this hard every night on the road, this was just one tune on a two hour concert, it was the last tune of the first half, he was playing for his wife’s family, since they were from Oklahoma, and it was a normal Wednesday night. And there is a guy in the auditorium attic trying not to be seen, arrested, or thrown out! Think of what might have been up there watching and listening along with him. What a sacrifice he made so that we might have this music today.
Finally, some people may think Maynard’s studio or produced live recordings might be edited to make him sound better. Even though the musicians who have worked him say he could do this every night, this tape is proof of that. When you listen to his playing on this piece of music, he takes no short cuts, and never cuts a note short due to endurance issues. It’s all about the music, not his chops. That, to me, is the main difference I hear in Maynard compared to every other trumpet player who has attempted this piece, and there aren’t many who want to try it! Maynard was as good as you think, and he was really better than most all of us think. As a great studio musician once said to me, “The tape doesn’t lie.” This was how Maynard Ferguson sounded on a random night in Oklahoma in October, 1963, seven weeks before a tragic day in Dallas.