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.
Leon Breeden and The One O’Clock Lab Band presented a jazz clinic at TMEA in 1975. They made it into a record and I only heard of this album about a year ago. My friend, Roger Dismore, who was playing lead alto, remembers it well. This was the band with Lyle Mays on piano, and this band was the first college band in history to be nominated for a Grammy.
I heard a rough, unedited tape of Lab ’75 at Roger’s house in May of 1975, and that album (which was still months away from coming out) convinced me to go to North Texas and try out for the One O’Clock. There were going to be four out of five trumpet openings the next year, so I thought it was now or never for me to try it. I made second chair, 40 years ago this month, and was very glad I went. We went on to play the music from Lab ’75 most of the next year when I was there. The music on Lab ’75 was written entirely by one student, Lyle Mays. The band would get to vote on what music to put on their albums and that’s how good everyone thought he was. This is a great, historic college band on this record.
One of our greatest jazz musicians is heard playing classical music rather than jazz every Sunday morning.
Roy Eldridge had his head turned to say something to Dizzy just when the picture was taken. He felt terrible about that. Roy is over on the right side of the picture.
We lost Leon Breeden 4 years ago today. A few of us had gone to see him that day in the hospital. Jim Riggs, Dan Haerle, my wife-Susan, and I stood around his bedside talking to him for a little while. He could not speak, but could look at us and squeeze our hands.
I think it was important we could be there (three of his ex-jazz students, Susan, and his grand daughter) because two of his sons had already died, he had lost two wives, and his daughter was in the Denton State School for the mentally handicapped. My last words to him were, “We love you”.
Thirty minutes later as we were doing home, we heard he had died just after we left. Susan and I started working on this tribute to him when we got home, which they played at his memorial service, as it turned out. He had a marvelous life, and I’ll be posting more about him as time goes by. I was so glad we had been there to send him off. His jazz family had been such a big part of his life that it felt right to have us there together at the end.
The words by him at the start of this video were given as part of his retirement speech the first day of his last year to teach. These days, I can’t drive through Denton without thinking about him, and wishing we could go by for another visit with him.