Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Boss

I first heard Maynard Ferguson play in person in 1972 at Springdale (PA) High School. Maynard and his band gave a clinic before the concert for local high school musicians, who hung on every word like Moses listening to the burning bush. The last time I saw him was a couple of years ago, when his band shared a gig with Glenelg (MD) High School’s excellent jazz band. In between were more good times than I can recite here, even though I think I can remember every one, given a little time to think about it.

I remember sitting in line at 5:00 one cold morning in February, 1974 so I’d have enough gas to get to the Holiday Inn in Blawnox, PA. Maynard did three shows that night, even played baritone sax (well) on one number while Bruce Johnstone soloed on bass clarinet.

Ron Melani and I got stuck in traffic and were almost late for the gig at the Grand Ballroom of the Duquesne University Student Union. The students wrecked the joint every time Duquesne graduate Randy Purcell soloed. Maynard made sure it was often.

The whole trumpet section came down front to play the opening to “Be-Bop Buffet” up an octave at the Moonshadow bar in Atlanta; Maynard closed with a scary cadenza on “Pagliacci.”

Another Holiday Inn, this one in New Kensington, PA, where Maynard signed my copy of MF Horn between sets before heading off to his room to practice.

And my favorite: the Casino Theater in Vandergrift, PA, February, 2002. I drove the Sole Heir up from Maryland to see the gig with my parents. I didn’t expect much, but thought it might be cool thirty years from now if she could say she’d seen Maynard live, since she’d taken up the horn that year. The old man blew the walls down. Even better was the look of shock and discovery on the Sole Heir’s face as she became baptized into the Church of Maynard. Most parents spent their whole lives looking for ways to bond with their children; I spent fifteen bucks. Thank you, Maynard.

That’s not all I have to thank him for. Maynard Ferguson was one of the two people most responsible for me trying to make a career out of music. My lack of success is not held against him; far from it. I went places, met people, and did things I would never have done otherwise, in part because Maynard (and Doc Severinsen) got a high school kid so jazzed about his instrument.

I’m not here to get maudlin and start whining like John Lennon or Elvis died again. What I’ll remember most about Maynard, more than the shock at hearing him play unimaginable things (even though I’d heard him do something similar just a few weeks before), was the fun. More than the fun I had; the fun he had. No one ever had a better time at their work than Maynard Ferguson. He was still touring eight months a year at age seventy-eight. His last musical act was to record a new CD just a couple of weeks before taking ill for the last time.

Maynard played first trumpet on the soundtrack of The Ten Commandments. (In a trumpeter’s irony, Herb Alpert played drums.) I saw it noted somewhere on the web that Gabriel has now been bumped down to second trumpet.

Maynard was a big deal before I was born, so as far as I’m concerned, he’s always been there. His passing severs one more connection to my youth. (Careful now, you’re teetering on the edge of the Great Maudlin Swamp.) The good news is, thanks to recordings, I can pull up any phase of his career to keep me company: the early years, when he did things I still shake my head at; his middle years, when he set the hook so deep in me during my teens and early twenties; and most recently, when I can listen to a man in his sixties and seventies play and not feel bad over the erosion of his skills, mainly because it’s obvious he didn’t, and there’s still so much left.

What I think most of when I listen to Maynard is how much fun it must have been to be able to do what he did every night. Not just playing for a living; I did that for a while. I mean to know that every night he might do something that would amaze not just the audience, but the guys on the bandstand. The looks that were exchanged when Maynard would catch an eye on a night when he was really feeling it and give an expression as if to say, “listen to this.”

Fun’s fun; there’s a lot more to being a pro. Check out a video on YouTube and see the concentration on his face, the physical effort. James Brown is called The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, but no one ever left more of himself on a stage than Maynard did every night. A showman to the end, his last recording will be released after his death; for Maynard, there’s always one more show.

(For another, even better, take, read David Von Drehle's tribute from Saturday’s Washington Post.)


Arizona came one step closer to properly caring for its at-risk youth this month, finally granting the Desert Flower Correspondent her counseling license. It was not a hasty decision; she rolled up enough other certifications that she now has more letters behind her name than in it. These last are, for her, the sweetest.

I know this because I have been privileged these last five years to be her friend and occasional confidant. We met during difficult times for both of us, and moving through things that could have become crises without the right person to listen and make constructive suggestions. Or not. I knew she’d be a great counselor because she has an innate ability to know when to talk and when to shut up, qualities I have yet to master.

Our sole contact has been through the Internet, with occasional phone calls. We could quite possibly be in the same room some time and not know it unless we knew to look. That’s okay, because we’ve seen things in each other that people who only deal with corporeal presence would never think of.

So if you need help getting over a hump, or know a kid who is about to make some bad decisions because some parents make it their life’s work to set kids up to do so, get yourself to Tucson. I know someone there.

LYG, BDF. (Don’t bother asking; this is like Carol Burnett tugging on her ear. If you don’t know what it means, I’m not going to tell you.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Volatile Mixture of Sports and Religion

Note to all Cleveland residents:
It has been a week since any Browns' center has been injured, retired, or suspended for drug use. Forget the chickens and rabbits; sacrificing the goat worked.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Floyd the Roid

For those of you who are somewhat out of the sports loop, American bicyclist Floyd Landis recently was stripped of his victory in this year's Tour de France for failing a performance-enhancing drug test with superhuman levels of artificial testosterone. Since then, Landis has seemed less like Lance Armstrong than George Bush, with his reason du jour for going to war in Iraq.

With the cooperation of the Crazy Like Me Correspondent, The Home Office has uncovered the

7. All men's testosterone levels were elevated when they heard Christie Brinkley might be available.

6. Hearty pre-test breakfast of Rocky Mountain Oysters.

5. Someone substituted one of Lance Armstrong’s samples.

4. Dehydrated from strict training regimen of binge drinking.

3. High levels of artificial testosterone run in his family.

2. Mennonites use testosterone for Communion instead of wine.

1. Shook hands with Barry Bonds right before giving the sample.

Why only seven and not ten, you ask? You get what you pay for.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Actor Rob Schneider has announced that he will never work for, or with, Mel Gibson, after Gibson's recent drunken, anti-Semitic tirade. Good for you, Rob. Way to put your money where your mouth is. A leading part in a major Mel Gibson production was probably just around the corner, and you'd never have to do the What's-His-name by the copier or Deuce Bigalow shtik again.

I'm with you man. So much so that I'm announcing on this blog that I will never, ever work in any capacity with Mel Gibson ever again. Fuck him.

All together now. "Attica! Attica! Attica!"

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Breaking News

To the best of my knowledge, no Baltimore Ravens players have been arrested today.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Passion of the Mel

Mel Gibson asked Jewish leaders to help him to heal the rift caused by his allegedly anti-Semitic comments because, “it’s the Christian thing to do.” Gibson went on to say that he is “not a bigot. Hatred of any kind is against my faith, the one true faith,” and that he bears no ill will to any other faith, as he believes that eternal damnation and burning in hell are sufficient punishment.

In a related story, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed Gibson to be an honorary Muslim, and declared he was ready to forgive Gibson’s many years of being an infidel in recognition of the actor’s efforts to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims.

In Washington, president George W. Bush named Gibson Special Envoy to the Middle East, charged with solving the current crisis in Lebanon. “Who better to send?” Bush said. “Them Arab types don’t like talking to women, so Condy was kind of in over her head from the git-go. Mel speaks their lingo, and the Israelis figure he owes them big time. He’s the perfect choice.”

All Democratic Senators voted against Gibson’s confirmation, except Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, who declined to comment when asked why he voted against his party on such a sensitive issue. A spokesman said the Senator was being rushed to Walter Reed Army Hospital for an emergency rhinoplasty for injuries sustained when President Bush stopped walking without sufficient warning.