John Salmon writes about the Rifftides review of Maria Schneider at Jazz Alley:
I’m amazed that anyone could write a piece on big bands and not mention Maynard Ferguson’s band, which is on the road 200 days a year. How is it possible to do a piece on big bands and ignore the one touring band still out there? Yes, there are larger groups that don’t tour (MF has 10 pieces, including himself), but who’s reaching the public, especially young people, for jazz?
Many critics like to dump on Maynard, but almost any MF album, other than the last few he did for Columbia in the 70’s, (when Freddie Hubbard and many other jazzmen were doing similarly dubious albums), is at least good. Some, like his Roulette era albums of 1958-1962, and are unrivaled by anyone, including Basie and Ellington. I love Maria Schneider, but name one kid drawn into jazz by her music. And many of the guys in her bands came up through MF’s bands.
Maynard’s drawn many thousands, as players and listeners, into this music. Before you scoff at Maynard as a player, note that Ellington wanted him on his band, and asked him to join several times. The question is, will jazz be “art music” solely, with no broad audience, or will it be music that retains at least enough popularity to employ all the music school graduates you spoke of?
I could list all the great players that came up through Maynard’s bands, but just talking about tenor players there are-Wayne Shorter, Joe Farrell, Don Menza, Carmen Leggio, Nino Tempo, Lou Tabackin, Mark Colby…and writers including Bill Holman (who you mentioned), Quincy Jones, Al Cohn, Johnny Mandel, Don Sebesky, Mike Abene, Jaki Byard, Kenny Wheeler, and dozens of others.
I’m upset about this, because the failure to mention Maynard is symptomatic of the cliquish nature of writing about the music. It’s not “Maynard or Maria”-it’s both. What about Chris Botti? Far too popular to get a mention here, no doubt. A fine player who deserves all the kudos he can get…and a far more interesting player than Wynton Marsalis.
Jazz’s endless taste wars are foolish and destructive. Dixie v. swing? Why not both? Bop v. swing? Why not both? Coltrane or Getz? Why not both? Why do we have to choose? For a while there, no critic had a word to say about any tenor player not named Coltrane.
Why not also promote talented people who are producing good music and who are able to maintain what little public interest there is in jazz? Unless there’s simply more snob appeal in being a fan of, and writer about, unpopular music.
I disagree with little in Mr. Salmon’s comment, but I am not content to be set up as the straw man he wants to knock down.
I did not write “a piece on big bands.” I wrote a piece on Maria Schneider’s big band, prefacing the review portion with a few remarks on changed economic circumstances that generally keep big bands off the road.
My not mentioning Ferguson is not “symptomatic of the cliquish nature of writing about the music.” It is symptomatic of the fact that Ferguson does not now have a big band, regardless of its name (Big Bop Nouveau). Ten pieces add up to a medium-sized band, fourteen or more to a big one.
“Many critics” may “like to dump on Maynard.” I do not. Nor can I recall ever “scoffing at him as a player.” As an owner-operator of trumpets, I would be drummed out of the trumpet corps.
If Mr. Salmon thinks I fall into the category of critics who categorize music and promote “endless taste wars,” he hasn’t read much of my stuff. I invite him to do so.
Greg Heins says
Wasn’t it Coltrane who said that “If we all could sound like Stan Getz, we would.”?
John Salmon says
Well…you did mention eleven (by my count) big bands. You didn’t didn’t mention the one touring big band out there, Ferguson’s. I’d argue that a permanent, touring band (even if it’s a little smaller than most large groups) deserves the label “big jazz band” perhaps more than a group cobbled together for an occasional record session and an occasional gig. Ever notice how the personnel of all the New York big bands, and all the LA big bands, overlap?
And of course, how big a band “sounds” isn’t simply a function of how many pieces it has, just as in an orchestra 20 violins don’t always sound like twice as many as ten.
John Birchard says
I’d like to call attention to Maynard’s seldom-mentioned skills with the valve trombone. Most folks admire his trumpet work, but few seem aware that he can play the hell out of the larger instrument.
As Salmon points out , MF has headed some fine bands – but my favorite toured in the mid-60s… with a rhythm section of Mike Abene, Ron McClure and Tony Inzalaco and such able reed players as Ronnie Cuber and Lanny Morgan. The word “smokin'” comes to mind.
George Ziskind says
Doug: All the recent back-and-forth about Maynard Ferguson reminds me of this: in the early 1960’s I took advantage of a friendship with Tadd Dameron and was learning to dabble in arranging. I wrote an original for Maynard’s band and mailed it to him cold. I titled it “There’ll Be Some Changes Played” (for young’uns in the audience, that was supposed to be a pun on the name of an old standard by W. Benton Overstreet, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.”)
A couple of months later it was returned to me, nicely wrapped, with thanks, by one of the guys on the band. And on Maynard’s part, some wag had crossed out the word “Some” in the title, and replaced it with “No.”