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  • "Rocky" Trumpeter Ferguson Dead at 78

    Mon, 28 Aug 2006 10:23:51

    "Rocky" Trumpeter Ferguson Dead at 78 - Jazzman played with greats, had a hit with theme to <I>Rocky</I>.

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    Jazz trumpeter Walter "Maynard" Ferguson passed away in Ventura, California last week at age 78. The cause of death was kidney and liver failure, the result of an abdominal infection. In addition to performing alongside a number of jazz luminaries -- including Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie -- Ferguson was perhaps best known for recording the enduring, Grammy-nominated theme to Rocky, "Gonna Fly Now." He led a big band of his own from 1957 to 1965, and was known for an intense style that included routinely chasing ambitious high notes.

    "Putting a Ferguson disc on the turntable evokes sensations ranging from walking into a high wind to being run down by a truck," says the Penguin Guide to Jazz. In their obituary, the Washington Post referred to Ferguson's output as "the polar opposite of refined jazz." He alienated some jazz purists by recording covers of The Beatles and Stevie Wonder -- not to mention that notoriously corny Rocky theme. But he also inspired impressive devotion; rare Ferguson recordings now fetch hundreds of dollars from record collectors.

    In July, the trumpeter completed a six-night, sold-out run at the Blue Note in New York. He had also completed a new album, which is slated for release later in the year.

    "Maynard probably couldn't have written a better ending if he tried," Ferguson's latest producer, Stockton Helbing, wrote on his website. "He went out playing amazingly, he recorded an excellent studio album, and he was at home with the ones he loved and cherished the most."

    A tribute concert for Ferguson has been planned for September 20th on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The concert is expected to include performances from a number of alumni from Ferguson's bands.

    --The ARTISTdirect Staff

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    Tags: Maynard Ferguson, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie

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