Right at Home
He has been known to soar to the high notes and to lead his large ensemble into energetic musical waters. He visits India once a year and has been one of Ojai’s local luminaries since moving there in 1974, lured in part by Krishnamurti’s presence.
He is Maynard Ferguson, famed jazz trumpeter and bandleader, who made a name for himself in the ‘50s, found some commercial success in the ‘70s and has worked his way into the 21st century nicely.
Sunday afternoon, with his mobile, mid-size vehicle Big Bop Nouveau, Ferguson will give a concert at Libbey Bowl, his almost-literal backyard. The 72-year-old musician, an ever-affable sort, said that when he is home between tours “I can hear the music from my house. It’s a great local gig.
“Very often, I try to start my tours in California whenever I can. That way, we do our rehearsals, putting the band together for the tour, for about three or four days. We go down to the Ojai Art Center and take that over for rehearsals. I love it here, and the Libbey Bowl thing is great, because people come and bring their kids. It’s just a nice scene.”
Ferguson was born in Quebec in 1928 and cut his teeth on jazz while studying classical trumpet for a solid musical foundation. Returning to Montreal still has the feel of a homecoming for him.
“It’s a wonderful town,” Ferguson said. “One of the great moments in my career, I feel, was blowing out the Olympic flame in the Montreal Olympics. . . . Montreal is . . . very alive. You can have a wonderful dinner at 1 a.m. The jazz festival is wonderful, too.”
One of two musical sons of school principals, Ferguson found himself on the cusp of the jazz education movement in the late ‘50s, first as a member of the Stan Kenton band and then with his own group. He remembers a time when schools--long before the current crunch in music education--would have “the marching band, the concert band and the jazz band. In the early years, they decided jazz was a four-letter word, so they called it stage band.”
Education is still important to Ferguson, and Sunday’s concert is a benefit for the Nordhoff High School music department. In another school connection, Ferguson often engages in talent scouting while visiting schools, filling the ranks of Big Bop Nouveau that way. He likes the stripped-down format, with 10 players instead of the more standard count of 16 in most big bands. For one thing, it allows each player to stretch out.
“With all the young gladiators coming out of these great schools, . . . I know they don’t want to sit and play fourth tenor all night long and never have a solo. And so the small big band thing is just so much better as far as the spirit of the band goes, the fun, the creativity and all that. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still love to hear the five trombones and the five saxophones of Kenton, but I really prefer the looser jazz format of the small big bands.”
And then there is the obvious economic leanness of a smaller band, at a time when the logistics of touring with a large ensemble can be daunting. “With the economic thing, I can’t complain as far as myself goes,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been very fortunate. But certainly, we don’t see a whole gang of new big bands out there, and I wish there was.
“I was delighted to see our singer friend, Harry Connick Jr., having a big band. He had a lot of good players, who had either been with me before or have been with me since. We try to get the best young talent that we can.”
All roads lead back to Ojai for Ferguson, who has become a fixture in town when he is not out of town. “When I used to do the concerts here at Libbey Bowl,” he said, “I was kind of anonymous until the first time I did it. In other words, I could wear old jeans when I went downtown to get a bottle of wine. All of a sudden, I’m that guy who plays the trumpet. Ojai is small enough that people do get to know you real fast. You can get lost in New York and Chicago, but it’s a little different here.”
In other words, he has been discovered, a world citizen in his own hometown.
Maynard Ferguson and Big Bop Nouveau Band at the Libbey Bowl in Ojai, 3 p.m. Sunday; $16.50 adults, $10 students and free to children 8 and under; 646-1197 or 646-1872; www.ojaiday.com.
Academy Notes: The Music Academy of the West’s concert series officially kicks off Saturday night at the Lobero Theater, with the annual gala alumni concert. This year, the guest is Lotfi Mansouri, now head of the San Francisco Opera. Mansouri once graced the academy’s hallowed, wooded halls, and now, like so many who pass through the institution, is helping to define the music scene on a world-class scale.
Music Academy of the West, Alumni Concert-Season Opening Celebration; 8 p.m. Saturday; Lobero Theatre, 33 Canon Perdido, Santa Barbara; tickets: 963-0761; season brochure: 969-4726; Web site: www.musicacademy.org; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beached Jazz: One of the more enticing new jazz policies in the area is taking place up north at the Canyon Market at El Capitan beach, where they have had music and dinner shows for the past three seasons. What started out in the bluegrass and blues mode branched out to include jazz, with periodic visits from the group known as House of Jazz--featuring the Goleta-bred House brothers, Dan, Dougal and Dave on horns.
Last month, the group had a CD release party at the beach, and Saturday, they are featuring guest saxophonist Pete Christlieb, one of the finest tenor players on the West Coast. You may remember him from the “Tonight Show” and his solo on Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues,” but Christlieb spreads good jazz cheer and chops wherever he goes.
“House of Jazz,” featuring Pete Christlieb, from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday at El Capitan Canyon Market. Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for children, including dinner, or $5 per carload for music only. Dinner served from 6 to 8 p.m.; 685-3887.
Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.