The hardest part of playing the trumpet is the physical act of making the sound.
This week we’re continuing our exploration of instruments and focusing on the mighty trumpet and a few of its notable players, both historically and now.
Maynard Ferguson (1928 – 2006)
Amazing screech trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson was born in 1928. It would not be a stretch to call Maynard the most influential trumpeter in the medium after Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie. His energy and pyrotechnical efforts while playing lead and soloing were perhaps only equaled by Duke Ellington’s Cat Anderson; however, Maynard was a far more popular figure.
Born in Canada, Maynard dropped out of school at age fifteen to pursue music, and he performed and led a number of Montreal ensembles before heading south across the border. There, he found work with Boyd Rayburn, Jimmy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnett until he changed trumpet playing forever by joining the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1950. Although he never occupied the lead trumpet chair, his ridiculous ease in playing high on a number of Kenton features catapulted him to winning the DownBeat Magazine Awards every year of his tenure with the popular Kenton Orchestra.
From 1957-1963, he led his own big band called the Birdland Dreamband, and it featured the writing and playing of Slide Hampton, Don Ellis, Don Sebesky, Don Menza, Joe Zawinul, and Joe Farrell. This straight-ahead* ensemble created some fabulous music.
The 1970’s saw Maynard at his most popular–his album MF Horn 4&5 Live at Jimmy’s contained his signature “MacArthur Park” arrangement, and the albums Primal Scream and Conquistador were the best selling jazz albums during their time. The latter had a top 40 hit with the theme from Rocky–no mean feat for a jazz big band at that time.
Here’s “MacArthur Park”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Here he is playing “Gonna Fly Now”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Maynard spent the rest of his career vacillating between straight-ahead efforts with his band Big Bop Nouveau and more electronically based bands.
*straight-ahead jazz: jazz that followed the more traditional approaches of jazz, vs. incorporating fusion and/or a more rock approach (especially in the 60’s and beyond)
Tom Harrell (1946 – )
Trumpeter Tom Harrell was born in 1946 and began his career with gigs at age thirteen. After graduation from Stanford University in 1969, he joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Following his time with Kenton, he spent the next dozen or so years with Woody Herman, Horace Silver (he did five recordings with Silver), Lee Konitz, George Russell, and the Mel Lewis Orchestra. While a member of these groups, he still was called upon to arrange and play for the Peanuts television shows, as well as for recordings with Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Brookmeyer, Lionel Hampton, Bobby Shew, Joe Lovano, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, The King’s Singers, and Kathleen Battle.
Harrell spent the mid-late 80’s as a member of the Phil Woods Quintet, and his swinging lyricism was a great foil for Woods’ playing. It was really after this time that his solo projects received more notoriety. These groups range from pianoless ensembles, to one with two basses, to a 13 piece group performing the music of Ravel and Debussy.
Here’s an arrangement of “Sainte” by Ravel – after about a minute, you’ll hear the jazz influence kick in: https://www.pbs.org/video/
Harrell’s writing has also been heralded; in addition to the Peanuts’ contributions, he has written for Carlos Santana, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Metropole Orkest, and has created arrangements of Impressionist composers.
Unquestionably one of the finest hard bop players over the last 30 years, Harrell has had a busy and varied performing career.
From his Grammy nominated album, Time’s Mirror, here’s the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Ingrid Jensen (1966 – )
For the bulk of its history, jazz has been a boys’ club. While there have always been female vocalists, it has been traditionally a difficult road for a woman to perform instrumentally in this music. This is especially true with horn players, and the last few decades have thankfully seen cracks in this unfortunate norm. Born in Canada in 1966, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen is one such trailblazer.
After graduating from the Berklee College of Music, Jensen produced some highly lauded discs with her as leader; her debut album Vernal Fields received a Juno Award in 1994. After teaching in Europe, she returned to the states and joined the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Well travelled and recorded, Ingrid has been featured with Dr. Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, Terri Lyne Carrington, Frank Wess, the DIVA Big Band, and Cleveland’s Joe Lovano.
From her Juno Award winning album, here is “Spookum Spook”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?