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Jazz legend performs at high school

April 11, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Tilting his trumpet to the sky, Maynard Ferguson shot notes like artillery at an energetic audience Saturday night at Martinsburg High School.

He closed his eyes during bursts of brassy inspiration. After each, he whipped his horn down in his left hand, like a home run hitter letting his bat drop after a mighty home run. He snapped his fingers, took a few dance steps, waved his right hand as a conductor and relaxed.

Ferguson, 75, and his Big Bop Nouveau Band smacked a few out of the park Saturday after the Martinsburg Jazz Orchestra livened the crowd with a smoking opening set of old standards.

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While the Martinsburg Jazz Orchestra sailed through "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Sweet Georgia Brown," Ferguson sequestered himself in a small office backstage to warm up his breathing. Ferguson said he's naturally flexible, so it doesn't take long.

It didn't take Ferguson long to break into the Big Band world almost 60 years ago. At the age of 16, he was part of a warm-up band as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and others brought their orchestras to Montreal, according to a biography of Ferguson.

Now, after so long, touring 9 1/2 months of the year is tiring, but never tiresome, Ferguson said, his trumpet resting on a towel before him.

"It's just like any artist, like a painter doesn't want to stop painting," he said.

Ferguson said he likes playing at high schools and colleges, which make up his schedule until the middle of May, when he goes to St. Lucia to work on a DVD project, then heads to England and other parts of Europe for performances.

It had been about 12 years since Ferguson last was in Martinsburg, said his tour manager, Ed Sargent.

Saturday's stop was a good way for Charles Parks, 71, of Martinsburg, to introduce his grandson, Christopher, to jazz.

Christopher, 15, a Martinsburg High School 10th-grader, said he's partial to rhythm and blues, but he's willing to give jazz a try.

With his warm-ups through, Ferguson slipped into his suit jacket, stepped on stage and dove into a physical, peppy sequence of high notes.

And he freely shared the spotlight. Musicians in the Big Bop Nouveau Band, who appeared about two generations younger, took turns in the lead. Ferguson gave all robust, grateful handshakes after their solo spots.

Ferguson amused the audience when he recalled how he recently ruined the introduction to a song. Instead of saying "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," he called it "Ain't No Sunshine 'Til She's Gone."

"Thinking of my first wife," he quipped, earning a rim shot.

Ferguson later led the band through a genetically altered version of "The Girl From Ipanema."

Proceeds from the show went to the Shenandoah Women's Center in Martinsburg, which helps victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

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