Maynard Ferguson, my son, and all that jazz

During my graduate school days, I fell in with a fellow who fed with jazz my hunger for good music. I'd long lost my affection for rock, the music that dominated my own era of burgeoning maturity. But the music lover, like the junkie, can't quit. Ever onward and upward is our motto -- Excelsior! -- and my pal Rick got me a seat on the express rocket with a first-class ticket.


Because Rick and I were both married and students, we naturally had a group of similar friends who, like my wife and me, were poor. Groups of us would gather for evenings of card-playing, Monopoly marathons, trivia contests or simple conversation. In those days -- pre-tape cassette, pre-CD -- we didn't play records; we "spun platters." Rick taught me about jazz, and one of the several dozen jazz artists he flogged to me was Maynard Ferguson, the trumpeter and high-note artist who came to fame in Stan Kenton's band.


I was impressed by Ferguson, having vaguely remembered his association with LSD guru Timothy Leary at Millbrook, N.Y., when Leary was busted by the likes of the Dutchess County district attorney, one G. Gordon Liddy (yep, that G. Gordon Liddy), who served the Richard Nixon administration in the U.S. during the dark days of the Watergate scandal that eventually toppled Nixon.


But none of that had anything to do with jazz. Ferguson's knife-like upper-register playing was like a whiff of peppermint on a hot day. My little brother (Little? Hah! He's now 41 years old) later became, and has remained, the biggest Ferguson fan ever.


Back in the 1980s, my family relocated for the second time to Alamosa, Colorado, a place we'd loved and left. When the opportunity arose to return, we jumped at it, and the logistics required that my son, Trevor, and I precede my wife and daughter there to take up where we'd left off.


Trevor and I took up residence in a motel until we could find suitable lodgings and I enrolled him in school. The routine was for me to drop him off at school before I went to work at the local newspaper and then to pick him up when school let out, deposit him in the motel room for homework and return to the paper for a couple of hours.


In our town was a state college that occasionally sponsored arts festivals, concerts and the like. One day, after having delivered Trevor to the room in the afternoon, my son called me at work to tell me he'd left his key to our room at school and couldn't get into the room.


"But where are you now?" I asked him.


"In the room of a guy a door down. Here, I'll let you talk," Trevor said and handed the phone over to the "guy a door down," who told me he'd call the maid, but I said I'd be there in five minutes and rang off after making sure Trevor was OK. I wanted to thank the man, whose name I hadn't gotten, for looking after my son.


When I pulled into the parking lot, Trevor was waiting in front of our room and the "guy a door down" was walking toward a huge touring bus diagonally across the lot.


I recognized Ferguson immediately, even without reference to the barrage of ads for his appearance at the local college that had been appearing for the past month.


Hopping out of my Bronco, I let Trevor into our quarters, double-checked to make sure that the white-haired man in the parking lot had, indeed, been his temporary baby sitter and headed for for the tour bus.


Ferguson greeted me at the door with a handshake and graciously accepted my thanks for his kindness. The rest was the usual tongue-tied-fan-meeting-a-legend-in-his-own-time yammer: "You're Maynard Ferguson." "Yeah." "I'm a great fan of yours." "Thanks." "You've given me a lot of pleasure over the years." "Thanks again."


Realizing he wasn't going to invite me aboard for a drink or ask me to sit in with the band, I skedaddled, not wishing to wear out my welcome. I'm not an autograph hound anyway.


The last time I saw Ferguson was the next morning, talking with one of his side men through a window in the room "a door down," hair wet from a recent shower and a motel towel slung around his bare shoulders, the perfect picture of the night-owl musician who'd blown high and clear into the wee hours.


Trevor, seated beside me in the Ford Bronco, asked, "Is that guy somebody famous, Dad?"


Instead of answering, I chuckled and nodded my head, thinking about how I intended to write to my buddy, Rick, about Trevor's temporary baby sitter.


Giving a wave to Ferguson, Trevor and I drove over to the motel office to check out.