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
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
"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
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,
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.