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Renowned jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson dies

Published August 25, 2006

VENTURA, Calif. - Jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, known for his soaring high notes and his hit recording of Gonna Fly Now, which lent the musical muscle to the Rocky movies, has died. He was 78.

Mr. Ferguson, who lived in nearby Ojai, died Wednesday night (Aug. 23, 2006) at Community Memorial Hospital of kidney and liver failure due to an abdominal infection, friend and manager Steve Schankman said Thursday.

Mr. Ferguson's four daughters, Kim, Lisa, Corby and Wilder, and other family members were at his side when he died, Schankman said.

"Someone just said, 'Gabriel, move over to second trumpet,' " Schankman said from his St. Louis office. "He was the last of the greats. That era is closed. There is no Kenton, no Basie, no Ellington, and now, no Ferguson."

Born in Montreal on May 4, 1928, Mr. Ferguson said his most important musical influences were Louis Armstrong and his mother, a violinist with the Ottawa Symphony and later a school administrator.

He remembered being about 9 when he fell in love with the horn. He soloed with the Canadian Broadcasting Co. Orchestra at 11, then quit school at 15 to pursue a career in music.

The next year he was leading his own dance band, the first of a number of big bands and smaller ensembles he eventually fronted in a career that produced more than 60 albums and three Grammy nominations.

Mr. Ferguson, also a much admired teacher, became identified with ear-piercing power and dizzying high notes that he was still able to play with precision. He was named Down Beat magazine's trumpeter of the year three times.

"My instrument is a thing of pleasure, and I play it only because I enjoy it," he once said. "The most important thing is doing what feels right for me."

He credited yoga with enabling him to harness the full capacity of his lungs and routinely hit a double-high-C.

As with many esteemed jazz players, mainstream success largely eluded Mr. Ferguson. But he scored a Top 10 hit with his cover of Gonna Fly Now, and the single spawned a gold album and a Grammy nomination in 1978.

"I knew it was going to be a hit," he once said of the Bill Conti composition. "Sylvester Stallone was in the studio when we recorded it," punching a speed bag to the rhythm of the song.

"If you listen very close to the original recording, you can hear in the mix the sound of him hitting the small bag," Mr. Ferguson said.

Conquistador, the album that included Gonna Fly Now, reached No. 22 on Billboard's charts and helped rekindle the public's interest in big bands.

[Last modified August 25, 2006, 05:54:03]

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