There is a reason Maynard Ferguson is so passionate about education: he is the son of high school principals and the brother of a psychology professor. “I have always been deeply interested in education,” says Ferguson, the iconic jazz trumpet star. “People always laugh when they look at my background. The educational thing was very much a part of my family. Even as a musician, the teaching thing has always been in my blood. I guess it is coming out in a different way.”
Ferguson, along with his Big Bop Nouveau Band, will appear at Montgomery High School on Thursday, July 13, as part of a week of seminars and concerts sponsored by the Montgomery-based Jazz Mentors Program. Jazz saxophone and flutist Lew Tabackin, Stanley Cowell, Billy Hart, and Mike Richmond appear on Tuesday, July 11; saxophonist Phil Woods and pianist John Coates Jr. appear Wednesday, July 12; and the Woody Herman Orchestra appears Friday, July 14.
In addition to the shows open to the general public, each day of Jazz Mentors week the jazz greats will hold a masters seminar, a mini-concert, and a meet-and-greet and catered dinner for the students.
Joy Anderson, a Skillman resident and head of the Jazz Mentors program, is a jazz vocalist who is married to tenor saxophonist, composer, and arranger Gary Anderson. Her connections, as well as her husband’s, make it easy for her to stay in contact with musicians and get them to come to central Jersey.
At the age of 18, Anderson says, she went on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra as a vocalist. “When I was a little child, many musicians were there to teach and mentor me.” The Andersons established the Jazz Mentors Program to give back some of that mentoring and, says Joy Anderson, to keep her in contact with youth.
Maynard Ferguson also continues to interact with youth in his own way. Ferguson is going out on the road this summer as he always does. “I’m like an old warhorse, getting ready to go out on the road again,” he says in a phone interview from his home in Ojai, California. The 76-year-old Montreal-born trumpeter is known for his stratospheric high notes, his successful dabbling in pop-jazz in the 1970s and ’80s, and his influential big band arranging and leading. He was born and raised in Montreal, and studied at the French Conservatory of Music but did not go to college. He played with the Canadian Broadcasting Company orchestra as a teen and moved to New York City in 1949 at the age of 21 to jumpstart his jazz career.
After the Jazz Mentors program, he will play in Philadelphia, New York, California, Japan, and Europe. In London, he will perform at Ronnie Scott’s, the internationally famous jazz club, where he recorded his last album.
He says he is bringing with him a lot of young musicians who have played since high school and have honed their skills in college. “I might have to get another face lift,” Ferguson says. “I’m the only guy with white hair in my band.”
The group’s younger players in many ways have grown up with Ferguson’s influence, even if they don’t know it at first. “The fact that there are so many fine young players out there is attributable to all the music educators,” says Ferguson.
One of those educators is baritone saxophonist Denis DiBlasio, who heads the jazz studies program at Rowan University in Glassboro. In 2003 the program was named for Ferguson, who has been DiBlasio’s mentor for decades. “I am delighted that Denis will be joining me,” says Ferguson. “I try to get him whenever he is available. He is a great player and great entertainer.”
Ferguson tries to keep up with the youthful members of his band but sometimes, he says, he just likes to watch. “I have always been blessed with great personnel. It’s a lot of fun to put your horn down and just listen to the band. But if you’re not careful, you end up becoming part of the audience.”
Of his trumpeter Serafin Aguilar, influenced both by Ferguson and Arturo Sandoval, Ferguson says, “He is the type of guy that if my chops ever get sore, I can just send him in there. I guess I’ve been watching too much basketball.”
Ferguson understands the need, especially at his age, to recover physically. Fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had to stop playing for more than a month earlier this year because he overworked his embouchure, resulting in a lip inflammation.
The elder trumpeter said he has never had to sit out like that, but that he tries to eat right, exercise, and rest. He has a pool at his California home, and he uses it daily.
If Maynard Ferguson came to his passion for education via his family background, it was a family tragedy that drove Frank Tiberi, leader of the Woody Herman Orchestra, to receive a different type of education.
When Tiberi was 12, his father died, and he had to assume the mantle of provider for his family in Camden, he says. “I have been working ever since.” He organized a small jazz combo that played in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, and everywhere in between. He also went on the road with Urbie Green, Benny Goodman, and Dizzy Gillespie.
By the time he was in late teens, he was interacting with jazz greats such as Al Cohn and John Coltrane, serving as protege of the former and intense student — but from afar — of the latter. “I knew Coltrane, but it was only to say hi and bye. He really wasn’t a social person,” Tiberi says. “He wasn’t social with anyone. He never went out to bars and drank. All he did was practice.”
Tiberi also is a trained classical bassoonist and is credited with being one of the musicians who introduced the instrument to jazz. Since 1969 Tiberi has played in the famous “Four Brothers” sax section of the Woody Herman Orchestra. Herman himself gave Tiberi the reins of his orchestra in 1986, and a year later, when Herman died, Tiberi became leader for good. Well, sort of. “Woody Herman will always be the leader of this orchestra,” he says.
Now a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Tiberi, who lives in western Massachusetts, teaches jazz improvisation and harmony, especially harmony the way Coltrane approached it. He continues to arrange Coltrane compositions such as “Naima” and “Giant Steps” for the Herman Orchestra.
Tiberi, who has known the Andersons for almost 20 years, says he doesn’t stick to one era for the arrangements the band plays, and he continues to update the arrangements on an ongoing basis. “We play everything from Steely Dan to Carole King to Chick Corea.”
The Jazz Mentors Program and Concerts, Wednesday through Friday, July 12 to 14, Montgomery High School, 1016 Route 601, Skillman. $20; $15 students and seniors. Master seminars, with dinner and meet-and-greet, $150. 888-466-0603, www.jazzmentors.com.
Lew Tabackin, Stanley Cowell, Billy Hart, and Mike Richmond, Tuesday, July 11, 8 p.m.
Phil Woods and John Coates Jr., Wednesday, July 12, 8 p.m.
Maynard Ferguson and the Big Bop Nouveau Band, Thursday, July 13, 8 p.m.
The Woody Herman Orchestra, Friday, July 14, 8 p.m.