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Home arrow.gif (67 bytes) Features arrow.gif (67 bytes) Encounters arrow.gif (67 bytes) My Week With Maynard Ferguson

My Week With Maynard Ferguson

The week of August 12-16 was the most eventful one of my life. It was the week I spent with Maynard Ferguson and Big Bop Nouveau. Let me start at the beginning:

Maynard came to the Iowa State Fair (10 minutes from where I live) to play a 3 day gig. He was booked to play two one-hour sets each night (Wed, Thurs, and Fri). Naturally, I had those three days off months in advance. However, I received E-mail from MF's tour manager, Ed Sargent two weeks before the concerts. How do I know Ed? If you are unfamiliar with my story of meeting Ed and MF in Dubuque, IA, click here. Anyway, Ed wrote to let me know that the band was actually coming into town on Sunday, a few days early. He said that I could use those extra days to show him my page, as he had never seen it. So, not one to pass up an opportunity, I scrambled to get those days off. Finally, after more begging than I'm willing to admit, I got the time off I needed. If you are not much of a reader, you can see the storybook version here.

Monday, August 12th

Ed called at 7:00 A.M. Allow me to repeat that: 7:00 A.M. to tell me that Maynard was going to be on the morning news at 8:00! That was good enough news for me to get up. Then, Ed suggested that we have lunch. It sounded good to me, so I agreed to meet him at their hotel at 11:30. To make a long story minimally shorter, I showed up at the hotel at 11:30 and waited in the lobby. Matt Wallace walked in carrying his sax, and I pointed at him and said, "How's it going?" as though we had been the best of buds for years. He looked at me as though I was an escaped con and said, "Hi!" I thought to myself, "Mental note: These people do NOT know you." Ed showed up promptly at 11:50, and we chatted. After a few minutes, he said, "Let's go catch some rehearsal." He ushered me into the Best Western ballroom, where the band had taken over for rehearsal. Everyone in the band was present, except for MF himself. Ed sat me at a table directly in front of the band, and they started running through Caravan. It sounded incredible! They had a new drummer on the band who wasn't 100% familiar with the tunes yet, so they were running through some of them to bring him up to speed. The band was hilarious...constantly joking around and having a good time. I noticed early on that Tom Garling was the serious one of the group, which was explained to me later. Part of Tom's job description is musical director. Basically, it's Tom's job to direct the band when MF's not around. After Caravan, Ed stood up and said, "Everybody, this is Matt Keller. He's a friend of the band. He runs Maynard's web page for him." Instantly, the welcome I received was a very warm one. A few of the members (Clay Perry on piano and Chris Farr on sax, specifically) mentioned that they had actually seen it. I found out later that the entire band had actually taken a look at it from the studio while they were recording in June. Anyway, Matt Wallace made a comment saying that it was good that someone was defending them out there on the Internet. So, I told Matt that actually, he placed 3rd in the survey question regarding favorite sideman. The rest of the band told me that I shouldn't have told him that, because his head is big enough already. From then on, Matt was subject to ridicule from Chris Farr. For example, "You're number 3 in my book, Matt."

Shortly after that, MF came down to rehearsal. He was, of course, unbelievably nice with his "How ya doin', Man" and his constant jokes. We chatted for a few seconds, and then he started to get his horn out right on the table I was sitting at. It was brand new...manufactured in June, so it can be heard on the new CD. MF then explained to me that they were going to Europe in few weeks, and that since the European audience was so into nostalgia, they had to rehearse some old tunes. That was fine by me! So, the first thing they pulled out was the infamous M.F. Hit Medley. It was great to hear MF play it about 4 feet in front of me. But, that wasn't quite as entertaining as seeing Scott Englebright (lead player) do the Macarena during Chameleon. :-) Once the Medley was over, MF pulled up "I Can't Get Started". This was a great thrill for me, because I have never heard this tune live. It was great! At one point, someone noticed an error in one of the chords. MF got out a pencil and made a correction...then turned to me and said, "You see, we like to correct the music every 20 years!" Since the drummer was new, the band frequently had to stop to tell him about things that weren't written in the music. MF took full advantage of every break to tell a story to the band.

After watching rehearsal, Ed, Bruce Galloway (sound), and I went out to eat at a local Des Moines restaurant called "The Spaghetti Works." While eating, I sucked as much info about the new album out of the boys as possible. After lunch, we went back to the hotel, and I caught a little more rehearsal, including some of the tunes that Tom Garling wrote for his solo album.

After rehearsal, Ed came to my house in Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines, to check out this MF page. He looked through several of the articles and all of the pictures. Then, he stayed for supper and told us several great stories. Ed's story is a great one! He was a percussion major who was a big fan of MF, and he got a valet job with MF right out of school. He's been with MF since "It's My Time". Anyway, he told us about how great it is to work for someone like Maynard, because he is always happy, and always positive. The more I heard Ed talk about his job with Maynard, the more I appreciated that Ed was there to look out for MF! After supper, I took Ed back to the hotel, and he asked me if I would like to go to the fairgrounds the next day to check out the stage with him and Bruce. I said, "sure!"

Tuesday, August 13th

Tuesday afternoon, I picked up Ed and Bruce at the hotel. On the way to the fair, we had to stop at the post office to mail Denis DiBlasio a tape of the final mix of "Cajun Cookin." The album wasn't due out for a few weeks , but Ed still let me listen to the song in the car on the way to the post office! Eventually, we ended up at the fair. We got a good look at the stage, and Bruce started planning his attack on the sound equipment. While Bruce was busy with the audio aspect of things, Ed was working to make sure that there was transportation for the band. There was, but nothing for MF. So Ed said, "Matt, do you want to bring MF to the fair?" Can anyone guess what I said? So, he gave me a parking permit for the car, so that I could drive through the fair and park directly behind the stage, and a whole bunch of tickets so that my friends and family would be able to get in free. That evening, I went home and showed my mom the tickets. "Let's see," I said, counting the tickets out, "there's one for everybody." Then I pulled an extra ticket from my back pocket and said, "Hmm...now who's this one for? Oh yeah, it's MAYNARD'S BECAUSE I'M DRIVING HIM TO THE FAIR!!!!!!!!!!"

Wednesday, August 14th

Wednesday afternoon my fiancÚ and I left to pick up Maynard at his hotel! On the way there, Ed called me on my car phone. "Matt," he said, "can you pick up Maynard's dry cleaning? It wasn't done on time!" So, while I was trying to swallow the crazy idea that I was actually driving to the dry cleaner's to pick up Maynard's clothes, I managed to get there. I went in, only to receive more bad news: the clothes were at another store, and they wouldn't get there in time. So, I decided that I would go pick up MF, and stop by again on the way back to the fair.

When we walked into the hotel, MF was in the lobby with Bill Lee, his biographer. I put his horn into the trunk and explained to him the situation and let him decide. He was very laid back and decided that we had time to stop. We went back to the cleaners, but it was a no go. Sadly, I returned to the car to give MF the bad news, but he didn't seem to mind. He said, "I hope they don't boo me off the stage for not wearing a white coat!" We set off for the fair, and on the way MF told us a story about the first time he met Arturo. He raved on and on about how great and nice Arturo was. He said that Arturo was commenting on what a nice horn MF was playing, and MF let him try it. Arturo told him that he thought the horn played beautifully, so Maynard told him to keep it! :-) Click on the small pictures to view them at full size. In the picture to the right, I am in the front seat with Maynard, and trumpeters Scott Englebright and J Roberts are in the back. Driving MF to the fair


We arrived at the fair, and Ed taped off some seats for my family and me in the front couple of rows. We were seriously pumped. Finally, the show started, and MF was in top form! They opened with Tom's amazing composition, "You Got It," and then went into "Caravan." After that, they played "Cajun Cookin" with an encore of the brand new arrangement of "Birdland." Between sets I went back and talked to the band for a while. I was just about to return to my seat because they were on in about 10 minutes, when Ed walked up and said, "Matt, you are going to introduce the band. Let me get you a tee shirt. What size? Large?" I said, ".....yeah...." I was in shock!  I was instantly overwhelmed with a dizzying combination of nervousness and excitement. As nervous as I was, there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity like that! So, as I was preparing to go out in front of that crowd, my family was hoping that I wasn't going to miss any of the show, because they had no idea where I was! Just as they were starting to worry, the band walked out, and I walked out with them! I walked up to the mike and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, let's give a big Iowa State Fair welcome to Maynard Ferguson and his Big Bop Nouveau band!" The crowd whipped up some applause, and I returned to my seat. The second half consisted of "Sweet Baba Suite," "Don't Mean a Thing," "A Night in Tunisia," "Rocky," and another "Birdland" run through. After the show, I took Maynard back to his hotel and then I went back to the fair to hang out with the band. The entire band was great, but Chris Farr, Carl Fischer, and Clay Perry were particularly friendly and down to earth. Matt Keller introducing the band

Concert Pics

Maynard on stage Matt Wallace Scott Englebright Tom Garling
MF on stage again Maynard with a flugel Maynard's usual flair

Thursday, August 15th

Thursday night's show consisted of the same line-up, but it had a little more spirit! I introduced the band again, both sets. The public television station videotaped the show that night to be broadcast on a fair highlights show, and they taped me introducing the band, too! Between sets, Clay (piano), Carl (trpt), Tom (bone), and myself decided to go to Prairie Meadows after the show. Prairie Meadows is a local horse track that has slots all night. Before the second set, I got my picture taken with:

Matt and Carl Fischer
Carl Fischer
Matt and Chris Farr
Chris Farr
Matt and Scott Englebright
Scott Englebright
Matt and Ed Sargent
Ed Sargent
Matt and Maynard
with Maynard

In fact, my whole family snuck a picture with Maynard! From left to right (excluding MF): Randy Keller (my father), Kris Keller (my mother), Sarah Keller (my sister), Matt Keller (me), Anne McIlhon (my fiance'), and Lance Rafdal (buddy from school).

Maynard, Matt, and the fam!

After the show, Carl, Clay, Tom, my fiance', and I went out to Prairie Meadows. After we were there for a while, Carl won 1,000 nickels. Do you know how long it takes for 1,000 nickels to fall out of a machine? A looooong time. After Prairie Meadows, we were hungry, so we went out to Perkins, where I think that we were a little loud, but that's ok. That was a late night, and I dropped them off at their hotel around 4:00 A.M.

Friday, August 16th

Finally, and sadly, it was MF's last day in town. I took him to the gig, and it was a great one! Sadly, the attendance was a little lacking due to the fact that it had been raining lightly for a few hours, but it was a great show. I had been hounding the band all week to play the medley, and at the end of the last set, MF said, "We're going to play something now that was requested by our Iowa friends: Matt Keller and his tribe. The Medley!" It was amazing, and as usual, the band and MF went out into the crowd and played in the aisles during "Hey Jude."

I came armed to this gig. We had two 12-packs of beer in our trunk, so the band was very enthusiastic for the second show. Between sets, the band griped about people that video their gigs. There was a man in the front row videotaping, and it was really distracting them.

After the show, I had to rush MF back to the hotel because they had to get rolling if they were going to make their Indiana gig the next day. I carried MF's bag for him and rode the elevator back up to his hotel room with him. After thanking him for an incredible week, I told him that I would catch him the next time he storms through Iowa.

And that's that, folks! Any comments or questions? Email me at matt@ferguson.net!