Boston, Massachusetts. May 14, 2000
A concert review by MF fan Rusty Lerner.
I was very fortunate to have caught the Maynard / Arturo concert on May 14 in Boston. I live in Thailand all but two or three weeks of the year and just happened to be visiting friends in New York at the time. I made a special one-night trip to Boston to see the show.
The concert was held at the performance center of the Berklee School of Music, where I believe at least one of MF's kids studied (daughter Wilder, perhaps?). Both Maynard and Arturo were backed by the "Boston Metropolitan Orchestra", conducted by Kevin Kaska. I had never heard of this orchestra before, but with Mark Van Cleave and Boston trumpet legend Frank Vardaros ("Frankie V") on trumpets, who could possibly complain?
The orchestra opened up the show with their "Summon the Legends Overture", a piece composed by Frankie V and dedicated to Maynard and Arturo. Then Arturo and his sextet came out to play a number of his tunes: "A Mis Abuelos", "To Diz with Love", "An Englishman in New York", and "Sandunga".
I had never seen Arturo in person before, but have most of his albums. What a thrill! The guy is definitely a trumpet god (that's god with a small "g"; the big "G" is still reserved for The Boss!). His playing was technically magnificent, improvisation superb, and forays into the stratosphere thrilling (although much thinner than MF's: a number of times, he positioned his microphone all the way inside the bell of his horn to get the sound to project). Chip McNeill was on saxophones and was terrific as usual (later in the show, MF would chide Arturo for having "stolen" Chip away from him a number of years ago).
Arturo was quite chatty during his part of the show, joking that only the chance to play with MF could have gotten him to stand up his mother on Mother's Day. As it was "MF", though, he said that his mother would surely understand! Arturo made many reverential comments about Maynard and is clearly a fan from way back. He did say, though, at one point when introducing "To Diz with Love" (the tune he wrote in memory of Dizzy) that "Diz is still my number one". I guess we can give him that, since Diz was his mentor for many years and actually helped in his defection to the US in 1990.
After Arturo's set, local trumpet man Frankie V played a solo, "Mi Amiga Mi Amore" backed by the orchestra and Arturo on piano (I had no idea what a great pianist he is! He also played percussion and did a super DiBlasio-style scat routine at one point). The tune was a composition of Frankie's which appears on his recently-released first solo album, which was produced by Arturo. Frankie did a pretty credible job -- not easy an easy task when you're on the same stage with two legends of MF's and Arturo's status.
After a brief intermission, the big moment came. A shiver went down my spine (as it always does) as the brass section entered "Blue Birdland" and "The Boss" was announced. MF bounded out onto the stage like a kid a quarter of his age. I knew from the second he put his horn to his mouth that he was "on" that night. He nailed almost everything he went for with apparent ease.
Before the first number, MF recounted his first meeting with Arturo back in the early '80s. Arturo was still with his Cuban band Irakere at that time, and was making his first visit to the US. MF was invited to appear at one of the band's gigs, and ended up trading horns with Arturo -- a mistake, MF recalled, as Arturo was apparently playing a piece of junk at the time. So, Arturo sounded great on MF's Holton, but MF sounded lousy on Arturo's Cuban axe! In any case, MF paid Arturo a huge compliment by referring to him as "the world's greatest trumpet player".
The first tune up was Birdland, which was hot as usual. The orchestra was playing along, but I honestly did not notice them and don't think they added too much. Although the program indicated that "Caravan" was to be next, MF replaced it with "I Love You", which was done flawlessly.
Then came "Sweet Baba Suite", which is the only tune I think to have really benefited from the full orchestra backing. It was beautiful and moving, and the crowd ate it up. I was hoping MF would treat us to some licks on the Firebird, but he stuck with his main axe throughout.
Next was Cajun' Cookin', during which MF dragged Arturo out onto the stage to trade licks (Arturo was clearly visible in the wings during the whole MF set, obviously enjoying it). There was the usual segue into "Saints", then the MF Medley as MF and Arturo strolled through the crowd shaking hands.
The final scheduled tune was "A Night in Tunisia", with MF and Arturo both paying tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. Arturo seemed genuinely in awe of MF at several points as they were trading licks, shaking his head in disbelief. It really was interesting to hear them side-by-side: although Arturo is a wonderful player, there is just something about MF's soaring sound quality that just cannot be matched for pure excitement.
Before the finale, Frankie V came out to present awards to Ed Sargent and Bruce Galloway as the "keepers of the legends". Ed seemed genuinely moved by the gesture, and began to get a little misty-eyed I think as he paid tribute to his Boss of 18 years, saying that "you all know the musician, but I know the man -- and God never put a finer person on this earth than Maynard Ferguson". Almost brought a tear to my eye, too!
For the grand finale, MF pulled out the full, original arrangement of "Hey Jude" as it appeared on MF Horn II. He must not do so very often, because it was the only tune of the evening for which he needed the sheet music (putting on his glasses to see it better). Arturo did a pretty good job of following along (he had obviously not rehearsed it), and the MF trumpets were joined by the BMO trumpets in the crowd for the chorus. The sound in the hall was astounding, with MF and Arturo both giving their all into the microphones and the three MF trumpets and four BMO trumpets wailing back from the audience. MF and Arturo really nailed the ending.
All in all, the MF band performed very competently all evening. The solos were all good, with that of the drummer Brian Wolfe standing out particularly. Interestingly enough, Pete Ferguson was the only one on the bandstand who didn't take a solo. Also, the brass were seated throughout the show, rather than standing as they usually do (possibly so as not to block the view of the orchestra behind them). All were dressed to the teeth in black tie (Maynard with a black and white silk scarf draped nattily around his neck).
The show lasted a full three hours, and from their thunderous response, the crowd obviously still hadn't had enough. But, all good things must come to an end I guess. I hung around afterwards, getting to greet Arturo and chat with The Boss a bit. Both were clearly still on a high from the performance (as was I!).
So -- one of my great MF evenings, right up there with seeing him perform at Sai Baba's ashram in 1993, and for a home town crowd in Ojai in 1983. Y'all shoulda been there!