Maynard Ferguson, the powerhouse trumpeter and bandleader who helped carry the big-band torch into the new millenium and was known to pop-culture buffs for his version of “Gonna Fly Now,” Bill Conti’s Rocky theme, died Wednesday of kidney failure. He was 78.
An exciting performer who toured nonstop and garnered a large following of student musicians through his frequent high-school performances, Ferguson had just returned home to California after several sold-out concerts in July at the Blue Note in New York City. Ferguson had also recently completed recording a new album at Bennett Studios in Englewood, N.J.
Born May 4, 1928 in Montreal, Ferguson started his jazz career at the young age of 13 as a member of the Canadian Broadcasting Company Orchestra. While only a young adult, Ferguson played with greats like Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie before leading his own band-at the age of 17. He then went on to record over 60 albums and receive a Grammy nomination for “Gonna Fly Now.” Last year Ferguson was awarded the “Order of Canada,” Canada’s highest civilian honor.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Maynard Ferguson Music Scholarship Fund at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. A memorial concert is also planned to take place in St. Louis, and Ferguson’s last work will be released later this year.Originally Published