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MF Encounter 2 - Mike Kaiser

By Mike Kaiser

Deer Isle, Maine

Click to see pics from the party!

It's hard to believe it's been a week, but it has. I'll never forget last Sunday, March 23, 1997. I doubt anyone who was there will, either. Here are the highlights.

  1. Maynard Ferguson and Big Bop Nouveau;
  2. a 100-year-old inn on the coast of Maine;
  3. the last night of a grueling tour for the band;
  4. forty close friends, most of them trumpet players;
  5. Scott "Scooter" Englebright's last night with the band;
  6. one of Maynard's biggest fans, my friend Jim Manley;
  7. an informal atmosphere, with couches, upholstered chairs, beer, wine, and home-made food;
  8. the Hale-Bopp comet and a lunar eclipse.

It all started last November, when I received the latest copy of Maynard's newsletter. I was surprised to see that the band was scheduled to come to southern Maine for one night on March 22.

It's not at all clear how this happened, but I got it in my head (remember it was winter in Maine) that there might be a way to bring Maynard and the band a couple of hours further "down east." I called Paradise Artists, Maynard's booking agent, and found out how much it would cost to book the band--less than I thought. Then I put a message out on the Trumpet Players International Network (TPIN) asking for advice about dealing with booking agents.

After about a week, the dream was taking shape. I contacted Jim Schatz, the owner/operator of the Blue Hill Farm Inn, to see if his place was available, and discovered he had played trumpet as a kid and remembered Maynard playing Kenton and Graetinger charts. By now the idea had a life of its own.

I imagined a private party, with Maynard and Big Bop Nouveau as the entertainment--and participants. The room at the inn could comfortably hold about 40 people, plus the 10-piece band. And I do mean comfortably. The room is an old barn--high ceiling, wooden floors and beams, wood stove, cushy chairs, table and floor lamps--just like an oversized living room. On weekends, they often host jazz concerts while the audience eats and drinks. Casual. Comfortable. Perfect.

So, I booked the band, reserved the inn, and started to put together a list of people I wanted to invite. As long as these guys were going to be here, I thought I'd see if we could put together a trumpet clinic before the party. Unfortunately, there wouldn't be enough time for Maynard to participate since the band was riding the bus from a gig the night before. No big deal; this is where it really started to get special.

I called Jim Manley and Roger Ingram. After I explained what was going on, both agreed to come up for what was quickly turning into the ultimate trumpet weekend. We agreed to do a free clinic for all the local trumpet players on Saturday, then Jim and Roger would stay for the party on Sunday. Not a bad recovery, huh? As it turned out, Roger was unable to attend because his tour with Wynton and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra got extended by a few days--so he wasn't able to get back in time. But Jim gave a fantastic clinic to a large and receptive audience who ranged in age from 13 to 64. I'm somewhere in the middle. Thanks, Jim.

On to the party.

Sunday, March 23 dawned clear and not too cold--unusual for this time of year, in this part of Maine. The band bus arrived at the inn around 3:30 and everybody settled into their rooms. Because the rooms are small, everybody had individual rooms, something they're not used to. They had a few hours to relax.

Guests were invited to arrive at 6:00, with the band to begin at 7:00. Manley and I got there around 5:00, and there were already a dozen or so early arrivals.

I had never met Maynard or anyone in the band. Since Jim had, he introduced me as we ran into them. First, Carl Fisher (jazz trumpet), then Ed Sargent (road manager), Tom Garling (trombone), and then Scott Englebright (lead trumpet).

Jim, Carl, and I hung with Scott in his room for a while, then went back downstairs to let the guys warm up and get ready. Scott told us that this was his last gig with the band; he was burned out from life on the road and wouldn't be back when the band started their next tour in two weeks. Everybody we met seemed tired and glad the current tour was coming to a close. We learned that, in order for everyone to fly to their respective homes the next day, the bus would be leaving around 2 am, for the 5 hour drive to the Boston airport.

Back downstairs, the food and drink was being laid out and all of the guests were arriving. The CD player was working its way through the Mosaic collection of Maynard's recordings from the early 60's on Roulette, and people were getting into the spirit. I was, for the first time, beginning to realize that it was really going to happen.

Just before 7:00, Jim tapped me on the shoulder and said something like "Follow me." We went through the kitchen and up the back stairs to Maynard's "suite" (actually three small rooms with an even smaller bath--but very private). Ed was there. Jim and Maynard hugged--and I met my hero.

We talked for maybe 15 minutes. I even told Maynard I'd named my dog after him--Maynard Minus Music. Weirdly, this seemed to me like a great compliment at the time. Then I thanked Maynard for coming and we went back down to the "living room." Everyone was ready.

Tom Garling opened with the rhythm section and a tune from his new album, produced by Maynard. Then the band took their places, Ed introduced Maynard, and they were off. From the first note, the crowd sounded like 400, not 40. Bruce Galloway, the sound man, had done a great job of "toning down" the sound system for what everyone said was the smallest room the band had ever played for. No one was more than 25 feet away from the band.

Maynard sounded great. Playing his new signature horn, he had as big a sound as he's had in years. He played on every tune--and played a lot. The room and the enthusiastic audience took Maynard and the band to a new level. Jim, who had heard the band maybe 50 times, was obviously surprised by the electricity and how Maynard and the band was responding to it. Everyone in the audience was involved, as the band moved quickly from tune to tune. The first set, scheduled for 50 minutes, lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes. When the break came, all were exhausted--band and audience. We were spent. By this time, everyone knew that something very out of the ordinary was going on.

Before we knew it, we were all refreshed and ready for the second set. I won't take the time to single out every player, but, being the trumpet-centric person I am, I have to say what a highlight it was to hear Maynard (of course), Carl Fisher, and Scott "Scooter" Englebright. J. Roberts, the other trumpet player, was a little under the weather, but exhibited a huge sound nonetheless. Carl combined a lead sound with great jazz chops--and truly gave everything he had on every solo. We'll be hearing more from Carl.

As for Scooter, I'm hard-pressed to describe his talent. If you've heard his recordings, either with Big Bop Nouveau or the University of North Texas 1:00 Lab Band, you know he's something special. But nothing can compare with hearing him live. Scott is a very rare talent, and I'll always be grateful I was able to hear him in such a setting. He's a natural lead player, in the same league as Roger Ingram, Bill Chase, Maynard (when he plays lead), maybe even Gozzo. If you love big band lead players and have a chance, go hear this young man. You won't be sorry. Unbelievable. And a nice guy, too.

On the last number, Cajun Cooking, Maynard and the band walked into the audience and did a mass free improv thing, with the band scattered around the room. Somebody started Hey Jude and everybody else followed; then it turned into When the Saints Go Marching In. At one point, Scooter was playing the opening four bars of the tune called Maynard Ferguson that Shorty Rogers wrote for Maynard and Kenton band--and somehow it fit.

Maynard shook each person's hand as he moved through the crowd during the number. The applause was deafening. Needless to say, they got a standing ovation. After the band wound down, the players went up to their rooms to pack, relax, and get ready for the bus trip. Most of the audience went home, but a dozen or so of us couldn't leave.

After midnight, Maynard came back down, signed autographs, posed for pictures--and told stories. I happened to have a copy of the 78 of Hot Canary that Maynard recorded with Stan Kenton in the early 1950s, which he happily signed for me--triggering a series of stories of his days with the Kenton band. Then Maynard was telling us about his days with Paramount Studios. Then, Ed Sargent comes up to Maynard and says something like "It's time." I figured he meant it was time to get on the bus and leave--but Ed was talking about the lunar eclipse.

Maynard stopped in the middle of a story and hurried outside; a few of us followed. The night was clear and cold, no wind. The next thing I knew half a dozen of us were standing outside with Maynard, looking up at a nearly total lunar eclipse. Maynard told us how this sort of thing is really important to him. We all fell silent. The portion of the moon in shadow glowed a deep red. After gazing upward for a few minutes in complete silence, I began to wonder how long this experience might last.

The silence is barely broken by the sound of Carl Fisher coming out of the inn and walking down the snow-covered path to join us. Silently, Carl stopped beside us, looked upward, and uttered those unforgettable words . . . "Nice f***ing eclipse." We looked at each other, at Maynard, at Carl, at the eclipse--then broke into laughter and headed back inside. Nothing else needed to be said. We even forgot to look to the north the see the Hale-Bopp comet.

During the next half hour or so, we mingle with the rest of the band before it's time for the bus to leave. After the bus is loaded and the band is aboard, Jim and I had a final encounter with Maynard and Ed. Maynard was now reflecting on how he used to spend time at the Maine coast every summer while he was growing up in Montreal. I can tell he appreciated the opportunity to come back to this part of the country, especially under such special circumstances. We all hugged and it was over.

As I write this, it's now exactly one week later--and I can still hardly believe it. How often in life does reality exceed our hopes and dreams. I feel inadequate about trying to transfer the experience to words, but I knew I had to try. It was the best night of my life--and I know others who feel the same.

Thanks to Maynard, Ed, Matt Wallace, Scooter, the rest of Big Bop Nouveau, Jim Manley, Jim Schatz, Karen, and all my friends (trumpeters and others) who came together to make this the special night it was. I'll never forget it.

Mike Kaiser

Deer Isle, Maine

March 30, 1997

Click to see pics from the party!