Maiden on Maynard

In April of 1972, I interviewed Willie Maiden for a book I was planning on Maynard Ferguson. The book deal never materialized, but I kept the tapes all these years. After Maynard’s death in August—about 30 years after Willie’s—I went through the tapes and have extracted the material I thought would be of greatest interest. -- Jim Szantor

MAIDEN ON MAYNARD: I first became aware of Maynard when a good friend of mine from New Jersey, a guy I had known since the 6th grade, brought in a record of “All the Things You Are,” a 78 rpm recording with Charlie Barnet. This was around my 20th birthday. And I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, I believed the record; I just couldn’t believe anyone could play that way. I became an automatic fan.

Coincidentally, this was during the whole complete year that I played nothing but trumpet. I was a tenor saxophone and clarinet player, so I had more than a passing acquaintance with that, but I felt I should learn to play the trumpet, just so I could learn to write for the instrument. And that’s what I was doing, the very same year I first heard Maynard! I mean, you can’t learn to play all the instruments for writing purposes, because you’d run out of years, but I thought the trumpet was so important that I had to learn to feel how it meant to be a trumpet player. And I didn’t play saxophone one note that year that I was playing the trumpet!

I learned the capabilities as well as the responsibilities of being a trumpet player--as well as the difficulties, the breathing and so on. And I learned what it was like to play in the back row as well as the front row—that was part of it, too.

MAIDEN WITH MAYNARD: I first met Maynard in April of 1952—two months after he left Stan’s band—through a Latin trumpet player named Pepe. We were working in a Latin band together on Friday nights in a Mexican neighborhood in LA.

And this one night Pepe told me that “Maynard Ferguson needs some arrangements” and gave me his phone number. So I called Maynard, and he said, “Rehearsal’s at 1 o’clock tomorrow.” At a place that turned out to be a half a block from where I was living at the time.

Now I had nothing to give Maynard; I had been writing for a band in New Jersey and sending them the charts. I had just sent a chart off to this band that very day, but it was a bigger band than what Maynard was using. So I sat up all night and rewrote this chart for Maynard’s instrumentation.

Now I almost didn’t go that half a block to the rehearsal that day, even though I had the chart under my arm. I was, if you’ll excuse the expression, scared shitless. Because I had seen Maynard with Stan in 1950 at the Palladium, with Shorty and Ray Wetzel and Art Pepper and Fitz . . . . So I sat there in my car, wondering if I should go in there, or just forget the whole thing . . . and pretend I was big time the rest of my life. But I said to myself, “If you don’t find out now, you’ll never know. You’ve got to go in there.”

How did it turn out? I ended up eating dinner at Maynard’s house that night; that’s how well we got along. There were a bunch of other arrangers there, with the charts they had brought in, but I was the only one invited to eat with Maynard. And Kay [Brown, then Maynard’s wife] had to drive; Maynard didn’t know how.

The name of the chart was “V8.” We never recorded it.

It was a rehearsal band, not working hardly at all. Bob Gordon was in it, Fitz. Guys that just wanted to play. Bill Perkins was there, plus a kid drummer. But the band was excellent, and we rehearsed once a week. I wasn’t good enough to play with the band; I just wrote. I had been working with a band (Will Osborne) on alto and with the Johnny Pineapple band on tenor. Society bands; anybody could play those saxophone parts. Then the rehearsal band played a few gigs. See, Maynard had rejoined Stan in August of ’52, then went with Paramount in January of ’53, which takes us up to 1954. But he wouldn’t re-sign with the studio; he refused. He said he’d stay if they tripled his salary, but they wouldn’t, so that was it. We started with 7 pieces, then it was 8, then 9, then 10, then 11. We never had 12 for some reason; we ended up with the 13 everybody knows. “Around the Horn,” that was with 11 pieces. I was there at the recording.

MAIDEN AND MONEY: “Maiden Voyage” on the “Dimensions” album was my first recorded chart with Maynard; August of 1954. Bobby Shad wouldn’t credit me because I was “an unknown.” He wanted a big star like Billy May. He complained to Maynard: “Why are you bringing in this kid?” but Maynard insisted. I wrote eight things in nine days and never got a mention, because of a disagreement over money. Shad would only pay me for three of the charts. But I was credited in a way, because the titles were “Maiden Voyage” and “Willie Nillie,” so Shad couldn’t help it! No writer’s credit! So Bobby Shad and I had it out over that. Later we were reunited at Mainstream, but he couldn’t mess with me then because I was established. But back then Maynard insisted on my doing the album, and he really stuck up for me. He said, “He’s my man; he knows how to do what I want it to sound like.”

I got through Westlake (College of Music), parked cars for the cafeteria at Hollywood and Vine. Then I worked in the post office, then I got a playing gig for a week in Texas. Then my mother told me that Stan was working Jan. 3 at a place near where we lived, Pomona Grove. MF had just given notice at Paramount, and meanwhile I had written something for him. I lived across the street from him for over a year, in the Hollywood Hills. Flo [later Maynard’s wife] was living nearby with a chick named Patty, who married Herb Ellis.

Then Maynard got called by Morris Levy to do the Birdland Dream Band in September of 1956, and he took one cat east with him, Herb Geller. Between the end of Paramount and the Dream Band, Maynard just worked casuals around town. Meanwhile, I was on the road with Perez Prado and Tommy Alexander. Scuffling? Lanny Morgan and I were stranded in New York with Tommy Alexander’s band, with no money! To save money, I lived with Jay Hill for two years in the early 1950s; we had the same teachers at Westlake College of Music—Russ Garcia and Dave Robertson [sp?]. We were friends from the start.

I didn’t have a penny to my name, so at one point I had to go back to living with my folks.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: When Maynard got back in LA in October of ‘56 from the Dream Band, and he got a band together that was even better than the NY band. This was a contract he had signed with Joe Glaser of Associated Booking Corp. We had Mel Lewis; Herb Geller again, Fitz and Burgess on trombones, Ed Leddy and Joe Burnett on trumpet. Red Kelly, Paul Smith on piano . . . I was the only unknown. We played two weeks, then nothing for a month. Then they wanted us back at the same joint over Christmas until Jan. 6 of 57. We wrote the Christmas then, after conversations I had with Maynard.

Then nothing! I went to NY for a month to write some songs, get my teeth fixed, and meanwhile they were working out bookings—three months’ worth. We left on that three-month tour on March 17 of 1957—and stayed out for nine years. That was the beginning of the road band.

MAIDEN ON THE ORIGINAL CONCEPTION OF THE MF BAND: Maynard had come out of Stan’s band, but he didn’t want a band that large. He wanted something smaller. He said that in a smaller band he could get everything that Stan got if everyone worked a little harder. But he wanted a swing band, a band that swung more than was profound, with jazz for everybody. And with the exception of the lead trumpet player, everybody did. And every [personnel] change was made on the basis of the ability to play jazz, not on technical ability. And what I know now but didn’t realize then, when the ensemble parts are played by all jazz players, you could tell the results. It swung more. Do a lot of guys know their horns? Yes. Can they play their parts? Yes. But you shouldn’t have to explain how to play something; either you know how or you don’t. And jazz players know how to play something; legit players play it technically correct, but it won’t swing.

That’s what makes the difference. If everybody plays their section parts like they play their choruses, that’s what makes it swing. It only takes 2 or 3 out of a whole band to mess up the thing, even if they’re playing it “correctly.” If you have to ask when to cut off a note. . . . Jazz players know that inherently. That’s what Maynard wanted—guys who didn’t need anything explained. Maynard wanted less bombast, more happiness, as far as swing goes. It would add to the freedom as far as stretch-outs; and everybody stretched out in that band. . . .

THE LOWDOWN ON MAYNARD: The Ferguson band was still a Kenton-oriented kind of thing, with Maynard’s high-note ability. But Maynard, to me, is the greatest low-note trumpet player! Because the other high-note people couldn’t play the low notes that Maynard played. And Maynard realized the importance of low notes. And the screech players couldn’t play low notes. And Maynard’s sound was so good on low F-sharp! So after all the writers got hung up on high notes, he finally said, “This has got to stop. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I have to do it all the time. Let’s play some music.” And that’s when he put in “Lazy Afternoon” and those things. And he’s the only one who can play the low notes right and the high notes too. Because he is a complete trumpet player. And when you add in the euphonium parts that he played, the French horn part on “Goodbye”. . . And the low notes are right in tune, too! It’s right, and it’s fat! I don’t care who you name; no one else can do it! The end of “Danny Boy.” That’s why he’s the greatest low-note trumpet player.

ALL AROUND THE HORNS: I remember one night at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. I took a nap this one day, left a call at the motel. They didn’t call! Suddenly the band boy calls from backstage, and the band is playing. Jesus! I overslept. And it’s like a 15-minute walk to the end of the ballroom to the bandstand. The band’s playing “Give Me the Simple Life,” my arrangement. And as I’m walking up there, Maynard plays MY solo on MY arrangement on MY tenor! Better than I could! So I picked up Maynard’s horn and cut off the band at the end. I mean, I had to do something!

Maynard also played lead alto once in a while when someone was late. He could play slide as well as valve trombone. I hate to use the word “freak” because he wasn’t one! He just worked harder than anyone else did; he had more dedication and commitment. I will never consider him a freak. I hate when people call him that.

Maynard and I . . . . We could talk to each other without any problem. About anything. We disagreed on who we should hire once in a while—like, Lynn Halliday or Don Menza. I preferred Menza, though I dug them both quite a bit. But Maynard wanted to hire Linn, so he got the gig. But when that didn’t work out, we got Don, and everyone knows how great that worked out.

MR. CHOPS: The more we worked, the better Maynard’s chops were. He never practiced. In fact, most of the time he didn’t even know where his horn was. He took his mouthpiece with him, but the band boy packeup the horn. After a layoff, the first night back for him was kind of rough; it still sounded good, but he had to work harder to get it. But as the week went on, it got better and better.

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