Friday, August 25, 2006

Maynard Ferguson is dead

This wasn't supposed to be another post about death. I had really intended to write about Stephen Colbert and the planetary status of Pluto. Last week Colbert celebrated the fact that he had apparently won his argument with astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson over whether or not Pluto is a planet - Colbert says it is, Tyson says it isn't, and in an early draft of the definitions coming out of the International Astronomical Union's meeting on the subject, it looked like Colbert had won. But as of yesterday, it looks like the IAU has demoted the ninth planet to "dwarf planet" status. I fully expected Colbert to declare the IAU "dead to me." (So in a sense, this would have been about death anyway.) But, unless he mentioned it in the first two minutes, I don't think Colbert commented on yesterday's developments at all in last night's show. (He did, however, have as a guest theoretical physicist Janna Levin, author of A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, and not only held his own but managed to make her giggle like a little girl!)

But then I opened today's paper and saw that Maynard Ferguson has died.

If you've ever heard the theme from Rocky, you know some of Maynard Ferguson's music. I saw him perform once, at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre years ago. He was a short, plump, white-haired man with more energy than most rock performers I've seen. His opening number, played with his full band, was so exhaustingly exuberant that at the end of it I half-expected him to say "Thank you and goodnight!" He didn't. He and his band kept on going, blasting notes into the air like a musical fireworks show. At the end of the night the entire audience left smiling and laughing and talking, completely energized by the performance they had just experienced.

Dead now. But his music lives on, and hopefully he passed some of his energy and spirit on to his many proteges. I'm glad I got to see him perform.

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