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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Jazz musician Ferguson dies at 78
Maynard Ferguson
Ferguson received the highest civilian award in his native Canada
Jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson - best known for his version of Gonna Fly Now which featured in the Rocky films - has died at the age of 78.

The Montreal-born musician gained a Grammy nomination for the song, which spawned a US top ten hit.

Ferguson was renowned for his powerful solos and ability to hold high notes.

"He was the last of the greats," said his friend and manager Steve Schankman. "Someone just said, 'Gabriel, move over to second trumpet, he added.

"There is no Kenton, no Basie, no Ellington, and now, no Ferguson."

Biggest hit

Ferguson began his career at the age of 13 when he performed as a featured soloist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra.

His career took off as the 1940s big band era got into full swing. Amongst the famous names he played with were Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Barnett, Jimmy Dorsey and Stan Kenton.

In 1945, the 17-year-old virtuoso became the leader of his own big band in Montreal.

He then moved to California, performing with the Innovations Orchestra and then on soundtracks for Hollywood films.

Maynard Ferguson
Ferguson was leading a big band while still in his teens

He played lead trumpet on such notable films as The Ten Commandments.

But it was not until the 1970s that Ferguson scored his biggest hit with Gonna Fly Now, used on the Sylvester Stallone film Rocky.

"I knew it was going to be a hit," he once said of the theme, written by Bill Conti.

"Sylvester Stallone was in the studio when we recorded it, punching a speed bag to the rhythm of the song. If you listen very close to the original recording, you can hear in the mix the sound of him hitting the small bag."

He continued to record well into his later years, and made more than 60 albums.

He said he had been able to hold on to his abilities through learning and practising yoga.

"My instrument is a thing of pleasure, and I play it only because I enjoy it," he said.

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09 Aug 06 |  Entertainment
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