Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don Fagerquist: A Skillful, Sparkling and Sophisticated Jazz Trumpeter

A friend recently contacted me about Don Fagerquist to ask for copyright permission to use the video that closes this piece in another context.

Have you ever heard a more beautiful sound on Jazz trumpet than Donnie's?

We wanted to remember him once again on these pages, and we thought that a re-posting of this earlier piece would serve that purpose, especially for those who are not familiar with Fagerquist's playing.

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One of the musicians on the Left Coast who always knocked me out was trumpeter Don Fagerquist.

He had one of the most beautiful sounds that I ever heard on trumpet; plus, he was one heckuva swinger, which always caught me by surprise. Here’s this lyrical, pretty tone, and the next thing you know the guy is poppin’ one terrific Jazz phrase after another.

The trumpet seemed to find him. His was one of the purest tones you will ever hear on the horn. In Don Fagerquist, the instrument found one of its clearest forms of expression.

Don never seemed to get outside of himself. He found big bands and combos to work in that both complimented and complemented the way he approached playing the trumpet.

His tone was what musicians referred to as “legit” [short for legitimate = the sound of an instrument often associated with its form in Classical music].

No squeezing notes through the horn, no half-valve fingering and no tricks or shortcuts. Even his erect posture in playing the instrument was textbook.

If you had a child who wished to play trumpet, Don would have been the perfect teacher for all facets of playing the instrument.

He was clear, he was clean and he was cool.

His sound had a presence to it that just snapped your head around when you heard it; it made you pay attention to it.

No shuckin’ or jiving’, just the majesty of the trumpeter’s clarion call . When the Angel Gabriel picked trumpet as his axe [Jazz talk for instrument], he must have had Don’s tone in mind.

A few years ago, Jordi Pujol, owner and operator of Fresh Sound Records which is based in Spain,  put out a very nice compilation of the Don’s recordings entitled Don Fagerquist: Portrait of a Jazz Artist [FSR 2212].

He included this brief annotation of Don and his career on the CD’s tray plate:

“Don Fagerquist [1927-1974] might have been one of the most underrated Jazz trumpets in history despite countless recordings with Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Les Brown and Dave Pell.

Although he was a Hollywood studio musician since 1956, over the years Don maintained his contact with the Jazz scene, as the tracks on this CD will show.

He had a unique sound and a way of phrasing that immediately identified him, allowing us at once to appreciate his playing. This CD is more than a collection of mood music and Jazz tunes; it is a delightful warm and descriptive musical portrait of a great Jazz artist.”

We have selected The Girl Next Door track from the Fresh Sound anthology for the following video tribute to Don.

Russ Garcia did the arrangement which has Don stating the melody as a ballad [0:00 – 1:07 minutes], then doubling the time [1:08 – 2:30 minutes] to allow Don to show off his Jazz chops before restating the theme as a ballad [2:31 minutes]. You might want to especially listen for the very clever ending in which Don plays a remarkably hip cadenza [3:16 minutes].

Jazz has had many great trumpet stylists over its almost 100 year history, but I don’t think that anyone has even played the horn prettier than Don Fagerquist.