Bagpipe / Snare Drum / 1st Trumpet
1985 - 1992
Dear Bandizens Young and not so young, Greetings.
The year was 1985 and Parthi was agog with the commencement of the academic year that heralded the mother of all events - the 60th birthday. It was my fist year as a student at Parthi and we were all bursting with excitement. Every day was a moment to cherish with Swami just pouring out His Prema and the students soaking in every bit of it. We had just recovered from a bout of stony silence and the loving mother was more than making up for the "treatment" administered by involving us in the Convocation Drama, Jhoola Music Program, Birthday Procession, food distribution and loads and loads of other stuff.
Back then, there was no Sai Kulwanth Hall, no flooring at the darshan hall - neither concrete nor cuddapah. Just the golden sands fringed by the coconut palms and His footsteps embossed on them. The stillness of darshan was explosive. All eyes riveted on the carved wooden door, waiting for that moment when the knob creaked to allow the Glimmer into this setting.
On one such pleasant July evening, the Door opened and instead of the Gaze shifting from the crack of the door to scan the tray bearing birthday boys, the Eyes remained on the veranda.
"When did you come sir?" - intoned the familiar Voice.
Suddenly a genial, gregarious giant, with arms folded, somehow hopped skipped and jumped over the other stoically seated functionaries, all in one motion and knelt before Swami saying
"This morning, Swami".
Immediately, the Premaswaroopa was gleaming with the mischief reserved for very few. A long conversation followed with a lot of gesticulations and laced with a lot of laughter, prema and ananda. Just as the person was being blessed with Vibhuthi, straight faced whispers were shared by the white clad masses seated in the portico with craning necks - "Ferguson, Ferguson!"
Turning towards us seated there Swami smilingly said - "Vocchesaaru mana Trumpet!"
These are my first memories of the man Swami lovingly referred to as 'Trumpet', whom many budding and established musicians referred to as Boss, our band boys called Dad or Grandpa and the world knew as Maynard Ferguson.
The impression that has remained in my minds eye for over twenty years is of the unsullied joy that existed between Swami and Maynard. That twinkle of instantaneous recognition that is reserved for very few of the millions of Pilgrims to Parthi, was always there in abundance for Maynard.
A few days later we enjoyed a wonderful program the hostel (in the unexpanded dining hall of those days packed with 600+ school and Institute students). MF played Vaatapi, Ganga Jatadhara, Sai Baba Blues. The audience and the accompanying musicians were elevated to a different realm. The Sweet Baba suite was first played to an audience that day. Numerous interviews to the blessed couple, Maynard and Flo, followed with Swami showering His kindness in abundance on them.
During this time Swami froze the plans for Maynard’s return in November when he was slated to play fusion pieces with the physicist Vemu Mukund on the Veena. Maynard in turn had some preliminary discussions with the seniors in the "Sai Symphony", as the music group was called back then, and gave them some instructions.
Some of the students would be accompanying the Maestro!
Next was the crucial selection test for the students who would accompany Maynard.. Luckily MF had left behind his Holton and this was the only instrument we had for practice! To cut a long story short, it was total trepidation for me, all of fourteen years, in the IXth standard, to somehow blow my way through the test. In my inspired enthusiasm to impress the great man I hit a high C after the G on his trumpet, not knowing the fingering to progress through A, B in between. He laughed and said, “This guy has got range”
A few days later I was thrilled to hear that I was amongst the three selected to play with him for the 19th November program.
Thus MF’s return marked a seven year “enrichment of music appreciation and learning” for me. He brought with him two more horns which we used for the 19th November, 1985 program. He had four days to train us and we were soaking in all the “gyaan” on lip positioning, chest filled up and eyes on the Boss. All the cues, the nuances of tuning indoors and outdoors, resting the lips, when to continue to play, how to withdraw, what the single wink nod meant and what the thumbs up with the finger pointing downwards indicated.
It would be an understatement to say that those three or four days of practice was an education for a lifetime. The super hit of that program was “When The Saints Go Marching In” - nothing fancy like Chameleon or Gospel John that the band played many years later. MF took that simple melody to stratospheric levels during that concert, like only he could. We were performing on the Shanthi Vedika stage. Swami and a select few elders and guests were seated in the “D”. Over a million others had converged on the hills and the ground beyond. In spite of this intimidating audience MF made us, the three trumpets, come in front of the stage and perform! Never before had there been anything quite like that in my life nor has there been thereafter. He made us look like heroes for playing just the chorus that evening! That was classic Maynard.
It was Swami, him, and his love for Swami and Swami's love for him that made us a bunch of heroes that night. People commended his playing and they were repeatedly appreciative that he got the three of us to play his instrument with him. MF seemed ecstatic about this as well.
That trait - of teaching, of giving himself selflessly and of making something grand out of almost nothing, was what probably epitomized most of what he did around the world. This is especially true for the bunch of us from the prehistoric times of the band in Parthi.
A year or so later, came the shiny new band instruments that he arranged to be sent to the Institute from Yamaha and Holton. Along with them came a whole lot of music and software. There are many memories that begin to well up just thinking of this.
Practice was in the “ad block” those days. Early morning climbs up the hill at an "INDIAN 6:30", with him saying that the climb was good for his lungs. Of huddling up with him in the guest room of the hostel and asking all kinds of questions about the road trips, the BUS, the blues, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, his Japanese bows, mouth pieces, his tone deaf brother, his pranayama, his suddenly breaking off in the middle of a sentence to speak to the omnipresent Swami in the room! After dinner we gorged pastries and were strictly instructed that Mrs. Ferguson was not to be told anything about it!
Once MF told my grandfather that I was like a son to him. My grandfather got so concerned that a few days later he gingerly approached MF to make sure that I didn't end up joining his band. This incident sent us all howling with laughter!!
The list is endless.
After Maynard arranged the new band instruments, a new era dawned upon us. With his continuous teaching and guidance the performance of the band improved ever year to the extent that today it is, without a shred of doubt, the best university brass band in our country. That he was able to catalyze the creation of the Band and turn it into such a potent creative force is really remarkable. This has not only given much joy to Swami but also afforded a rare opportunity to all the band members. Herein lies the profoundness of what he did for us.
He will have a place in our hearts for eternity and the large hearted person that he was, I do hope that we have our place in his as well.
Thank you Swami for blessing us with him!