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L.A. session drummer, teacherby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2006 Todd S. Jenkins
Philadelphia-born Sherman Ferguson, who became one of Los Angeles’ most in-demand drummers, died of complications of diabetes on January 22, 2006. He was sixty-one years old.
When Ferguson began working professionally in the mid-1960s he was equally at home in funk, ethnic and straight-ahead jazz settings. He first came to wide attention in Philly’s popular jazz-funk fusion band Catalyst, alongside saxman Odean Pope (A Tear and a Smile, Muse, 1975). Ferguson did some outstanding work with guitarist Pat Martino in the early 1970s. His fluid, flexible percussion skills graced a number of Martino’s albums of the era, including Desperado (1970, Prestige) and Consciousness (1974, Muse). After Martino recovered from his traumatic illness and memory loss, he often called upon Ferguson for his ensembles (Interchange, 1994, Muse).
In 1976 Ferguson moved to Los Angeles where, under Kenny Burrell, he rekindled his love for supporting jazz guitar. Since the 1980s the drummer had covered the full spectrum of jazz: leaning into freedom with Bobby Bradford’s Mo’tet and Pharoah Sanders (Crescent, With Love, Evidence, 1992); West Coast cool with Bud Shank (California Concert with Shorty Rogers, 1985; Serious Swingers with Bill Perkins, 1986, both on Contemporary) and the 1995 Kenton Alumni Band; bop with Eddie Harris and Benny Carter; vocal jazz with Lou Rawls, Ruth Brown and Karrin Allyson. Bassist John Heard was a frequent partner, and in the 1980s the pair worked in an acclaimed trio with pianist Tom Ranier. Other artists who benefited from his drum mastery include Tete Montoliu, Holly Hofmann, Horace Silver, Warne Marsh, George Shearing, Sonny Stitt, Ahmad Jamal, Joe Williams, Dizzy Gillespie and Joe Henderson.
Ferguson was a drum instructor at UCLA and UC Irvine, and a faculty member of the Los Angeles Music Academy. Under the auspices of Jazz America he frequently performed around the Los Angeles school district. He was a contributing writer for L.A. Jazz Scene and wrote liner notes for several artists. He recorded sporadically as a leader, most recently issuing Welcome to My Vision(Jazz-a-zance, 2002) with his JazzUnion band.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.