Ferguson: Shelly Manne Always Played Music, Not Just The Drums

SKF NOTE: Here’s an insightful tribute letter to Shelly Manne from drummer Sherman Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson’s letter first appeared under the headline, Shelly Manne, in 1985 in Modern Drummer. It is a keeper letter, in my opinion.

Mr. Manne was 64-years old when he died. Mr. Ferguson, I discovered researching this letter, died in 2001 at age 61. According to his obituary, “Sherman Ferguson, a jazz drummer and a member of the faculty in the UCLA Jazz Studies Program…joined the UCLA faculty as a lecturer in January 2001 and taught a jazz ensemble class and private drum lessons.”


Sherman Ferguson


Shelly Manne

I have had the pleasure of performing at a few jazz festivals that also featured…the late Shelly Manne. Shelly’s attitude and playing, and…not least of all his spirit, were always of the highest level. He always had a smile and a good word for all the other musicians, especially the other drummers like myself — always an encouraging word. He generally had a joke or quip…to “crack up” the other “cats.” He was the perfect example of what being a great musician/human being was all about.

[Shelly] made everybody play better, no matter which instrument or group you played in. But the drummers always played better, not out of “competition,” but because Shelly set manne_gomez_evanssuch high musical standards. I know I always played better, and sitting or standing in the wings (as you always should when in the presence of really great musicians) and checking the other groups, I could see and hear the other drummers playing much better than usual.

Shelly always played music, not just the drums. Not only was Shelly a wonderful drummer, he was a marvelous and versatile musician.

I was pleased to be present at the tribute that the city of Los Angeles (along with a wonderful organization called Musician’s Wives) gave in Shelly’s honor on September 9, 1984 — just two weeks before his untimely death. Louis Bellson, Carl Barnett and I played for Shelly, along with other wonderful musicians. Ed Shaughnessy, Armand Zildjian and Leonard Feather (the noted jazz critic/historian) all made very eloquent speeches. It was a great day! I said to a number of the musicians that it was great that Shelly was “given the roses when he could still smell them.”

I’m sorry this letter could not be in your offices in time to be included in your Shelly Manne Tribute, but I would like very much for the “drum world,” and anyone else who is interested, to know of the love I felt, and will always feel, for Mr. Shelly Manne. Thanks, Shelly!

Sherman Ferguson
Los Angeles, CA

Source: Reader’s Platform, Modern Drummer, March 1985
Sherman Ferguson Photo Credit 


SKF NOTE: August 14, 2016 — I found this typewritten letter to Modern Drummer from Sherman Ferguson last night in a box of my drum memorabilia. The red ink Reader’s Platform is in MD founder/publisher Ron Spagnardi’s handwriting. And I’m guessing the black ink 6/8/81 at the top of the page — which is my handwriting — means Ron approved this letter for publication, and I scheduled the letter for the June 8, 1981 MD.

That’s one indicator of the rapidity of online publishing. In 1981, June was the soonest MD could publish Sherman Ferguson’s April letter.


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2 Responses to Ferguson: Shelly Manne Always Played Music, Not Just The Drums

  1. scottkfish says:

    Dear Michael – Thank you. I will look for a copy of the Thigpen/Ferguson interview. Good to know.

    Best, skf

  2. Ed Thigpen was so impressed with Sherman’s playing that he did interview him for the Oct 1987 Modern Drummer magazine, while Sherman was on tour in Denmark. I first heard him on a Warne Marsh recording where he brings some sort of excitement to the rhythm section which Warne Marsh recordings often lacked otherwise. Great drummer, who shouldn’t be forgotten. So thank you for bringing up his name.

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