Paul Ferguson performs jazz and sacred music
Paul Ferguson is one of the most respected jazz musicians in all of Greater Cleveland. He is the director of jazz studies at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and the artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. He also plays trombone, and in addition to the eight CDs he has released, he performs with many other artists around the area.
Ferguson, who lives on East Fairfax Road in Cleveland Heights, is 55 years old. He is the father of two daughters: 22-year-old Kelsey Ferguson, who plays violin, often with her father; and 18-year-old Tyler, a recent graduate from Heights High.
Ferguson was born in Sandusky, Ohio. When he was four years old, his family moved to New Jersey. After about two years, the family moved back to Ohio and took up residence in Massillon.
He said he got into music because he grew up in a “musical household.” His mother plays piano, and his father played clarinet. “My mom also had a great record collection,” he said. “She had a lot of classical music, some jazz and musical theater records.” In addition, his older brother worked in a record store and would frequently bring home records. And his older sister, Anne Wilson, played piano. “She was always practicing, and she also suggested that I should be doing the same thing. She was very serious about her music,” he said. Wilson is organist and director of music at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church.
When he was 15 years old, Ferguson started taking trombone lessons. After graduating from high school, he went to the University of Akron, where he received a bachelor’s degree in music. He then attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. He graduated in 1986 with a master’s degree in music. While at Eastman, he focused on composition. In 1984, he started touring with Glenn Miller’s band, and, after graduating from Eastman, he continued to tour with Miller’s band and he also toured with Tommy Dorsey’s band.
In 1988, when Ferguson began teaching at CWRU, he moved to Cleveland Heights. “It’s a very interesting community,” he said. “It’s full of artistic people, and it’s a progressive community. And, in addition to all of that, it’s close to everything.”
Ferguson also leads a group of musicians in a program called Jazz Vespers, which is performed annually at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, of which Ferguson is a member. The most recent performance at St. Paul’s was in May. The Jazz Vespers music focuses heavily on Christian music. “I am thankful that I can present something like the Jazz Vespers to address sacred music,” he said.
Ferguson’s most recent CD, Encounter, came out in 2014. It includes many Christian songs, such as “Psalms 23, 121,” “Christ, Mighty Savior,” “Magnificat” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”
He has also performed with many other Cleveland-area music groups, including the Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Opera and the Cleveland Chamber Brass. “Over the years, I have been very fortunate to have been able to play with really talented musicians,” he said.
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley. He is on the board of Future Heights, and he is the co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee.