Ferguson, famous for his ability to soar to astonishing high notes, was born in 1928 in Montreal to teacher parents. He began his career at 13, performing as soloist with the Canadian Broadcasting Company Orchestra. In 1945, at age 17, Ferguson became the leader of his own band; during that decade he played with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Barnett, Jimmy Dorsey and Stan Kenton.
According to The Washington Post, between jazz gigs, Ferguson appeared as classical soloist in the 1950s and 1960s with the New York Philharmonic.
During his career he recorded over 60 albums; his final disc, which will be released as a tribute this fall, was recorded in July with his Big Bop Nouveau Band at Bennett Studios in Englewood, New Jersey. Ferguson also gave sold-out performances at the Blue Note Club in New York last month as part of a national tour. He was scheduled to begin a fall tour to Tokyo in September, and had also been invited to play for the King of Thailand's 80th birthday next January.
MacArthur Park and Gonna Fly Now, which uses the theme from the film Rocky, were among Ferguson's best known and most commercially successful recordings. Often, however, he was far more popular with audiences than critics.
The New York Times quotes trumpeter Lew Soloff, who played with Ferguson starting in the mid-1960s, as saying he had "a tremendous breadth of sound and an incomparable tone." The paper adds that the writer Frank Conroy once said, "He soared above everything, past high C, into the next octave and a half, where his tone and timbre became unique."
According to the statement, the cause of death was kidney and liver failure from an abdominal infection.