Label lickers can debate about whether Harry Ferguson was an R&B honker or a big-band jazzman, in the latter case frequently staying in his seat while one of the other tenor saxophonists stood up to kick a solo. The truth is, Ferguson's musical experiences unfolded in action-packed times, with so many playing opportunities that there was most likely not enough time left in the day to decide what to call the music itself, as it should be. Ferguson has plenty of company in the various groupings of players, call them armies if one is in a preemptive mood, with which he can proudly claim affiliation.
He came out of the Kansas City jazz scene, active by at least the '30s in both big and medium-sized bands, including that of pianist Jay McShann. He was one of the faces the young Charlie Parker stared at in awe when sneaking into clubs, but by the time the bebop Bird was in full flight Ferguson was in Chicago, marching in ranks in which the rhythmic rules were stricter and simpler. Some of the great Mercury R&B material from the '50s features Ferguson in horn divisions; he was certainly no stranger to backing vocalists, going back to the Kansas City days and band singers such as the legendary Julia Lee. Ferguson was a schooled musician who also made some dollars in the '30s writing a type of band orchestration known as "baby specials," which would fit small-combo instrumentations ranging from quartets to septets.