Friday, September 13, 2013

Stan Kenton – Artistry in Rhythm – by Dr. William Lee

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"A lot of people didn't like what he was doing musically, and I don't know why. He was way ahead of all the avant garde play­ers and the so-called experimenters. But he did it when it wasn't fashionable, and he got put down. And now there are people who won't give credit where credit is due. I say that Stan Kenton was one of the most important pioneers of jazz, and he also had one of the great swing bands. There can never be a history of jazz without the name of Stan Kenton ..."
— Mel Lewis, drummer and bandleader

"Stan Kenton is six and a half feet of nervous exhausting energy that has produced some of the most aggravating, some of the most impressive, some of the most depressive, some of the most exciting, some of the most boring and certainly some of the most controversial sounds music and/or noise ever to emanate from any big band."
George T. Simon, Jazz critic

"Among the transient voices of jazz, the magic of the Kenton sound will long survive its creator. This book captures the exis­tential qualities of both the man and his music."
— Peter C. Newman, Editor, Maclean's Magazine

As the frequent postings on the blog about he and his music would suggest, Stan Kenton is one of my heroes.

He is not every Jazz fan’s hero, but I’m glad he is one of mine for all the reasons expressed by Mort Sahl in his Foreword to and by Dr. William Lee and Frank Sinatra in their Prelude and Introduction to Dr. Lee’s Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm [Los Angeles: The Creative Press, 1980] which follows these opening comments.

Stan received a great deal of criticism throughout his career for a variety of reasons some of which were perhaps appropriate and even relevant.

But if you’ve ever tried to play this music, you know hard it is to do so, let alone to do so consistently well. In this context, I could never understand the denigration that was leveled at him from what seemed to be purely negative and mean-spirited points-of-view.

Sure, Stan played some garbage. Who hasn’t? What, everything that Duke wrote was a masterpiece? Woody Herman once made an album entitled Woody’s Winners which some members of the Herman Old Guard promptly dubbed Woody’s Losers. And Count Basie's was a heckuva blues band, was a heckuva blues band, was a … you get the idea.

Stan’s music may not have been to everybody’s taste, but the strength of his musical convictions and his willingness to act upon them should have been.

Yes, I mean that statement as a moral imperative. The Jazz World can never have too many heroes, whatever their musical preferences.

At the end of this piece, you’ll find a video tribute to Stan with one of the many, fine bands he formed in the last decade of his career playing their version of his theme song – Artistry in Rhythm. After all these years, listening to that theme still leaves me with goose bumps.

© -William F. Lee/The Creative Press, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

By Mort Sahl

We are all his children. He changed the lives of everyone he met. He was a rider to the stars, but he built a band bus and took us with him.

I write this through a veil of pain. The wound has been open since August, 1979, when he left us. Now I remove the poker from the crucible of memory — that's all we have now — and attempt to cauterize the wound.

Where were you when first you heard him? I was in a C-47 in the Aleutian Islands, but my radio was in the Hollywood Palladium. When I came home, I bought, first, "The Peanut Vendor" on a 78. A Capitol record, because Dave Dexter recognized talent. Peggy Lee, Johnny Mercer, Nat Cole, Stan Kenton. The elitist discovers talent, the populist passes it around. Like a jug, I guess!

Stan Kenton took America at her word: The only limit was your imagination. He expressed our defiance when we couldn't find the words. He had weapons in the war of sound. He even invented one: the mellophonium.

But it wasn't just his vision he unleashed. It was everyone else's, too. He played the works of Pete Rugolo, Bill Russo, Bob Graettinger, Gerry Mulligan, Franklyn Marks, Johnny Richards, Bill Mattheu, Dee Barton, Hank Levy, the last so fascinated with time changes that Stan would study the chart and ask, "What's the area code?" As for Bill Holman, his talent needed an entire album.

Stan believed you didn't try to knock the audiences out; you really blew to knock yourself out. He taught that to Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, Shelly Manne, Stan Levey, Maynard Ferguson, Kai Winding, Laurindo Almeida — well, the manifest is lengthy. It reads as an index and a calendar of where we went to school, when we went to war, with whom we fell in love, and every time we heard "Artistry in Rhythm" when we came home!

The critics never liked Stan. Ralph Gleason, Nat Hentoff, Leonard Feather tried to deny him. First, on intellectual grounds: the music was formal, written. It "didn't swing". (Ask Zoot Sims. Ask Stan Getz.) Critics used their impeccable liberal credentials to define the struggle with this man who threatened their status quo. They pointed out that his band was all white. Ask Curtis Counce. Ask Ernie Royal, ask Carlos Vidal. Ask Kevin Jordan. Ask Jean Turner. But you should never have asked Stan. He was an American who disliked coercion and never had time to rebut critics. He thought it a waste of time, like nostalgia. "Do you reject it?" I asked. "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be," Stan replied.

Kenton's revolution in the use of brass, his Progressive Jazz period and the Innovations Orchestra excited the people and threat­ened, thus frightened, the press. When all else failed, they politicized the struggle once more and labeled him a rightist. The only political reference he ever made to me was one night on the bus, as we rolled across Kansas. "Maybe if all the farmers went to each coast and beat up all the intellectuals, the country would be better off."

Well, of course, they're not intellectuals. They're dilettantes. Oppenheimer was an intellectual. So is McCarthy. Hentoff hasn't fought for them. And they're not liberals. William O. Douglas was. Feather didn't mourn his passing. You say Douglas wasn't a musician. Well, Feather didn't mourn Stan's passing either.

It's not right versus left, or male versus female (ask Mary Fettig, who played tenor on Stan's band), it's the individual versus the group. Stan was first an individual. Right-wing? No, anti-collective. If the truth were known, the bourgeoisie in jazz objected not to what he had to say so much as his right to say it.

Stan's struggle with the band was not political, it was Freudian. The band looked upon him as a father; they called him "The Old Man" and they constantly felt his presence. Some found this inhibiting, but he looked upon them as children. The nest was structured, but only so they could fly beyond.

No one ever asked Stan to score a movie, but no contemporary composer is without his influence. Ask Hank Mancini. Ask Johnny Mandel.

Regrouping in 1970, Stan did what any independent does in a controlled society. He took his message to the people. He bought his own bus with an 800 mile range, and set out to establish music clinics at the universities — almost a baseball farm system. The worthiest students joined the band. "It's like making the Olympic team", one told me.

Stan never condemned those of this alumni who were vegetating as "successes" in studios. He was too busy developing places for the new composers and players to stand. And after all, if you have a place to stand, you can change the world.

I know it happened this way because I was there, right to the last night in August, 1978, when the entire trumpet section came down in front of the band to play a five-man screech-out chorus. By the way, it was "The Peanut Vendor".

As Don McLean says in "American Pie", it was "the day the music died."

When President Kennedy was killed, Senator Moynihan was asked, "Will we ever smile again?", and Moynihan said, "Yes, but we'll never be young again."
I have faith that in spite of the drug cutters, the corrupt press, the reactionary musicians who are still trying to imitate Bill Basie, somewhere some kid had the Kenton experience that will lead to his creating his own music. There will be a Kenton legacy if that kid fights for it.

I had that experience. Stan Kenton was my friend ... I loved him . . but, ultimately, Stan Kenton was a leader for 38 years. The orchestra played — and I heard it.

We are all his children.


‘‘The era has only begun. These are dynamic times and jazz is a dynamic language. To a musician, oft-repeated phrases soon grow sterile, and he seeks a new, exciting way to state his truths. For Stan Kenton, this constant, self-perpetuating search is a basic fact of life, so much a part of his being that it touches and inspires all with whom he comes in contact. He is a unique person, a unique explorer.’ (Freeman, The Kenton Era, unpublished brochure for Capitol Records, 1954, p. 43)

Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor, Leader, Administrator, Educator, Philosopher, Innovator, Humanitarian — Stan Kenton was a twentieth century renaissance man. Consider that while he had little formal education, he championed the cause of higher education; he maintained and supported (often at his own expense) large orchestras at times when society, economics, and his peers found it impractical to do so; he conducted non-dance orchestras when dancing was in, and dance orchestras when dancing was out; he built his name into a household word through nearly forty years on the road, yet preferred to travel on the orchestra bus (facetiously labeled NOWHERE) with his personnel; the same talent and drive that has produced some of the most exciting music of the twentieth century took legal steps to see that his name is not perpetuated via the "Stan Kenton Orchestra under the direction of" tradition.

A cursory review of a few of the musicians whose careers were launched and/or furthered by Stan Kenton reveals some of the most noted jazz figures of our time. Vocalists: June Christy, Anita O'Day, Chris Connor, Ann Richards, The Four Freshmen, Jeri Winters, Dave Lambert, Jean Turner; Arrangers/Composers: Gerry Mulligan, Allyn Ferguson, Manny Albam, Russ Garcia, Lennie Niehaus, Gene Roland, Lalo Schifrin, Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman, Marty Paich, Bill Russo, Neal Hefti, Pete Rugolo, Bob Graettinger, Hugo Montenegro, Johnny Richards, Willie Maiden, Dee Barton, Hank Levy, Bob Curnow, Ken Hanna, Mark Taylor, Alan Yankee; Alto Saxophonists: Bud Shank, Lennie Niehaus, Lee Konitz, Charlie Mariano, Art Pepper, Tony Campise, John Park, Gabe Baltazar, David Schildkraut, Vinnie Dean, Boots Mussulli; Tenor Saxophonists: Stan Getz, Sam Donahue, Richie Kamuca, Zoot Sims, Buddy Collette, Vido Musso, Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Red Dorris, Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Holman, Don Menza; Baritone Saxophonists: Pepper Adams, Bob Gioga, Bob Gordon, Jack Nimitz, Billy Root, Alan Yankee; Trumpeters: Conte and Pete Candoli, Sam Noto, Ernie Royal, Al Porcino, Buddy Childers, Rolf Erickson, Maynard Ferguson, Jack Sheldon, Bud Brisbois, Gary Barone, Dalton Smith, Marvin Stamm, Gappy Lewis, Mike Vax; Trombonists: Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, Milt Bernhart, Kai Winding, Bobby Burgess, Kent Larsen, Bob Fitzpatrick, Archie LeCoque, George Roberts, Jim Amlotte, Dick Shearer; French Hornist Julius Watkins; Mellophoniumists: Joe Burnett, Tom Wirtel, Lou Gasga; Guitarists: Ralph Blaze, Laurindo Almeida, Sal Salvador, Bill Strange; Bassists: Eddie Safranski, Don Bagley, Red Mitchell, Curtis Counce, Pat Senatore, Monte Budwig, Howard Rumsey, Kerby Stewart; Drummers; Stan Levey, Shelly Manne, Charlie Perry, Irv Kluger, Mel Lewis, Chuck Flores, Peter Erskine, Gary Hobbs, Jerry McKenzie and Percussionists: Jack Costanza, Larry Bunker, Frank De Vito, Ramon Lopez. …”

Perhaps long time colleague and admirer Frank Sinatra best summed up the Kenton contribution:

‘Stan Kenton is the most significant figure of the modern jazz age. His fight to popularize modern jazz won him a legion of followers, but this was not an easy road ... In every time there are men whose special role it is to give expression to the spirit of their day. They become its symbols, each in his own field of art. Stan Kenton is such an individual, the symbol of a vibrant world that finds its voice in jazz. His story is, in many ways, the story of modern jazz, and this musical era is his ...

Kenton felt a personalized sympathy toward jazz . . . Kenton has always felt that music is food for the emotions, and that greater demands are being made of it continuously because we are reaching deeper into our inner selves . . .

When broadcasting, playing concerts or dance dates, Kenton always credits his musicians. Their names are always mentioned, who wrote or arranged the compositions, who plays solo. His men never go unnoticed. He often adds touches of humor and is rarely lost for words. His shows are all adlibbed. Kenton's manner of presentation has never failed to inspire enthusiasm in every audience ....
(Christopher Mueller and Dr. Siegfried Mueller, Artistry in Kenton, Vols. I, II, 1968 and 1973, Vienna: privately published).’

This book traces the history of the life and professional activities of Stan Kenton and those who were fortunate enough to be touched by his personal, professional, and artistic genius.

William F. Lee
Coral Gables, Florida 1980
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  1. It's nice agreeing with evrything said here, including the downside items, Stan was a talisman to several generations that instinctively challenged the status quo, the excitement that the "wall of sound" created, the ncredible musicians he fostered, all those wonderful arrangers that have enriched our lives and pleasures ever since. They all stood on the shoulders of a giant. God bless him and you Steve, so timely. One downer that I cannot overcome, in this and other recent related items, I see album covers that I can't obtain, so frustrating, escpecially of the '53 band. Kep it up, you're swinging pretty good there Bix.

  2. I was introduced to STAN KENTON in the 1970s when he did his famed Jazz Clinics in the summer at Drury College in Springfield, Mo. I had a (then) beau who was wild for the music and I toddled along to the concerts. We would sit on the back row in the balcony and soon, I too fell for the wafting music and graceful style of Kenton's songs. We learned the orchestra's horns were so powerful, if we got seats on the main floor, we were drown-in-sound and were able to better hear the instrument's blend up near the rafters! The evenings were very memorable and I smile thinking of them now...
    When Kenton did these highly popular Clinics, he conducted the concerts nightly. The auditorium would be packed. Each show was more superior than the last. He came back year after year and I never missed one performance. Woody Herman and his group came once - couldn't begin to be compared to Kenton's music.


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