Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Shelly Manne - The Kenton Years - Part 1

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


With Shelly Manne joining the Kenton organization, Stan had found the final link that would enable him to expand the band's concept, to truly create a jazz orchestra. …

This tour had been important for Shelly Manne. He was playing the old arrangements like they had never been played before — giving them new life and adding his own unique style. Rugolo was pouring out new material and the band had new charts to play almost every night. The trip had also given the players a chance to settle in with the new drummer and for Shelly to get a feeling for what Kenton wanted, though Kenton always gave new players plenty of time to adjust. Stan was as interested in the musician's personality as he was in his playing skills. In Shelly, he had found exactly what he was looking for. ...

Shelly's playing was expanding. He was now in a most unique musical situation. He was playing in an orchestra comprised of jazz musicians, under the direction of a dynamic leader who wanted to take music in new directions, playing arrangements that were jazz influenced but orchestral by design.  … His whole approach to drumming was musical — creating sounds and rhythms in a way that had never been done before.

For those visitors to the blog “who know me,” this may sound a bit self-serving, but I think that drummers give big bands their distinctiveness.

Don’t get me wrong as I know that their are lots of other “ingredients” that go into making a great big band:

- great charts [arrangements]
- great section leaders
- great soloists
- a great rhythm section
- and most of all, a great leader who melds it all together.

But whether it’s Krupa with Benny Goodman, Rich with Tommy Dorsey or Artie Shaw, Davy Tough or Don Lamond or Jake Hanna with Woody Herman [and later, Jeff Hamilton, who is still at it as one of the co-leaders of the Clayton-Hamilton Big Band], Kenny Clarke and Charli Persip with Dizzy Gillespie [and lest we forget the big band that Clarke co-led with Francy Boland in the 1960s], Sonny Greer, Louie Bellson or Sam Woodyard with Duke Ellington [and later Louie as the leader of his own powerhouse big band], Mel Lewis with the band he co-led with Thad Jones, or Papa Jo Jones and Sonny Payne with Count Basie; the drummer gives a big band its propulsive personality.

At one time or another many, if not most, Jazz musicians want to try their hand at playing in a big band.

When you are in one that clicks, there’s nothing in the world like it.

The surge of energy and rhythmic propulsion generated by a powerful big band leaves you giddy with excitement.

Navigating your way through a big band arrangement with fifteen or so companion musicians creates a sense of deep satisfaction that comes from successfully meeting a difficult challenge.

The art of individualism, which is so much a part of Jazz, gets put aside and is replaced by the teamwork and shared cooperation of playing in an ensemble setting.

When it all comes together you feel like you’re in love; overwhelmed by something bigger than you and that you don’t understand.

You gotta pay attention; you gotta concentrate and you gotta do your best, otherwise it’s a train wreck.

Any nobody kept the Stan Kenton Express on the tracks better than Shelly Manne.

Over its almost 40 years of existence, Stan Kenton’s Orchestra has many fine drummers including a stint by Mel Lewis, but had it not been for Shelly going on the Kenton Band when he did and doing what he did to make that unwieldy orchestra a cohesive and coherent musical aggregation, the band might not have been around for forty years.

Stan Kenton was the first one to admit Shelly importance to both the lonevity of his band and the intrinsic qualities he gave to the drum chair in his music.

And when Stan’s music reached the pinnacle of the sound that he always had in mind for the band with The Neophonic Orchestra in the mid-1960’s, guess who he called on to lead it?

Shelly hadn’t played with Stan’s Orchestra for over 15 years, but he was in the drum chair for the Neophonic’s opening night and for each of the Neophonic’s three, major seasons.

Shelly helped launch Stan’s Orchestra to a pinnacle of national prominence by giving it a distinctive rhythmic personality, not an easy task given the ponderous nature of many of the band’s arrangements.

And, in return, Stan helped launch Shelly’s career as a singular big band and small group drummer, bandleader, and club owner [Shelly along with Ronnie Scott’s in London was one of the few musician owned Jazz clubs to ever achieve any longevity. Ronnie’s place is still going strong today].

Here’s the beginning of a multi-part series that attempts to describe and explain how it all came together between Sheldon Manne and Stanley Kenton.

By 1946, the Big Band Era was terminally ill. Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Les Brown and Jack Teagarden had disbanded or regrouped into smaller units. The ballrooms were beginning to close in the smaller communities and many of the veterans, home from the war, were beginning to raise families. Listening to Amos & Andy or Jack Benny or Edgar Bergen or other popular radio shows had replaced going out for the evening; night clubs were struggling under the weight of the wartime entertainment or dance tax. Yet with all this against the odds, the Kenton "era" was just really getting under way.

Stan Kenton had been leading bands since the early 40s and had enjoyed some success, particularly on the West Coast, his home territory and by 1945, the band had achieved national recognition. Kenton had played one season (1943-44) on the Bob Hope radio show and after moving from Decca to Capitol Records, the band recorded two hits — "Eager Beaver" and Stan's theme song, "Artistry in Rhythm."

During the last years of the war, the Kenton band could be heard often on the radio, and transcriptions clearly show that Kenton was still searching for the band's true identity. One song would feature the screaming brass or the biting sax sections and the next song would sound like a typical hotel band playing songs like "Clair de Lune." And then there was the wartime "cute" patter between the ballroom announcer and the band leader — KENTON: "Hya fellas! Now its time to roll out the rhythm barrel and have a few looks around, so lean in close and we'll long time ya with the five o'clock drag." After the band finished the song — ANNOUNCER: "That one swung out like a loaded crane!" or after Anita O'Day finished a song — ANNOUNCER: "Alreet Aneet. You rocked the neat rockabye." Pretty corny stuff for the band that, in just a few years, would change jazz forever.

Anita O'Day had left the Krupa band and joined Kenton in 1944, but by 1945 she was ready to leave. She was used to a band that could swing, and Kenton's band didn't swing. When she recorded her hit "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine," she insisted on using Jesse Price on drums. The band swung — many said for the first time — but Jesse Price was a black drummer on a white band, and while Kenton had no problem with that, hotels did, and Jesse left. Anita, tired of the road and the band and wanting to further her career, was replaced by an inexperienced 17-year-old Shirley Luster from central Illinois. Stan renamed her June Christy and she recorded her first hit, "Tampico." The band's book included "Intermission Riff" and "Concerto to End All Concertos" and in the January 1946 issue of Look magazine, it was called the Band of the Year.

With Shelly Manne joining the Kenton organization, Stan had found the final link that would enable him to expand the band's concept, to truly create a jazz orchestra.

Trombonist Kai Winding was changing the Kenton section sound and arranger Pete Rugolo, who had joined the band as soon as he was out of the service, had started to change the band's entire musical direction. Nearly a drummer a month had been hired and fired before Shelly arrived. Tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper remembered how the guys felt about Shelly joining Kenton — "When Shelly came with the band it was real exciting for everybody because we had been hanging out on 52nd Street after work and Shelly was playing with his group and with other people. The younger guys on Stan's band were getting into bebop so we wanted to know what that was all about. We were thrilled to have him on the band so we could learn the newer trends."

On February 21, 1946, Shelly hit his first official note with the Stan Kenton Orchestra and broke the drum head. It was at the Adams Theater in Newark, New Jersey, and after all the hassles Kenton had experienced with other drummers, he didn't know what to think as Shelly struggled through the show without a snare drum head. But Kenton soon discovered that with this new drummer, the band would be unlimited in the new directions it would take. The band was happy, Shelly was happy and so was Flip. Kenton was one of the very few leaders who allowed the wives to travel with the band and this meant that Shelly and Flip could be together, albeit with 30 or more other people on the bus.

The Kenton organization was now changing from a dance band to a "concert" jazz band, though it would take some time. Dance music was the bread and butter, the money maker, for the big bands. It had been since the beginning. All through the 1920s, 30s and the war years, bands made their way by providing music for dancing. In many cases, the music was just wallpaper, a background in a social setting. But Stan Kenton had different ideas, and with the band he was calling the "Artistry in Rhythm" band, he began playing an hour "concert" within the normal four-hour dance engagement. A few years earlier, the band had worked up a comedy episode using the tune "St. James Infirmary Blues" as the vehicle. It was always a big hit with the audiences and the comic relief gave the dancers a break. Now that Shelly Manne was on the band, the comedy became funnier and wilder. He would jump out from behind the drums, grab a tenor sax and leap high in the air, screeching on the horn as he seemed to hang in space — Kenton would try to sing the tune, but the guys in the band would individually or collectively yell things like — "Hey Stan! There's a woman backstage with the laundry." Kenton would look and then the same voice would say, "She says she'd like it done by Tuesday," or somebody would say, "Be seriously," or the band would break into some kind of cornball Lombardo type of offering — or some kind of effeminate hanky-panky would take place. The fans loved it and so did the band.

June Christy was a smash. The petite little blonde from the Midwest was a new singing sensation. Though the critics correctly mentioned that she sang "a little flat", it gave her an almost "hip" identity. She was a "rage" with the fans — though, as Flip Manne recalls — "She had no idea how pretty she really was." But thousands of fans did, and so did trumpeter Ray Wetzel, who one night charged into her hotel room with amorous thoughts until June hit him over the head with a bottle of booze.

Gene Howard was still singing with the band, doing the ballads, so that part of the band was still fairly commercial. But Rugolo was cranking out arrangements almost daily, and Stan introduced him every night as his chief staff arranger, then had him play piano during the last set so the tall band leader could go out in the crowd and talk with the fans, and talk he did!

If you introduced yourself to Stan Kenton, it would be most likely that he would call you by name the next time you saw the band, even months later. He had an almost superhuman ability to remember names, and that won him and the band many fans. So, while the band played an ever shrinking number of dance tunes and more and more of the Rugolo material, the fans and the critics lined up on either side — you either loved the Kenton band or you hated it. The ballroom operators griped because there wasn't enough dance music or the band was too loud. Some jazz players and critics said the band was too heavy and didn't swing. Musicians coming off and on the band referred to it as the "boiler factory." But everywhere the band played, the audiences were getting bigger and louder and more loyal. There was nothing like a Kenton fan; there was nobody like Stan Kenton.

The band played the Adams Theater seven days, closing on the 26th of February, and spent the next few months playing one-nighters and occasional theater dates. Four years earlier, Kenton had bombed on his first trek East, but now the band was hot and the press was saying so. They were on an extensive Eastern-Southeastern swing and the "trades" were giving some great reviews; some included kind words about the new drummer. Though some critics were calling the music "radical," box-office grosses were soaring. Stan Kenton, the visionary, was finally realizing his dream. He was creating a new music. Some said it was jazz, some said it wasn't. Whatever it was, it was causing a nationwide stir.

Sheldon and Florence Manne filed their income tax in April and Shelly declared that, after his discharge from the Coast Guard, he made $1,089.20 playing drums in 1945. He would do a lot better with the Kenton organization. The end of April 1946 found the band in St. Louis at the Tune Town Ballroom where 3,000 fans waded through the drenched streets to witness the opening night. After five days, the band bus made its way up Route 66 to play another five dates at the Rainbo Gardens Ballroom on Clark Street in Chicago. This tour had been important for Shelly Manne. He was playing the old arrangements like they had never been played before — giving them new life and adding his own unique style. Rugolo was pouring out new material and the band had new charts to play almost every night. The trip had also given the players a chance to settle in with the new drummer and for Shelly to get a feeling for what Kenton wanted, though Kenton always gave new players plenty of time to adjust. Stan was as interested in the musician's personality as he was in his playing skills. In Shelly, he had found exactly what he was looking for.

In mid-May the band went to the West Coast and began rehearsing for its Capitol recording session scheduled for early June. By the 4th, they were recording a new Rugolo arrangement of "Rika Jika Jack" that featured June Christy and some singing by the band. June did some scat and Shelly complemented Rugolo's double-time brass riffs with his own double-time drum fills. This was the first time any of Rugolo's arrangements had been recorded, and it was Shelly's first record with the band. On the same day, the band recorded "Artistry in Boogie" and "Come Back to Sorrento." The latter featured one of the band's stars, Vido Musso. Beginning as a two-beat dance tune, it soon develops into an all out swinging "jump" tune with Shelly swinging the band, and then employs the frequently-used dramatic ending with the tom-toms creating a timpani effect. This recording would later be used in Kenton's famous Artistry in Rhythm album, the band's first 78 RPM album set.

Rugolo was using a lot of theatrical introductions and endings in his arrangements, and this suited Kenton very well. The band leader, all six-foot-four of him, presented a powerful image as he stood in front of his "concert" jazz orchestra and waved his long arms while conducting this new exciting music. When the band opened at the Meadowbrook Gardens in Culver City, it gave the band a four-week stint that enabled them to get the new charts down and record them. The band was in and out of the studios all summer and into the fall, working gigs in L.A. and doing a lot of Capitol transcriptions.

In the early 1930s "electrical transcriptions" were used by local radio stations in lieu of live musicians. By the 1940s, transcriptions were used by all radio stations in addition to playing regular discs. Bands would often re-record their hits for transcription companies who provided music services for the radio industry. The Kenton band recorded several transcriptions on June 7, 1946, including a novelty tune, "Who's Got a Tent for Rent?" featuring trumpeter Ray Wetzel and vocal tunes featuring June Christy and one song sung by Gene Howard. "Lover," featuring Kenton's "'Fatha' Hines" stylization, was a Stan Kenton arrangement that reached back into the band's older sound. The band would often use older arrangements to fill the 16" transcription disc for radio use.

On July 12th the band recorded four Rugolo arrangements that would be included in the Artistry album. One, "Safranski," featured the bass playing of Eddie Safranski, one of the featured members of the band. In fact Safranski was featured almost all the time since many of the arrangements had the bass line double-timing over Kenton's piano. While this bass player was a "star" on the band on records and in person, he was not a favorite of Shelly's. His time and his sound when playing live on the bandstand had a kind of loose, flapping effect and, while he had some fairly good technique, he didn't swing. In fact, one reason the band had trouble swinging was because of the members of the rhythm section. Kenton was by no means a swinging pianist and guitarist Bob Ahern, while liked by everyone, was not an out-and-out jazzer. This left Shelly pretty much alone in trying to swing this behemoth jazz orchestra. The very complexity of the arrangements made it difficult to "get it off the ground."

As Kenton was preparing for the Artistry album, he suggested to Pete Rugolo that he would like something that would feature his new drummer. Pete and Shelly got together and Shelly expressed that he did not want the usual flag waver, that he was interested in something orchestral — what better writer than Rugolo! Pete had been very impressed with Shelly right away. "He could read and play anything. Nothing bothered him. He didn't even gripe about some of the 'funny stuff’ Stan wanted for the comedy routines. He had wonderful tone color ideas and cymbal sounds." When Kenton said "I'd like something for Shelly," Pete wrote "Artistry in Percussion." It was recorded on the July 12th date and it became an immediate hit with the fans. It had to be around three minutes in length because it was to be a 10" 78, part of an eight-song set for the album and Shelly chose mallets and tom-toms to express his percussive musicality. He would soon be featured every night performing this piece and he would be listed on the theater marquees and the ballroom posters.

Shelly's playing was expanding. He was now in a most unique musical situation. He was playing in an orchestra comprised of jazz musicians, under the direction of a dynamic leader who wanted to take music in new directions, playing arrangements that were jazz influenced but orchestral by design. On the same July 12th date, "Artistry in Bolero" was recorded and Shelly is heard playing a very light bolero rhythm, beginning with a snare drum pattern that ranges from pianissimo to a raging triple forte — then a pounding tom-tom accompaniment to the trumpet section. This was truly the young man who had watched his father Max beat out the hammering of Richard Strauss's Burlesque on the pillows of the front room couch for a young timpanist by the name of Saul Goodman. Shelly was using the drum set as timpani as well as a jazz instrument and he would do that throughout his life. His whole approach to drumming was musical — creating sounds and rhythms in a way that had never been done before.

Rugolo was writing about seventy-five percent of the music now, with only occasional offerings by Hanna or Roland. Stan was too busy to write. When the band traveled, after staying up half the night on the bus, he was at the local radio station for interviews early in the morning. He was not only pushing for his records to be played on the air, he was promoting the entire Capitol Records roster since he was in on the inception of this new recording label. Now that the band was in L.A. for awhile, he busied himself meeting with personal manager Carlos Gastel or Capitol Record executives or preparing for the fall tour that would take them back east. The big band business was supposed to be dead, but here was the man who refused to believe it and was proving his critics wrong at every turn.

Back in May, Flip had flown out to L.A. with Marie Winding and Teri Kabak (ahead of the band) and stayed in Del Mar while the band worked its way to the West Coast to play at Mission Beach. For the band this was to be a kind of a vacation time before the Meadowbrook, when the rehearsals and recording dates would fill the days and nights of late summer. Bing Crosby was one of the investors in the very posh area called Del Mar that included the Turf and Surf Hotel. Flip remembers, "It was an exciting time! The Kenton band was really catching on and Shelly was very happy to be in such a musical situation. I can recall Marie and Teri and I going into the hotel for dinner for the first time and we didn't realize it was formal dress. We were super casual and the head waiter was less than friendly" Tenor saxophonist Bob Cooper and June Christy had fallen in love and were close with the Mannes and when they went horseback riding Shelly called the tall tenor player "Long Deluxe." It was a great summer for the band, but it went by quickly.

After a week at the Million Dollar Theatre in L.A., the band hit the road and worked its way eastward, a full month-and-a-half of one-nighters, in and out of the bus — the iron lung they called it. The music magazines were raving about Shelly Manne. At the Music Trades Show in Chicago, the Gretsch Drum Company gave Shelly equal billing with his idol, Jo Jones. The music critics were talking about the drummer with the Kenton band — and they were misspelling his name, something they would do forever. It could be Shelley Manne or Shelly Mann or an almost unbelievable combination of adding or dropping "e"s. But however they spelled it, Shelly Manne and the whole Kenton band were on a ride and the world was finding out about a different kind of drummer. The Artistry album, featuring "The fastest growing band in the land" had been released ($3.15 plus tax) and now they were about to open at the Paramount Theatre, and the son of Max Manne was a featured performer. Sheldon Manne was back home.

To be continued in Part 2.

[Research for this feature includes Burt Korall’s Drummin’ Men, Jack Brand and Bill Korst, Shelly Manne: Sounds of A Different Drummer, Georges Paczynski, Une Histoire De La Batterie De Jazz, a host of Down Beat, Metronome, Esquire and Modern Drummer magazines, websites such as Drummerworld and a bunch of liner notes to Shelly’s manny LPs and CDs.]

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