© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
As the United States entered the year 1950 it had no idea that by June it would once again be at war — this time in Korea. The "post-war" years had brought about quite a few changes. Harry Truman, the no-nonsense President, had helped the country make the transition from the years of Roosevelt, World War II, and guided the financial recovery. The Federal tax on colored oleo was repealed and in towns all across America, it was still common to pick out a live chicken to kill for Sunday dinner. Television, for the average family, was three or four years down the line and Vaudeville had all but disappeared in the local theaters — except in Rockford, Illinois, where Dick Farrell (Shelly's replacement on the Byrne band) played drums for four or five shows a day. Ezzard Charles denied Joe Louis a comeback and Connie Mack retired.
The big bands were going, too. Name band recordings were still being made, but often by studio musicians. It was costing too much to move a band around and there were fewer and fewer ballrooms to play. The singers had really taken over the recording industry and the tastes of the common family had switched from the songs of Cole Porter and Harold Arlen, from the sounds of Glenn Miller and Harry James to — "Cry Of The Wild Goose," by Frankie Laine. Other hits were — "The Thing," by Phil Harris, "C'est Si Bon," by Eartha Kitt, "Goodnight Irene," by the Weavers, "Music!, Music!, Music!", sung by Teresa Brewer (who would later become Mrs. Thiele), "3rd Man Theme," by Anton Karas, and Patti Page's sugar laden rendition of "Tennessee Waltz." The movies were providing better fare — All About Eve, with Bette Davis, Born Yesterday, starring Judy Holliday and Jose Ferrer's Cyrano de Bergerac.
Shelly Manne arrived in Los Angeles just in time for rehearsals for what Stan Kenton was calling "Innovations of Modern Music of 1950." It was to be a two-year struggle for the innovative band leader who wanted to bridge the gap between jazz and classical music. His dream was to have the orchestra tour for a three-month "season", much like the symphony orchestras — and he was planning a network of music schools, first Los Angeles, then Chicago, then New York. He would have some of his musicians teach in these schools to provide them with income when the orchestra wasn't touring. The Innovations orchestra would consist of ten violins, three violas, three cellos, Safranski on bass, Almeida on guitar, two French horns, tuba, five trumpets, five trombones and five reeds — many of them required to "double" clarinet, flute and some double-reed instruments. Milt Bernhart would handle much of the trombone solo work, Art Pepper would be featured on alto sax and, fresh from the Charlie Barnet band, "screech artist" trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. Shelly Manne would handle the demanding percussion chair. The writers would include Kenton, Rugolo, Bob Graettinger and, thanks to Shelly and Childers who had just been with Woody's band, Shorty Rogers. Stan wasn't sure Shorty's charts wouldn't make the band sound like Herman's, but Kenton finally agreed to have him join the new orchestra, both as a player and a writer.
Every major player in the country was after a position with this new and exciting orchestra. Bud Shank was hired; he could play jazz flute. As the rehearsals started and the music was heard for the first time, it was wonderful to be a part of such an undertaking. At the last minute Safranski had decided to stay in New York and Don Bagley took over the bass chair. There would be a staff of at least ten writers — people like Neal Hefti and Chico O'Farrell and Manny Album. In describing some of the works, Kenton used words like "atonal", terms like "tone poem," "sonata-like," and he would promise new audiences they would hear "wonderful things."
The Progressive Jazz Orchestra of 1948 had played Graettinger's "City of Glass" at the Opera House in Chicago and left the packed house asking itself what it had heard — now Kenton was pushing for more of the same. Franklin Marx wrote a piece called "Trajectories," and it was described as — "a fantasy describing the composer's impressions as he watches a galaxy of falling stars and imagines the whole heavens breaking loose in astronomical chaos." Such was the mood of Kenton as he set about to revolutionize the world of music. Chicagoan Bill Russo could now finally write the music he had dreamt about, play trombone for the orchestra and actually get paid for it. Kenton was going to take this huge music machine on the road, and the audiences would just have to like it; understand the music or not!
There would be two buses. One for the "orchestra" players and one for the jazzers. The former was the "Quiet Bus," the latter, the "Balling Bus." The musicians chose their seats and which bus they wanted to spend their days and nights. They would do most of their sleeping during the day, between towns, on a bouncing bus. The orchestra was set to tour more than seventy cities across the continent. Kenton arranged for a debut "break-in" concert at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium and sent out invitations. Kenton called it "a workshop preview." They played some of the past successes like the "Artistry" features and Christy sang some lighter fare, but for the most part Kenton was introducing his new concepts. They had the audience vote on which songs he should include in a new album.
The critics and the nearly 3,000 in the audience were mixed in their opinions. Some said the violins got in the way. Others wondered what happened to the old Kenton sound they had followed and loved for so long. "It was intellectual stuff, wasn't it?" "It was kind of abstract, wasn't it?" One thing for sure, the Shorty Rogers arrangements were, with Shelly's help, causing the band to swing whether Kenton wanted it to or not.
The orchestra performed another date in L.A., this time at the Shrine Auditorium on the first day of February. The next three days they spent in the Capitol Studios recording such grandiose arrangements as Franklin Marx's "Trajectories," Neal Hefti's "In Varadero," Shorty's "Jolly Rogers," and several selections by Rugolo and Graettinger. By February 9th, they were in Seattle playing their official opening concert of the season and they began a swing south and east that would lead them to the Civic Opera House in Chicago where Down Beat magazine was sponsoring the two-day stand. It was during these concerts that Shelly and Pete Rugolo were presented with First Place awards in the 1949 Down Beat poll for favorite drummer and arranger of the year, respectively Down Beat, when reviewing the orchestra, had commented that they were seeing a new Shelly Manne — "Shelly on something like this is unbelievably sympathetic to the work's intent, a percussionist bearing no resemblance to the open-mouthed, bass drum-bomber Manne." Here was a new Shelly for all to see; visually dead serious. As the band traveled easterly, the press was not always kind. The Columbus Dispatch noted that most people preferred the "old band," saying — "When pure Kenton was played, the audience understood." The critique ended with the mention that Kenton had told the audience at the beginning of the concert that they would "feel wonderful things," then went on to add — "But when Shelly Manne tinkled a triangle with his drumstick and a violinist laughed out loud, it was difficult to feel anything."
This orchestra wasn't supposed to play "Eager Beaver" or "Intermission Riff." The ever popular "St. James Infirmary" had been tossed. This was a concert orchestra! Didn't anyone understand? They weren't playing the old book, at least not very much of it, because this was an entirely new musical adventure. Kenton was not one to look back — yesterday was yesterday. Why couldn't people understand that musicians get sick of playing the same tunes night after night, year after year?
Not all the reviews were bad, some were even glowing, and the concerts were sell-outs — why was it so difficult for some to understand? This was an excursion by idealists and every time something new and bold is attempted there is always somebody demanding the old way. This experiment was costing Kenton more than $13,000 a week in payroll alone. The two buses, the occasional hotels and the other costs of booking the orchestra had to be added on top of that! June Christy was getting $1,000 a week and Jimmy Lyon had been hired by Kenton to be her accompanist on the tour. (Lyon would later spend decades accompanying singer Mabel Mercer.)
In Madison, Wisconsin, there was a young man by the name of Johnny Faraher who was, in addition to working for Capitol Records as an area representative, a self-proclaimed promoter of the Kenton band. Back in the spring of 1948, he had booked the band for the University of Wisconsin's Military Ball and now had sandwiched the band for a Madison one-nighter between the Opera House concerts in Chicago and a Milwaukee booking on the 5th of March. The Madison concert was sponsored by the Zor Temple of the Shrine and the West High School Auditorium was picked for the location. The evening's gross was $2,835.60, with Kenton netting $1,591.00, as was typical of the middle-sized town concert proceeds. The band needed $2,200 just to break even. Big town concerts were netting about $5,000. Kenton was being quoted as saying that it wouldn't be until the 1953 Innovations season that any profit would be realized. Even the management in the Kenton camp were talking about how long it would take Kenton to get back the $25,000 original investment he had personally spent on getting the orchestra started. George Morte, the band's dedicated road manager, was already saying that the band would draw just as well with 20 musicians as with 40. Some of those around Stan didn't always share his vision, his dreams. George and most of the musicians did.
The orchestra played auditoriums and theaters and music halls all through the Midwest, creating and gathering the devotees as they prepared to march eastward towards their two-day concert schedule at Carnegie Hall. By this time, nearly everyone in the country knew about Stan Kenton's new orchestra. The newspapers and the radio had told of the band's whereabouts and the critics were finally starting to understand. Good reviews had come out of the Des Moines paper and the Cleveland Plain Dealer had a headline stating that "Stan Kenton's Band Is Applauded." The Carnegie Hall concerts were absolute sell-outs. The management placed three or four hundred people on stage, behind the band to handle the overflow of VIP's.
While Shelly was in the city, Billy Gladstone presented Shelly with a 6"x 14" black lacquered snare drum with gold plated hardware and snares. On the inscription plate was engraved — “To Shelly Manne with Admiration, Billy Gladstone, April 9, 1950, Drum No. I.” It was the first in a series of hand-crafted snare drums built by the master himself.
After the Carnegie Hall concerts, good press was given by the New Yorker, the Times, the Daily News, and the Herald Tribune. As the band made its way towards the South, some of the old hits were finding their way back on the program in a thing called "Montage," a collection, a medley if you will, of the "Artistry" days, including "Artistry in Percussion" and "Concerto To End All Concertos."
On a visit to Washington D.C., the band heard that Buddy Rich's band was playing at the Washington National Armory and Shelly and some of the guys went to hear the band. Milt Bernhart tells the story — "We were all standing in the back of the room listening to the band and Rich was playing one of his unbelievable flag-waver drum features. When he finished the number he got on the mike and said that the famous drummer Shelly Manne was in the room (Shelly had been winning poll after poll) and proceeded to call him to the band stand to take a bow. Shelly put his head down and under his breath said "Buddy, don't do this." Once Shelly was on the stand, Rich asked the audience if they would like to hear the famous drummer play. Of course, there was much applause, so Shelly sat behind the drums and Buddy called the SAME barn-burner he had just played. Shelly, not knowing the piece, asked where the drum part was — Rich didn't read so there was none. Rich counted off the tune and Shelly found himself in an uncomfortable position, but made the best of it. After this episode, whenever Shelly had to go to the bathroom he would say, 'I've got to drop a line to Buddy Rich.'"
June Christy was a hit everywhere the Kenton band went, some said because of the contrast between the seriousness of the orchestral works and the lightness of June's voicings. Some critics were appeased with the old hits back in the offerings but many picked apart even the way the band was presented. Kenton wanted the curtain to rise on an empty stage, save for the instruments, and when the curtain went up, he would have the musicians walk out, in groups of fives, to their chairs. Each section would take its place on stage at different times. Even this little change bothered the relentless bores. June sang "Conflict" offstage, out of sight. This effect was too much for some of the local writers. After Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the Innovations Orchestra went home to Los Angeles. On May 18th, the orchestra recorded a strings only selection entitled "Cello-logy" and Kenton let the string players know that after next week he would no longer need them until next season's tour. The same day the orchestra recorded "Art Pepper," a Shorty Rogers composition and Shelly did a thing with a brass section called "Halls of Brass." On June 3rd, at the Hollywood Bowl, the orchestra played the final concert of the season. The string players were let go, but Kenton kept the nucleus "dance band" intact as they were booked for the summer at the Rendezvous.
With the Kenton band planning to make Los Angeles its permanent home, at the end of May, Shelly had applied for a Local 47 card — the American Federation of Musicians required a six-month waiting period before a new member could take a steady job in the local. With the Kenton band doing three nights at the Balboa ballroom, Shelly could take incidental engagements around L.A. (as long as he didn't officially work a steady job in Local 47 territory). Now was the time, the Mannes thought, to settle in California
In August, the Kenton band backed Nat Cole for a Capitol recording of "Orange Colored Sky" and a week later recorded some fairly commercial tunes that featured vocalists Jay Johnson and June Christy. The band was preparing for a tour with the 19-piece dance band, Shelly was busy in the recording studios. On September llth, he recorded with June Christy, backed by a new group — a new sound — Shorty Rogers had put together. With the birth of the "cool sound" on everyone's mind, Shorty began to write for a "small big band" concept that featured four saxes, trumpet, French Horn, tuba and three rhythm. It was a forecast of what later would be called "the West Coast Sound." The next day Shelly recorded a Rogers arrangement with the Kenton band called "Viva Prado". A day later he recorded three more arrangements by Shorty on a Maynard Ferguson session. On September 14th, Shelly went into the studios again (the fourth day in a row), and recorded with the Kenton band. Two days later the band went on the road.
Carlos Gastel, the fire, the creator, the man who put it together and kept the band going, was no longer in charge of the Kenton machinery. Gastel and Kenton had severed their professional relationship back in the spring, at the Hollywood Bowl. Gastel was trying to get Kenton to understand that the fans wanted more pop stuff, more dance music. Kenton wouldn't bend. He had lost about $125, 000 on the Innovations tour, but he wouldn't subvert his art, the direction he wanted his music to take. Yet, after all the yelling, the band played dance music all summer at Balboa and now they were going out on the road to play mostly ballrooms for the next five months. Without Gastel in charge of management, this road trip was going to be a nightmare.
To be Continued and Concluded in Part 6.
[Research for this feature includes Gene Lees, Woody Herman, Leader of the Band, Michael Sparke’s Stan Kenton: This is An Orchestra!, Dr. William Lee, Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm, Steven Harris, The Kenton Kronicles, 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.]
All of the referenced recordings that Shelly made with Woody can be found on the CD Woody Herman: Keeper of the Flame - The Complete Capitol recordings of the Four Brothers Band [Capitol CDP-7 98453 2]