"About that Stan Kenton band,” comedian Mort Sahl was telling audiences around this time, "a waiter dropped a tray and three couples got up to dance.” Sahl was, in fact, one of Kenton's greatest boosters, but his quip was a revealing expression of the bandleader's general reputation, by now well earned, for the unusual and excessive.
Actually Kenton never went quite so far afield again as he had done with Bob Graettinger's works [e.g. City of Glass] — much to the relief of many jazz fans. Even so, he managed to capture a wide range of sounds in his early 1950s bands.
The Innovations band of 1950 aimed at integrating a large string section permanently into the group. This presented numerous problems, both musical (the strings were easily drowned out by the screaming brass) and practical (the band put Kenton some $125,000 in the red after just four months). The Innovations band's repertoire was built around a series of eponymous pieces designed to feature individual group members—Shorty Rogers's “Art Pepper” and “Maynard Ferguson,” Kenton's “Shelly Manne” and “June Christy”—as well as workout pieces for individual sections of the band, such as Bill Russo's “The Halls of Brass” or Graettinger's “House of Strings.”
The compositions occasionally buckle under the weighty self-consciousness of the writing as well as a tendency toward pomposity, but for the most part they capture the listener's interest. The string writing in particular is surprisingly good, given how little experience writers such as Kenton and Rogers must have had in this area.
Rogers's string underpinning to "Art Pepper," Kenton's string accompaniment to "Shelly Manne," Graettinger's string feature—all of these are quite successful. If there is a down side to this music, it is less the presence of violas and violins than it is the overly demonstrative brass work. On the whole, the recordings of the Innovations band hold up well today, and one suspects that this music must have had a powerful effect when heard live in a concert hall. The band and its composers formed the strongest unit Kenton would ever field: Pepper, Rogers, Bud Shank, Manne, Ferguson, Christy, Bob Cooper, Russo, Graettinger, Laurindo Almeida.
After two tours, however, the physical and financial strain of maintaining such a large working band proved to be too much. Briefly considering an Innovations III tour, Kenton decided to drop the fiddlers and go with a "small" band consisting of five reeds, ten brass, and four rhythm instruments.”
Michael Sparke is a recognized authority on the Stan Kenton Orchestra. We wrote to him at his home in England to request copyright permission to reprint the following overview of Stan’s Innovations Orchestra which was in existence from 1950 to 1951.
At the time Michael composed these notes, he and his co-author, Pete Venudor, had just issued Stan Kenton: The Studio Sessions – A Discography.
Michael has since published Stan Kenton: This is An Orchestra!, a University of North Texas publication.
Michael’s Stan Kenton Innovations Orchestra essay was originally commission by Capitol Records to serve as the liner notes to its double CD release of The Innovations Orchestra [CDP7243 8 59965 2 8]. He was asked to edit the essay because of space limitations with the CD-booklet.
Contained below is Michael’s original and complete essay “… which offers considerably more insight into this remarkable music.”
© -1997, 1998, Michael Sparke, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.
“When Stan Kenton returned to music in 1950 after a year's sabbatical, he was determined his come-back should be memorable. At a time when name bands were folding all over the country, and leaders like Herman and Basie were experimenting with small groups in order to stay solvent, Kenton amazed the business and excited his fans by announcing he would lead a 40-piece orchestra, complete with strings, horns and woodwinds, dedicated to playing an advanced form of concert music.
The biggest controversy centered around the 16 strings, since only a couple of years previously Kenton had told down beat. "A big string section is a thrilling sound, but not for jazz or jazz bands. Certainly not for ours." Clinton Roemer was the band's chief copyist, and he believes Stan changed his mind after attending a Rugolo-arranged recording date for Billy Eckstine during the summer of 1949. Kenton fell in love with Pete's writing for strings with a big band, and it was after this that the idea for Innovations began to germinate.
From the start, Stan knew the band would not even carry a dance library. Concerts were very dear to Stan's heart, and this orchestra would play the finest concert halls in America, from the Hollywood Bowl in California to Carnegie Hall in New York. The book would be new and diverse, but above all, Kenton's vision was to establish decisively the new American Concert Music which his previous orchestras had already done so much to create.
Rugolo agreed to return as Chief Arranger and Assistant Director, but because of his other writing commitments, there was no way Pete could come up with more than a handful of scores in time to suit a Kenton super-charged with enthusiasm, and raring to go. So they decided to extend the arranging staff, and invite around a dozen of the most-acclaimed composers in Modern Music to write for the orchestra. In Stan's words: "I chose guys whom I respect, and who know what I can do. I told them they had complete freedom in whatever they wrote, but that I expected integrity. All I said to them was: What would you write, if you had the chance to create the greatest thing you know how?"
The writers knew the sound Stan expected from the brass and saxophones, and applied the same principles to the strings. Partly due to the interpretations of concert-master George Kast, but even more to the skills of the composers, the Innovations strings became "Kentonized." Gone was the saccharine sound often associated with strings in jazz, and in its place the sections produced a hard, brilliant tone which matched the familiar resonances of the Kenton brass. In Bill Russo's view: "I was amazed at the level of playing. The string players were in some ways the best-schooled musicians I've ever had available to me in my life." Stan employed the finest Hollywood had to offer, but their backgrounds were inevitably classical, as illustrated at the first rehearsal. When Kenton walked on stage, the jazz guys went right on chewing the fat, while the string players all stood deferentially and bowed to the leader, as they would to a classical conductor. Yet, within a handful of rehearsals, the different cultures had come together musically, and the vital role of the strings became apparent. In many ways, it is the additional tone colors and classical influence created by the strings which give Innovations its distinctive individuality and character.
Kenton chose his composers with care, and to be truthful, many charts did not survive their first rehearsal. But the maturity of the compositions chosen for performance is exceptional, and the real strength of Innovations lies in the way the composers integrated the different types of music. Nowhere were classical sounds and devices tacked onto jazz in some superficial way. Rather, the composers achieved an original and musically valid blend; a highly effective synthesis of formal, modern concert music with the excitement and dynamism of big band jazz. Innovations is a true example of hybrid vigor, and a major artistic triumph which could only have happened because of the catalytic nature of Kenton's own musical personality.
Having put together this magnificent orchestra, Kenton was faced with the dilemma that his business associates thought he had taken leave of his senses, and not even Stan's reputation could convince a promoter to finance the tour. In the end, Kenton had to book the band himself, through his manager Bob Allison working out of the Kenton office. Any profits would be all Stan's - but so would 100% of any losses. As everyone but Kenton the idealist foresaw, in the musical climate of 1950, the project was commercially a non-starter. What made it all worthwhile for Kenton was the music. Maybe even then Stan sensed that this was the nearest he would ever come to leading a permanently-organized, full-fledged concert orchestra, playing America's finest auditoriums and concert halls, and performing a new, exciting and original form of progressive American music. And fortunately, Capitol was right behind Stan in his most risky endeavor to date, and recorded a fair percentage of the exploratory Innovations music.
Rugolo's mastery of the orchestra's wide tonal range is manifest throughout Mirage, a skillfully crafted descriptive work of almost five minutes' duration. The score depicts the gradual formation, realization, and slow disintegration of a mirage, and during concerts lent itself especially well to lighting effects, producing a stunning combination of music and electronics, Kenton-style. During the opening passages, while snatches of strings and woodwinds introduce the atmospheric theme and create the illusion of a mirage forming, the orchestra was bathed in a red glow. This was transformed into a flood of white light as the climactic brass explodes, and the full orchestra reveals the expanse and splendor of the complete mirage. Then, as the vision begins to fade, the musicians played in near darkness, until at the end one realizes it was only a fantasy, and the lights flashed bright again. Special credit must be given to Shelly Manne's consummate percussion work throughout, a drummer so sympathetic to Kenton's ideals he would never be eclipsed.
Cited by Rugolo as one of his most important pieces of music, Conflict was described by Pete as a tone poem that depicts the alternating feelings of happiness and anxiety which constantly vie for position within our subconscious mind. Originally written for June Christy at the tail end of 1948, Rugolo re-orchestrated and lengthened the piece a year later to include the strings. In concert, June sang her wordless role off-stage, and on record her vocal track was made after the orchestral background had been taped. June's intricate part was entirely written out, and because she could not read music had to be learned by heart. She told down beat the score meant nothing to her, "Except when it indicates an eight-bar rest, I know I have some time to run the next phrase over in my mind." There are of course precedents in classical music (Debussy, Ravel, Villa-Lobos) as well as jazz (Duke's "Transbluency" and "On A Turquoise Cloud"), but Rugolo transformed the genre by translating it into the Kenton canon. The most spectacular section comes in mid-composition, as the strings soar in counter-melody above the pounding brass, but it is Christy's solo voice which adds the extra dimension, and forms an integral part of the orchestral sound. Her instrumental vocalization has a vital, distinctive timbre, almost resembling a low-pitched clarinet, crying out amidst the interplay of brass, strings and percussion. Reportedly initially intimidated by the difficulties of the composition, Christy turns in a performance which only a trained singer might have been expected to produce. With Conflict, June was never more truly the Voice of the Kenton Orchestra.
Bill Russo originally wrote Solitaire in 1948 for his Chicago-based Experiments In Jazz orchestra, when he named it "Falstaff," after a character from
Shakespeare's Henry IV. Russo related: "I took this piece and re-scored it for the Innovations Orchestra in 1950. It was Stan who changed the title to Solitaire, because the piece has a certain solitary quality. I must say I hate the name Solitaire, though in general Stan was better at titles than any of us. Stan asked me if I wanted to play it, but I declined. I think I originally had Kai Winding in mind as the soloist. Only the trombone's first chorus and closing bars were written out, the remainder being chord symbols, so the soloist could impose his own sense of jazz improvisation and structure. Milt (Bernhart) did a very fine job, and I was very pleased with the way Solitaire turned out."
Those who associate Johnny Richards exclusively with the blazing excitement of Cuban Fire and similar extravaganzas, may be surprised by the tenderness and sensitivity of Soliloquy, described as "A journey into the subconscious, illustrating the mood in a musician's mind after the noise and excitement of a concert has died, and he is left with his own reflections." Richards' career was the reverse of many of his contemporaries, since he quit a lucrative livelihood writing for motion pictures, to pursue the much more risky but rewarding vocation of a career in modern music.
Johnny's past experience made him eminently qualified to write for Innovations, and his masterly command of the full orchestra is instantly recognized in this gorgeous composition. Bud Shank's flute-work is particularly effective, especially as Bud had only recently perfected his flute technique in order to gain a place in the Innovations personnel.
Theme For Sunday was Stan's own initial contribution to the Innovations library. Harmoniously constructed for piano and strings, Kenton was quoted as saying he feared the composition would sound "Hollywoodish," and in that sense the massed strings are more conventionally employed than the band's other writers. The work is of the same genre as the 1947 "Theme To The West," and with woodwind and brass confined to background choral effects, the melodious strings dispel any suggestion of dissonance. The elegant theme was orchestrated in Kenton's own straightforward manner, graced with highly effective voicings, and features Stan's romantic piano stylings.
Amazonia could equally well have been named "Laurindo Almeida," in honor of its featured soloist, a practice adopted for several scores written slightly later in 1950. The multi-talented Brazilian also composed and orchestrated this exquisite work for strings and concert guitar, the mood generally calm and tranquil, in contrast to the dynamic passage for agitato strings leading into the up-tempo Latin section. Almeida was the most eloquent and persuasive concert guitarist the band ever employed, a major soloist on his instrument in whatever field of music he chose to perform.
No writer was better than Rugolo at blending the formal, classical aspects of Innovations with the sprit and excitement of big band jazz. On Lonesome Road, the dark, brooding mood of the introduction contrasts vividly with the up-tempo middle section and its exhilarating trumpet flights. Every now and again you know Maynard Ferguson is among the personnel. But the star is Christy, who suppresses the sexuality in her voice in favor of a classical purity of tone that is in perfect keeping with Rugolo's intentions, and almost resembles an instrumental solo. June was faultless in this very demanding role, the finest partnership of voice and orchestra that Kenton could ever have hoped to achieve.
Franklyn Marks is less well-known than Stan's other composers, though he worked for many years as a pianist/arranger in radio and dance bands, including Artie Shaw in 1936. Like his teacher Joseph Schillinger, Marks was dedicated to breaking down the traditional restrictions of classical music and he and Stan became good friends. In 1967 Marks told me he considered working for Kenton "very gratifying, and some of my best writing came out of that, but it did not make me a living. I lost touch with Stan, and in 1955 went to work for Walt Disney, where I am employed as a composer for TV and films." (Marks died in 1976.) By means of Latin rhythms and pizzicato strings, Trajectories depicts the composer's impressions as he watches a galaxy of falling stars, culminating in a fantasy as the entire heavens break loose, an experience Franklyn finds fascinating and spectacular, and in no way threatening. Marks makes exemplary use of the orchestra's wide range, with especially accomplished writing for strings and woodwinds. The restlessness and constantly changing rhythmic patterns of Trajectories are an original concept unlike that of any other Kenton composer.
"An Incident in Sound" was the original name of what came to be called Incident in Jazz, an odd change possibly prompted by Capitol, as I would have expected Kenton to find the initial title more appealing, the latter something of a compromise in its note of reassurance. Graettinger differs from Stan's other composers, who despite all the dissonance and modernity in their writing, display a sense of order and symmetry, which Graettinger spurns. Bob's work lacks a sequential pattern and regularity, is deliberately asymmetrical, making it at once more difficult to comprehend, and yet potentially more rewarding in its very unpredictability. Despite the lively theme and jaunty tempo, the atmosphere of "Incident" is never lightweight or frivolous, due to the atonal nature of Graettinger's challengingly complex orchestration. Like many of Bob's pieces, the work ends on a surprisingly tranquil note, in marked contrast to the preceding orchestral counterpoint and dissonance. "Incident in Jazz," commented down beat, "is modern music, heart-deep."
Stan's interest in fusing Afro-Cuban rhythms with big band jazz never wavered, and authenticity is assured in Cuban-born Chco O'Farrill's feature for the conga drums and fiery vocals of Carlos Vidal. Originally titled more effectively as "Cuban Fantasy," Cuban Episode is a multi-tempoed creation that unites exotic Latin rhythms with the incisive Kenton brass, in a passionate combination of the two cultures.
Exotic sounds of the Orient are sensitively explored via a bolero beat in Franklyn Marks' melodic Evening In Pakistan (or Kenton in Karachi as one wag termed it). The birth of a new dawn in a mysterious world of half-seen minarets and mosques is conjured up during the long and lovely introduction. After a lone trombone calls the faithful to prayer, the hypnotic rhythms accelerate to induce the white heat of the shimmering, mid-day sun, until slowly the shadows lengthen, and the mystique of evening settles across the land. Note the extent to which the mood throughout is determined by Marks' fascinating employment of tambourine and finger-cymbals. Capitol's Innovations producer Jim Conkling sensed the possibility of a hit single by replacing the atmospheric opening with a very simple introduction, grafted onto the main recording at the point where Bernhart's solo enters. This truncated version was released first, the full recording not becoming available until the 12 inch LP of Stan Kenton Presents in 1955.
Salute was originally titled "Salute To The Americas," and was Rugolo's contribution to Latin-American relations. Pete again demonstrates his command of the large orchestra, and his ability to compose the most compelling themes, in a stirring, emotionally-exciting flag-waver, that Stan often used as a concert-closer. In Bill Russo's opinion: "Pete Rugolo is the person I admire the most of those who wrote for the orchestra. Pete understood Stan's music perfectly, and was able to interpret Stan's requirements better than any of us. Rugolo understood things about Kenton even Kenton didn't understand!"
Co-written by Laurendo Almeida and "Peanut Vendor" composer Marion Sunshine, Mardi Gras was recorded as "Carnival Samba," and later re-titled "Playtime In Brazil." Infectiously festive and convivial, it's an oddity which featured "The Kenton Band and Their Families" chanting a wordless vocal to a catchy Latin melody. Stan explained: "It isn't music, but an attempt to capture a holiday spirit." Bud Shank told me: "The wives of the musicians were invited to the session to sing on this track. Some of them did - some of them didn't - some of them couldn't!"
Neal Hefti's In Veradero is a musical portrait, described via a lightly hypnotic Latin beat and exciting orchestral work, of a township south of the border. Less challenging than some of the more complicated scores, Hefti's tuneful melody and skillful arranging make it one of the most enjoyable, with the band humming effectively behind Bud Shank's nimble flute, and a beautiful tenor solo by the underrated Bob Cooper.
"The impact and sensation derived from feeling a powerful beat will never be dulled, nor should it be ignored," was the way Stan introduced Jolly Rogers in concert. He actually called it "An Expression From Rogers," but producer Jim Conkling persuaded Kenton a more catchy title would sell better on records, and Rogers subsequently gave his house and boat the same name. Shorty's first score for Stan is full-frontal bebop, an exuberant explosion of swinging jazz. Rugolo's artful Blues In Riff employs a more relaxed, rhythmic beat than hitherto, and both charts serve to introduce the "cool" concept of playing into the band's vocabulary, via the restrained solo stylings of Art Pepper, Bob Cooper, and Shorty Rogers. I am convinced no other percussion player could have switched so effectively from his pivotal position on the complex concert compositions, to his role as bebop jazz drummer on charts like Jolly Rogers and Blues In Riff, as the late, great Shelly Manne.
As the tour progressed, from the number of compositions for cello that were commissioned, I have no doubt that Stan fell in love with the sound of the instrument and in particular the playing of his star soloist, Gregory Bemko. When featuring a non-jazz instrument of this nature, played by a classical virtuoso, there is a very fine line between music that is virtually classical in conception and "light" music of an easy-listening category. Almeida's Cello-logy brilliantly finds that middle ground, veering towards the classical rather than the benign, but never forsaking Kenton's roots via modern writing for the strings, especially the use of jazz rhythmic patterns and devices.
During April, Ken Hanna replaced Shorty Rogers in the trumpets, while Rogers stayed in New York to enlarge the orchestra's library. Shorty told down beat: "Working with the Innovations band was one of my most valuable experiences. Stan and Pete Rugolo encouraged me to write, and the things I did were my first attempts to write for an orchestra on a larger scale. Stan had me write a composition titled Art Pepper. Art did a magnificent job on the record of it, and he remains to this day one of our greatest jazz performers." Pepper's piece was one of several Stan had in mind to feature his jazz soloists, titled simply with their names, and it is no discredit to their brilliance to observe that somehow it is always the orchestra which remains the real star. Innovations was essentially a composers' workshop, and the arranger's role nearly always prevails over even the featured solo artists.
Halls Of Brass is a tour-de-force for the Kenton horns, trumpets and trombones, one would imagine written by a trained and experienced composer, though Bill Russo is quick to point out that was not the case: "I was 22 when I wrote Halls Of Brass, schooled only in the sense that I went to the library and read a lot, and with these enormous tools of this magnificent orchestra available to me. I had not quite developed my compositional skills to the extent that I did later, and I think it extraordinary that I was able to do whatever I did. I mean, I refer to much of my music of that period as the sins of my youth. Halls Of Brass was very hard to play, and very hard to conduct, and I do think more highly of it than some of the others."
Kenton disliked understatement, and valued musicians gifted with a technique which to some might seem to border on the excessive. Maynard Ferguson was Stan's idea of trumpet heaven, and that extra bite in the trumpet section when Maynard was present is self-evident. Ferguson was presented nightly playing a Dennis Farnon score of "All The Things You Are" that he had already recorded for Capitol with Charlie Barnet in 1949, when out of the blue Jerome Kern's widow threatened to sue for damages. Capitol had to pull the record, and cabled
Kenton to stop playing the chart. Maynard's solo was a show-stopper, and Stan was frantic for a replacement. So Shorty Rogers stepped in at short notice: "I was able to write Maynard Ferguson in one day, while we were on the road. In Lincoln, Nebraska to be precise. I went to the YMCA and found a room with a piano." Ferguson's higher-than-high-note technique is graphically demonstrated in this showcase for solo trumpet (which Maynard claimed to have had a hand in creating.)
Despite the exigencies of touring, Kenton was so elated by the music of Innovations he was inspired to find the time to compose Shelly Manne, a compellingly dramatic work quite unlike Stan's usual style. Certainly far from "Hollywoodish," I would rate "Shelly Manne" as one of Stan's most satisfying compositions, on a par with "Opus In Pastels" and "Concerto To End All Concertos" (though resembling neither). Shelly was one of those musicians who really believed in what Stan was striving to achieve, as he told Melody Maker (magazine): "Stan wanted a drum feature from me. Now I have always thought that the usual drum solos are banal and tasteless. So Stan wrote "Shelly Manne," which is of course not a drum solo, but a blending of my percussion sound and ideas with the orchestral composition. I still love to swing, and I get that opportunity with the Innovations Orchestra, but I have something else besides -the chance to employ my jazz sounds in classical music. I am happier with the Kenton symphonic orchestra than I was with the Artistry band. Definitely!"
Kenton's vocal concept with Innovations was to experiment with the human voice as a wordless instrument, and elected to write June Christy himself. By using only an eight-piece rhythm backing, Stan allowed June the freedom to improvise in a less restrictive setting, and effectively demonstrates how the right singer can create a jazz mood by the very sound of her voice. The work achieves balance by opening and closing with June humming a melancholic melody backed only by Manne's timpani. A contrasting dramatic call leads into the main theme, as June sings a wide range of up-tempo vocal tones to lively Afro-rumba rhythmic patterns. "June Christy" is a completely successful display ot the instrumental use of the human voice, though ultimately the art-form itself proved capable of only limited development.
To complement Russo's "Halls Of Brass," Kenton commissioned Bob Graettinger to compose a work featuring the strings. Stan found Bob's first attempt lacking, and caused him to re-write the piece, thus no doubt putting the composer on his mettle, because Kenton told Graettinger's biographer Bob Morgan: "I was thrilled with the new House Of Strings, and from that time on, everything that Graettinger wrote I didn't contest at all, because I felt that he had arrived, and he knew what he was doing." Bob's "House" is constructed on a distinctive theme, sometimes stated but more often alluded to, around which the string families weave a discordant pattern of contrapuntal phrases. This is intellectual music, not intended to be comfortable, or easy listening. Stan loved Bob's writing, and could not understand why even many of those who accepted the rest of Innovations with enthusiasm, jibbed at Graettinger. I believe the reason may have been less the complexity of Bob's work, and more the virtual exclusion of any jazz content. But Stan loved the music's originality, as he told me: "When Bob came back with us around 1950, he had started to form his more advanced concepts of composing. It was very advanced music, as you know, and the average person can't take too much of it. The critics accused him of being an avid Arnold Schoenberg devotee, and he wasn't at all, he didn't even know about Schoenberg. Graettinger was dedicated to his music, and I was very fond of the things he wrote."
Musically a greater success than even Kenton could have envisaged, financially Stan lost a packet on Innovations I. Frequently sold out in the big cities, in smaller towns audiences were often sparse, and the costs of transporting and maintaining so large an orchestra were prodigious. Stan was forced to re-form with a touring dance band to recoup some of his losses, but against all advice, determined to keep faith with his fans (and perhaps himself) with a second Innovations tour, though this was deferred until the Fall of 1951.
Shorty Rogers remained one of Kenton's most popular composers, and his Round Robin started life as a jazz chart for the inter-Innovations "dance" orchestra. It's a swinging showcase for the band's new brand of under-stated soloists - Rogers, Cooper and Pepper in that order. In 1951, Shorty re-scored his theme as a title-feature for Conte Condoli on the second Innovations tour. Immediately preceding the second tour in September, 1951, Capitol recorded two new Rogers titles by the jazz nucleus of Innovations, without the strings. Coop's Solo (a.k.a. "Bob Cooper") is a companion piece to "Art Pepper." Bob's beautiful tone was perhaps his greatest asset, again comparable to Art, and it's worth noting that almost two years on, the saxophone section remained identical to Innovations I. Artistry in Durability! When Coop performed this solo feature at a London concert in 1991, he followed the score throughout, as must all the soloists on these complicated concert charts.
Sambo is one of Shorty's most original and exciting excursions into Latin territory, the title's a combination of "samba" and "mambo," the music a fusion of Brazil's most popular dance rhythms with Kenton jazz. It's an electrifying performance, one of those super-charged swingers that never subsides, with Ferguson's trumpet soaring above the ensemble, and the rhythm animated by Manne's percussion work.
The final four tracks on the Capitol's two-CD Innovations set released in 1997 come from a public concert at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in October, 1951, and the CD presents them in the same order as played in this concert. Ennui is on the same lines as Russo's "Solitaire," a lovely melody beautifully articulated by soloist Harry Betts, though in Russo's words: "I picked some terrible titles, and I do wish Stan could have dissuaded me from using Ennui, which had nothing to do with the composition at all." Strictly speaking, Bill is right of course, but less literally the work's laid-back, low-key quality makes the slightly enigmatic Ennui a fitting sobriquet.
Manny Albam's Samana stems from the torrid pulse of Cuban music, and opens with percussive trombone effects similar to those devised by Albam for Charlie Barnet's "Pan-Americana." It's a pity Art Pepper wasn't playing into the recording mike, but the orchestra's enthusiasm more than compensated in a tension-building arrangement that never let up until the explosive finale. Samana remains one of the most effective of Kenton's pioneering performances successfully uniting the indigenous music of the two Americas.
Coop's Solo employed the strings to introduce this longer, concert version of the Rogers composition. Cooper comes on strong, playing with great confidence and authority, though I wish the slow, opening movement could have been extended to allow more of Bob's poetic lyricism on the tenor saxophone.
The closing Salute, repeated from the first session, may not have quite the perfect recording balance attained in the studio, but the playing benefits from the familiarity of nightly performances. The spirit of Spain is vividly captured in this fiery, assertive interpretation that surpasses even the original version. The roar of applause at the end is a "salute" to Stan Kenton which we echo almost 50 years after the event.
The studio recordings by the full 1951 Innovations Orchestra were Bob Graettinger's "City of Glass" in three movements, made in December at the end of the tour and are available on Capitol CDP 8 32084 2, "Stan Kenton Plays Bob Graettinger," a complete collection of every Kenton/Graettinger Capitol recording, and virtually Innovations Volume III. It follows chronologically as a logical extension of the Capitol 2-CD Innovations set, and is essential listening for every Kenton devotee.
The influence of Innovations was far-reaching. Alumni impressed by Kenton's musical philosophy dominated the significant West Coast jazz movement throughout the coming decade, and solo improvisations on instruments unfamiliar to jazz flourished - French horn, flute, oboe, cello. Would there have been a Fred Katz without a Gregory Bemko? Stan always maintained that his music was distinct and separate from the Third Stream school, but at the very least they were close allies, and the movement gained undeniable impetus and impact from the Kenton experience.
But the recordings are the most enduring legacy of the Innovations adventure. Seldom if ever can such a quixotic enterprise have produced such a tangible record of original, creative music. Kenton himself reflected: "It was sort of a noble failure - I lost about $250,000 in less than two years. But the Innovations Orchestra was a great thing artistically, and to this day I think it was one of the highlights of my career as a band leader."
Maynard Ferguson had no doubts: "Stan was always experimenting - he never stood still. Maybe he didn't always go in the direction people wanted, but at least he set out to do what he wanted to do. He had the integrity of his own musical beliefs."
But allow a prophetic Shelly Manne the final endorsement: "I believe sincerely in Stan's musical outlook, and what he is doing. The best of the Innovations music will set a pattern for the future."
... .Michael Sparke London, July, 1997.”