Monday, November 8, 2010


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

“[Mike] Vax claimed Warren Gale to be the most significant [trumpet] soloist in the [Kenton] band: ‘If ever there was a fiery Jazz trumpet player that was perfect for the Kenton band it was Warren.  …’

‘Dick Shearer was the most important person on the band. I think that Stan felt about him like a son. … the thing is, the way Dick played trombone, that was the Kenton sound. Dick’s trombone was derivative of all the great Kenton lead players, going all the way back to Kai Winding. But sometimes the person who’s the end of a legacy, becomes the culmination of the legacy, so I think Dick was the greatest lead trombone player of them all.’”

- Mike Vax, lead trumpet player with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, as quoted in Michael Sparke, Stan Kenton: This is an Orchestra! [Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2010, p. 222].

A number of the guys I grew up playing music with – among them, trumpeter Warren Gale and trombonist Dick Shearer – later went on the Kenton band, roughly around the mid-to-late 1960s.

When I first gigged with Warren, he was living in Long Beach, CA and playing like Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard during their years with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Given his captivation with Lee and Freddie’s hard-bop style of trumpet playing, in a million years I wouldn’t have figured him for the Kenton Band.

Dick Shearer, on the other hand, rarely talked about doing anything else. Playing trombone with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra was a dream come through for Dick.  Not many of us get to realize our dreams. Dick did.

While Warren, Dick and others [Ray Reed] were making their journey through Kenton’s music. I was making my own journey, thanks to a government sponsored trip aboard. When I got back, the world had changed and so had I.

I moved away from performing music and on to others things in my life.

But Stan’s music always continued to fascinated me and I vicariously followed it as it made its way around various colleges campuses in nearby Redlands, California or in such far-flung places as Provo, Utah [Brigham Young University] and Indianapolis, Indiana [Butler University].

In all my years of following it, I never knew there was so much to know about the Stan Kenton Orchestra, that is, until I read Michael Sparke’s book about the band entitled Stan Kenton: This is an Orchestra!.

Published in April, 2010 by the University of North Texas Press, it offers a detailed, chronological analysis of the band from its beginnings in 1941 until Stan’s death in 1979.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is especially indebted to Michael [isn’t everyone who ever wanted to know more about Stan and his music?] for his chapters on The Later Years of the band’s existence, a period of the band's history about which we lacked details.

For a variety of reasons, fans of the Kenton band, particularly those who followed it closely in the 1940s and 1950s, were not partial to Stan’s music during the last decade-and-a-half of its existence. I had the impression from some of musicians on the band at this time that they were keenly aware of this bias and felt it to be undeserved.

As Michael Sparke explains it:

“Musicians from the Seventies often feel like the underdogs, because they know they played good music well, yet in general it is the earlier bands that are most often feted and remembered. In moments of hon­esty, however, many will admit they understand and endorse this com­prehension. The truth is, none of the few remaining touring bands of the Seventies, whose leaders roamed the land like the sole remaining dino­saurs of an almost-extinct species, were quite the same as they had been in their younger days. Conditions were so totally different the decline was inevitable, especially as age and illness took its toll. But it is also true, many talented musicians worked for Kenton in the Seventies, and a lot of significant music was played. The listener who ignores this last decade will be the loser.” [p.222]

In addition to all of the fabulous music they performed, much of it extremely challenging both from a compositional standpoint and because of its use of unusual time signatures, Stan and The Later Years orchestras made a very significant contribution to Jazz education by their presence at clinics held at many of the country’s universities.

Stan embraced these teaching laboratories as a way of perpetuating Jazz and its traditions, as well as, a means of developing future performers for his and other big bands.

With the end of the Neophonic Orchestra after four seasons in 1968, Stan really poured his heart and soul into these music camps which usually began and ended with a concert by the orchestra with various teaching scenarios contained in between these performances.

We thought we’d end this multi-part look at the music of Stan Kenton by sharing the liner notes from the Creative World 2 LP album Stan Kenton & His Orchestra: Live at Redlands University [ST-1015; reissued on CD as GNP Crescendo GNPD-1015] to place Stan and the orchestra’s relationship to the Jazz education in a broader context.

At the conclusion of this piece, you can also view a video that employs an audio track consisting of Ken Hanna’s Tiare, from the Stan Kenton & His Orchestra: Live at Redlands University album. We picked this music because trombonist Dick Shearer is well-heard on it and we wanted to serve the memory of “Dickus” as we come to the end of our visit with Stan Kenton’s music.

For those who may not be aware, Kenton’s library of arrangements was bequeath to the University of North Texas [Denton., TX] where the legacy of Kenton’s orchestral Jazz continues to be honored by the many fine bands comprised of the students at the university and their teachers.

© -Stan Kenton/Creative World Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“This two-record album was recorded live at a special concert at Redlands University under the most unique circumstances. Unique because the audience consisted of student musicians, music educators and the teach­ing staff which had gathered for this year's week of "Kenton Clinics."

Due to its deep involvement with the study of Jazz, the audience proved to be not only sensitively perceptive to the music played but very critical of how it was per­formed by the Kenton Orchestra. This challenge, from student to professional musician, fanned itself to burning excitement as the band outdid itself to provide total communication with this select audience.

Many of the selections were recorded at the request of the many Kenton fans who had heard them played at concerts while the band was on tour. Four have never been recorded by anyone as they were written especially for the Kenton Orchestra. The recordings on this concert album are vivid, exciting testimony to the total communi­cation which took place at Redlands University between music students, educators and the Stan Kenton Orchestra, who firmly established itself as their "Jazz Orchestra In Residence."

'The Jazz Orchestra In Residence" concept evolved from the many fruitful and informative years of the "Kenton Clinics." This new idea places the full Kenton Orchestra in a college or university for three days to a week where they work in conjunction with the music and humanities departments as a closely related and integrated extension of both. By exposing the students to the professional standards of actual performing dem­onstrations, the band creates exciting examples that establish goals for the young musicians to pursue.

The "Jazz Orchestra In Residence" program is com­posed of highly intense sessions which cover all perti­nent aspects of Jazz in order to provide the student with a further well-rounded, all encompassing knowledge of music. Courses include Jazz Improvisation, Composition and Arranging, and Instrumental Clinics, in which the solutions to problems most often encountered with the various instruments are discussed and examined. Two of the many related lectures include "Jazz and the Humanities" and "Jazz, The Extension to the Formal Study of Music."

As an adjunct, Kenton has produced two color films on Jazz: 'The Substance of Jazz," which describes how and why Jazz is so different from all other musical forms and "The Crusade for Jazz," a one-hour documentary which takes the viewer on an intimate road trip by bus with the band, where they are confronted with the dis­comfort of living out of a suitcase for three months, the one night stands and eating on the run; but most of all, the viewer feels all the excitement generated by each member of the band just before curtain time, and the deep sense of personal involvement each one has with the band and the music they love to play anywhere: Jazz.

During the "Jazz Orchestra In Residence" the musi­cians carefully nurture each student's particular prob­lem until finally, at week's end, a new awareness has taken place within these youngsters; an awareness that has them reaching notes they couldn't have imagined earlier, playing complex arrangements and even writ­ing an original score for the Kenton band to play and comment on. Most important, they have developed a sensitive understanding, not just for music and their own ability, but for the innovative and deeply personal excite­ment of Jazz.

The pictures point out the intense interest and serious­ness of the students. Their enthusiasm became so boundless that even while eating, the discussion was Jazz and their own expanding musical horizons. The "Creative World of Stan Kenton" has been closely asso­ciated with university music education for many years by furnishing professional orchestrations for the student musician. The "Jazz Orchestra In Residence" concept now provides the serious student the opportunity of working with the professional musician who plays these intricate scores in front of thousands of Jazz fans in con­cert halls and night clubs throughout the country.

This concept is proving so successful that the Kenton Orchestra is making plans to expand these three day to a week appearances greatly during their normal concert tour as extensions to regular music department curricula.

Redlands University's "Jazz Orchestra In Residence" has worked. It is already turning out musicians today who will soon become the Jazz innovators and teachers of tomorrow.”