Thursday, March 28, 2019

"Big Band Jazz - Look to the Colleges" by Stan Kenton

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

“My satisfaction comes from this. When I was a kid, there were so many things you wondered about that you couldn't possibly get from your music teacher. They just weren't equipped to give you the answers. So I used to hang around bands and try to get anybody to talk to me about the things I wanted to know. But usually the professional musician was so busy that it was just a handshake and a "someday I'll get together with you" or "next time I come to town, come around." And you never got together with anyone.”
- Stan Kenton

From the vantage point of the myriad Jazz academic programs on today’s college and university campuses, it’s hard to imagine a time when there were hardly any at all.

These Jazz study programs began in earnest in 1959 when Stan Kenton helped inaugurate the National Stage Band Camps (Kenton Clinics) to provide student musicians practical instruction in modern dance-band techniques.

By  the summer of 1962, these camps had grown to include four campuses: Michigan State University, Indiana University, and University of Nevada Lake Tahoe extension.

In the following article, Stan Kenton reflects on how and why he played a pivotal role in bringing such programs into existence.

“MANY OF us who have led bands have been approached by young musicians and students eager to find out something about music that they weren't being taught in school or by private instructors. After a few years of this, I realized, as I'm sure other bandleaders have, too, that there was a great need for a kind of musical instruction that would supply the student the kind of practical training he needed for a career in popular music.

The Kenton Clinics are an attempt to answer this need.

As to my own participation in the program, I must say that I never thought of doing it by myself, because I realized that it was such a large undertaking that one person couldn't hope to do it alone.

About nine years ago, I was approached on the idea of summer stage band camps by Ken Morris, an Indiana concert promoter, who also thought there was a need for training young musicians in this manner.

We discussed the idea off and on for four years and when Morris persuaded Gene Hall of North Texas State University to join us in the National Stage Band Camp program, the thing finally began to take shape. By the next year, another leader in the stage-band movement, Matt Betton, of Manhattan, Kan., joined us.

It was decided that each of us had something to contribute to such an operation. So we held the first camps in 1959, and they've been held each year since.

It's a real challenge. After students register on Sunday, they are auditioned and placed according to their ability. We try to see that the group members are compatible and have about the same degree of knowledge and experience. This has to be done quickly and correctly by Monday morning, when classes begin—and in this, Hall, as dean of the clinics, and Betton, assistant dean, are a wonderful team.

Students are given two hours of theory each day. Then they have a two-hour rehearsal with their assigned band daily. Three days a week they are all grouped together according to instrument, and clinics are held in which various members of the staff demonstrate by playing and answer questions.

An hour is set aside each day for a workshop. Here we explain certain things—from how to interpret music markings, say, to what the function of an orchestra's rhythm section is.

At 7 p.m., the whole student body is assembled, and the faculty talks about anything in the music business that the students want us to.

Then from 8 to 10 p.m., we try to present things that will be both interesting and entertaining to them. Generally these are concert programs, with my band performing or groups organized by the instructors or even visiting bands. The student then have an hour to themselves before lights out at 11 p.m.

It is a full day, but since they are there for only a week or two, we try to expose them to as many things as we possibly can in this short time so that when they return home they will take at least something with them. They will know, for example, more about how to practice and what to practice; they know they must gain more and more knowledge if they expect to achieve anything in music.

We like to think, of course, that most of the students, if not all of them, are sufficiently interested in music to want to become professionals. I don't imagine that many come to the camps just to get away from home for a week's fun. There's too much work for that. They really take a bath in music. Their horns are in their hands when they're eating breakfast, and they still have them there when they go to bed.

The program is full, but it has proved satisfactory. We have made few changes, for example, since our first year's clinics. At the completion of the first week then, we circulated a questionnaire to get the students' reactions and suggestions. We were amazed to discover that they wanted more theory, which is usually the driest thing for any musician — especially a young one — to study. Because of this, we offered more theory; and now we require each musician who attends the clinics to study it. Some, whose knowledge of theory is sufficient, go into a class on orchestration and arranging. But they have to take advanced theory; this is one change we made.

Another involved the teaching of small-group jazz, which we hadn't incorporated into the program the first year. Now we have a course on the organization of small-ensemble jazz.

ASIDE from the course of studies, the thing that I feel makes the clinics so attractive is the composition and excellence of the faculty. Half of the men on the staff are nationally recognized music educators, from conservatories and universities around the country — people like Leon Breedon, Ralph Muchler, Russ Garcia, Johnny Richards, John LaPorta, Charlie Perry, and Clem DeRosa, among others. The others are musicians active in the field as professional performers: Donald Byrd, Johnny Smith, Tommy Gumina, Buddy DeFranco, and people of that order.

To me, the practical knowledge that a student can gain from someone actually working in the field as a professional musician, coupled with what he can get from the men experienced in the field of music education and able to impart the requisite academic knowledge, is what makes the staff such a great thing. It's a blend of theory and practice in about equal measure.

That is where the clinics serve a real purpose, and aside from my own band it is this that gives me a great thrill— being a part of the clinics each summer. They are four weeks in which we just shut down everything and go off and work like mad. But it really brings you closer to what's happening in music and the future of music when you see these young people and the way they're playing.

My satisfaction comes from this. When I was a kid, there were so many things you wondered about that you couldn't possibly get from your music teacher. They just weren't equipped to give you the answers. So I used to hang around bands and try to get anybody to talk to me about the things I wanted to know. But usually the professional musician was so busy that it was just a handshake and a "someday I'll get together with you" or "next time I come to town, come around." And you never got together with anyone.

What gets me so emotionally involved in the clinics is the fact that the kids can go right up to men like Johnny Richards or John LaPorta and say, "I'd like to ask you about this," and the teacher honestly gives all he can, right then and there.

I guess I identify with the kids. It's something I couldn't get when I was their age, and they can have the benefit of all this knowledge and experience just for the asking! It's this that I feel is so great about the clinics.

But, then, the whole growth of the stage-band movement in recent years has been an astonishing and thrilling thing to watch. Many of us just didn't know that it was going on. I was so busy getting my band to the next town that I didn't realize the extent of the movement. I knew there was this desire for knowledge on the part of all these young musicians, but I didn't realize there were as many dance bands and stage bands as there are.

And it's all because of the younger music educators. Many of them had played in name bands, had gotten tired of the road, had families they couldn't be with. They had gone back to school to get degrees in music education so they could teach, taking jobs in their community schools, where they could stay and have some sort of sensible existence.

When they did that, they — because of their experience in the past — started organizing school dance bands. It was a natural thing to do, and the kids really wanted it. And as more and more of these younger educators get into the schools — men who understand and can teach stage-band work — the movement is going to expand even more.

SINCE I became involved in the movement, I have come to believe that the future of almost all creative music in the United States is going to come from the universities.

The professional musician today is so bogged down by the demands that are made upon him commercially that he no longer has time to experiment and to work and develop. And the music thrives on experimentation — it has to have it.

What substantiates my belief is that several of the major universities already have inaugurated stage-band departments, schools like Indiana University, which has been a major force in music education for a number of years; North Texas State University; Olympia College in Washington; and many others. And the ability of the college musician today is staggering.

Years ago, to give an illustration, a band like Woody Herman's or mine was hard pressed to replace a departing member. We had to go to the lesser name bands to find a man who had gained sufficient experience to play our music. It was difficult.

But now the musicians coming out of the colleges have more than enough ability to step right into any top band or even into the studios. It's a thrilling, unprecedented thing. There are more and better musicians now than ever before, and if the ability I see in college students all over the country is any indication, there will be many more.

Moreover, I think that in colleges (where they don't have the commercial pressures), if they have a teacher that understands this sort of music, the music they are composing and arranging is, in most cases, clearly beyond what is happening in the professional field. Some of the college bands would make some of the professional outfits look like amateur bands.

I am talking about big bands because in the professional field it is much easier for a small group to exist. They don't require as much money, and while a university can underwrite the expenses of a big band, it is not so necessary to do this in the case of small units. But big bands — it's a terrible challenge to keep one going today.

And this is where the universities will play a major role, it seems to me. I think that the desire on the part of young musicians to gain a knowledge of big-band work will necessitate a university's initiating a department to teach this kind of music.

It is not a case of subsidizing; rather, it's a case of the young musician's going where he can gain the knowledge. And until now there's been no place for him to get it.

Until recently even the leading conservatories did not sufficiently prepare their students — after four or five years' study — for a career in professional music. And it was a short-changing thing, because the man who studied and got a degree in law, medicine, or architecture found a job awaiting him upon graduation. He was prepared for his career. But what could the conservatory graduate expect?

But now the situation is changing — for the better. I can't help but think that if all these college musicians who are studying are as dedicated as they appear, then it's got to affect the music business in some way. I don't know whether the colleges and universities are eventually going to take big-band music away from us and take it into the schools — as centuries ago it was the churches that produced creative music — or whether they are going to inspire us in the professional field. But I do believe that sooner or later it will be the university orchestras that have the record contracts and will be doing the important recording.

Now this may be unhealthy for the professional field of music, but certainly it is healthy for music.”                   

Down Beat
September 27, 1962

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