THE DOZENS: TWELVE ESSENTIAL STAN KENTON PERFORMANCES by Jeff Sultanof

Stanley Newcomb Kenton led one of the most controversial big bands in the history of American music. People either loved or loathed his music. But pinning him down to one direction is nearly impossible as Kenton led many editions of his ensemble, with excellent writers and instrumentalists continually bringing new perspectives to the Kenton sound. Through it all, Kenton played dance gigs, concert and jazz club appearances, and college clinics until his death. He even supported what is now the IAJE professionally and financially in its early years.


        Stan Kenton, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

There is no way that twelve selections cover the many worlds and sounds of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, but at least they cite some major milestones and make for a coherent timeline for a man who wanted to contribute to the growth of jazz and big band music. He certainly succeeded.


Stan Kenton: Eager Beaver

Track

Eager Beaver

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Stan Kenton Retrospective (Capitol 97350)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Art Pepper (alto sax),

Ray Borden, John Carroll. Karl George, Dick Morse (trumpet); Harry Forbes, George Faye (trombone); Bart Varsalona (bass trombone), Eddie Meyers (alto sax), Red Doris (tenor sax), Maurice Beeson (tenor sax), Bob Gioga (baritone sax), Clyde Singleton (bass), Joe Vernon (drums)

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Composed by Stan Kenton

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Recorded: Hollywood, November 19, 1943

Albumcoverskentonretro

Rating: 85/100 (learn more)

Kenton formed his band in 1940 and played a successful 1941 summer season at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California. Radio broadcasts and transcriptions heralded a new band with new ideas – sharp, accented offbeats and a driving swing which some found plodding. Above all, this was a LOUD band. Kenton’s early recordings for Decca were disappointing, but a new firm named Capitol Records signed the group. “Eager Beaver” was featured at the band’s first session for the label, and became a huge hit. Like many of Kenton’s riff-based compositions, this tune was infectious, easily remembered, and requested by listeners for years. This edition of the band was called “Artistry in Rhythm.”

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine

Track

And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Stan Kenton Retrospective (Capitol 97350)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano),

and 17-piece band, featuring Anita O’Day (vocals), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Dave Matthews (tenor saxophone), Stan Getz (tenor saxophone), and Jesse Price (drums)

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Composed by Joe Green, Charles Lawrence and Stan Kenton. Arranged by Buddy Baker

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Recorded: Hollywood, CA, May 20, 1944

Albumcoverskentonretro

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

The Kenton band was the staff orchestra on the Bob Hope radio program when Anita O’Day joined the band. O’Day was already a ‘name’ singer from her tenure with the Gene Krupa band, and gave the band a needed boost. This track was another big hit, which is available in two versions; take one with a straight- forward vocal, take two with O’Day much freer now that she is more familiar with the song (Kenton also plays on this take). Price was invited to make this session by O’Day, and he really kicks the band into high gear. It’s a pity he couldn’t have stayed longer.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Machito

Track

Machito

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Stan Kenton Retrospective (Capitol 97350)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Ray Wetzel (trumpet), Chico Alvarez (trumpet), Kai Winding (trombone), Milt Bernhart (trombone), Harry Forbes (trombone), Boots Mussulli (alto sax), Vido Musso (tenor sax), Bob Cooper (tenor sax), Bob Gioga (baritone sax), Eddie Safranski (bass), Shelly Manne (drums),

John Anderson (trumpet), Ken Hanna (trumpet), Skip Layton (trombone), Bart Varsalona (bass trombone), Eddie Meyers (alto sax), Bob Ahern (guitar), Ivan Lopez (bongo), Eugenio Reyes (maracas)

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Composed by Pete Rugolo

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Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 31, 1947

Albumcoverskentonretro

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

The Kenton band’s music attracted the finest young instrumentalists, as the band provided an excellent forum for new music. Pete Rugolo was this era’s chief composer/arranger, his work encompassing everything from pop songs to virtually anything he wanted to write. Stan loved the Machito Orchestra, and asked Rugolo to write something to dedicate to the Cuban maestro. The band first recorded this music in February without the bongos and maracas, but it is this performance that really crackles with excitement, one of the earliest instances of Afro-Cuban big band jazz on record. Solos are by Kenton, Winding, Alvarez, and a spectacular duet of Childers and Layton.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Unison Riff

Track

Unison Riff

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

The Best of Stan Kenton (Capitol CDP 7243 8 31504 2 7)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Ray Wetzel (trumpet), Al Porcino (trumpet), Chico Alvarez (trumpet), Milt Bernhart (trombone), Eddie Bert (trombone), Harry Forbes (trombone), Art Pepper (alto sax), Bob Cooper (tenor sax), Bob Gioga (baritone sax), Laurindo Almeida (guitar), Eddie Safranski (bass), Shelly Manne (drums),

Ken Hanna (trumpet), Harry Betts (trombone), Bart Varsalona (bass trombone), Warner Weidler (tenor sax), Jack Costanzo (bongos)

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Composed by Pete Rugolo

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Recorded: Hollywood, CA, October 22, 1947

Albumcoverskentonbest

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Even though Kenton led a composer/arranger’s band in many ways, a number of his musicians later became major jazz personalities. Rugolo wrote both abstract compositions which established him as an important American composer, as well as riff-based, harmonically interesting pieces that inspired soloists and got the dancers’ feet going. Wetzel (muted), Kenton (with Costanzo), Pepper (who’d been a member of the band back in 1943 before being drafted), Safranski, Alvarez and Bert make the most of their solo opportunities.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Ennui

Track

Ennui

Group

Stan Kenton and the Innovations Orchestra

CD

Carnegie Hall – 1951 (Hep CD68)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano),

leading a 40-piece orchestra including Maynard Ferguson (trumpet), Conte Candoli (trumpet), Stu Williamson (trumpet), Bob Fitzpatrick (trombone), Harry Betts (trombone), Bill Russo (trombone), John Graas (French horn), Bud Shank (flute, alto saxophone), Art Pepper (clarinet, alto saxophone), Bob Cooper (oboe, English Horn, tenor saxophone), Don Bagley (bass), Shelly Manne (drums), and 16 strings

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Composed by Bill Russo

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Recorded: Carnegie Hall, NYC, October 19 or 20, 1951

Albumcoverstankentonandtheinnovationsorchestra-carnegiehall-october51

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Kenton took his Innovations in Modern Music concert jazz orchestra on two tours throughout the U.S. Although there were sellout crowds at many of the venues it played, the tour lost a lot of money. Even so, it confirmed Kenton’s belief that audiences would pay to hear modernistic jazz-tinged orchestral music. Many composers were asked to contribute, including a young trombone player/leader who had studied with Lennie Tristano in his hometown of Chicago. William Russo would become a distinguished composer, teacher and writer. "Ennui," one of the earliest modal compositions for jazz orchestra (phrygian to be precise), was described by its composer as a study in a quiet and relaxed mood. Harry Betts is the soloist.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Frank Speaking

Track

Frank Speaking (aka Frankly Speaking)

Artist

Stan Kenton (piano)

CD

New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm (Capitol 92865)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Maynard Ferguson (trumpet), Conte Candoli (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Bill Russo (trombone), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Bill Holman (tenor sax), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Bob Gioga (baritone sax), Don Bagley (bass), Stan Levey (drums),

Don Dennis (trumpet), Ruben McFall (trumpet), Bob Burgess (trombone), Keith Moon (trombone), George Roberts (bass trombone), Vinnie Dean (alto sax), Sal Salvador (guitar)

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Composed by Bill Russo

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Recorded: Chicago, September 10, 1952

Albumcoverskentonnewconcepts

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

By 1952, Kenton was leading an ensemble called “New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm” and continued to attract excellent soloists and composers. Russo was the chief composer/arranger, although Gerry Mulligan and Johnny Richards contributed some important music to the band during this period. Russo was known for his deep, brooding studies for the orchestra, but he could write upbeat, swinging pieces as well, as shown by this feature for Rosolino, which starts off in medium tempo and then suddenly takes off in high gear with the soloist roaring.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: All About Ronnie

Track

All About Ronnie

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Stan Kenton Retrospective (Capitol 97350)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Ernie Royal (trumpet), Conte Candoli (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Bill Holman (tenor sax), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax), Don Bagley (bass), Stan Levey (drums), Chris Connor (vocals),

Don Dennis (trumpet), Don Smith (trumpet), Bob Burgess (trombone), Tom Shepard (trombone), Keith Moon (trombone), George Roberts (bass trombone), Vinnie Dean (alto saxophone), Hank Levy (baritone saxophone), Sal Salvador (guitar)

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Arranged by Bill Russo. Composed by Joe Greene

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Recorded: Chicago, May 25, 1953

Albumcoverskentonretro

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Chris Connor was recommended to Kenton by June Christy. Connor did not stay very long, but her stint with the band made a good send-off to a solo career that continues at this writing. Featured here on one of Joe Greene’s better efforts, Connor delivers a sultry performance against a lovely Russo setting, with Candoli contributing an excellent muted solo. This track also proves that Kenton could deliver commercial pop hits in addition to his more experimental repertoire.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Hav-a-Havana

Track

Hav-A-Havana

Artist

Stan Kenton (piano)

CD

Kenton Showcase: The Music of Bill Holman (Capitol 526)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Buddy Childers (trumpet), Sam Noto (trumpet), Stu Williamson (trumpet), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Charlie Mariano (alto sax), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Don Bagley (bass), Stan Levey (drums), Candido (drums),

Vin Minichiello (trumpet), Don Smith (trumpet), Bob Fitzpatrick (trombone), Milt Gold (trombone), Joe Ciavardone (trombone), George Roberts (bass trombone), Dave Shildkraut (alto saxophone), Mike Cicchetti (tenor saxophone), Tony Farina (baritone saxophone), Bob Lesher (guitar)

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Composed by Bill Holman

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Recorded: Hollywood, CA, March 2, 1954

Albumcoverskentonshowcaseholman

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

From a jazz standpoint, the ensemble Kenton led that featured the music of Willis Holman is the highpoint of Stan’s career. Holman had been a student at Westlake College of Music, where he studied with Russell Garcia and Paul Villepigue. Regardless of his music’s complexity over the years, Holman’s art features linear beauty and coherence, balanced with sonic fullness without heaviness, and his early pieces betray the influence of Gerry Mulligan. The band loved Holman’s music, and it shows in the spirited performance of this Latin-based study. Holman relies on a simple motive (which never becomes a full melody), and demonstrates his early mastery by developing it into a nearly three-minute composition. Sam Noto’s wonderful solo is icing on the cake.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Fuego Cubano (Cuban Fire)

Track

Fuego Cubano (Cuban Fire)

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Cuban Fire! (Capitol Jazz 96260)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Sam Noto (trumpet), Julius Watkins (French horn), Carl Fontana (trombone), Lennie Niehaus (alto sax), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Billy Root (baritone sax), Curtis Counce (bass), Mel Lewis (drums),

Ed Leddy (trumpet), Vinnie Tanno (trumpet), Lee Katzman (trumpet), Phil Gilbert (trumpet), Al Mattaliano (trumpet), Irving Rosenthal (French horn), Bob Fitzpatrick (trombone), Kent Larsen (trombone), Don Kelly (bass trombone), Jay McAllister (tuba), Eli “Lucky” Thompson (tenor saxophone), Ralph Blaze (guitar), Willie Rodriguez (bongos), Tommy Lopez (conga), George Laguna (timbales), Roger Mozian (claves), Mario Alvarez (maracas), Sol Gubin (timpani)

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Composed by Johnny Richards

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Recorded: New York, NY, May 23, 1956

Albumcoverstankenton-cubanfire

Rating: 99/100 (learn more)

This is the title track from the Cuban Fire Suite, an album that is perhaps Kenton’s masterpiece. Stan was determined to record a suite that would combine a big band jazz approach with authentic Cuban rhythms and song forms, and he commissioned Johnny Richards to compose the music. Richards, one of the most schooled composers of big band music, did a great amount of research, and assembled an excellent rhythm section with the help of Willie Rodriguez. The title track begins freely and powerfully, and then calms down at the introduction of the melody played by Larsen with a muted Noto improvising under him (a favorite Richards device). Thompson and Fontana also solo. This album was so successful that it helped launch Richards as a leader.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: My Old Flame

Track

My Old Flame

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Back to Balboa (Capitol Jazz 93094)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Sam Noto (trumpet), Vince DeRosa (French horn), Ken Shroyer (trombone), Lennie Niehaus (alto sax), Bill Perkins (tenor sax), Richie Kamuca (tenor sax),

Julius Chaikin (trumpet), Billy Catalano (trumpet), Lee Katzman (trumpet), Phil Gilbert (trumpet), Jimmy Decker (French horn), Bob Fitzpatrick (trombone), Kent Larsen (trombone), Archie LeCoque (trombone), Jim Amlotte (trombone), saxophone), Bill Robinson (baritone saxophone), Steve Perlow (baritone saxophone), Red Kelly (bass), Jerry McKenzie (drums)

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Composed by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston. Arranged by Marty Paich

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Recorded: Balboa Beach, CA, January 20, 1958

Albumcoverstankentonbacktobalboa

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Those familiar with Marty Paich’s Dek-Tette and his recordings with Mel Tormé and Art Pepper might be surprised at this effective concert setting of a standard song from 1934 introduced by Mae West. Yet Paich loved writing such ambitious music for Kenton. (Marty had studied with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Arnold Schoenberg, and earned a Masters Degree in composition.) Paich would contribute additional pieces and settings for Kenton as late as the ‘70s. Perkins and Noto solo in this recording made at the Rendezvous Ballroom.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Tonight

Track

Tonight

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

West Side Story (Capitol Jazz 29914)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Conte Candoli (trumpet), Larry Bunker (tympani),

Dalton Smith (trumpet), Bud Brisbois (trumpet), Larry McGuire (trumpet), Bob Rolfe (trumpet), Sanford Skinner (trumpet), Ernie Bernhart (trumpet), Dwight Carver (mellophonium), Gene Roland (mellophonium), Joe Burnett (mellophonium), Gordon Davison (mellophonium), Bob Fitzpatrick (trombone), Paul Heydorff (trombone), Jim Amlotte (bass trombone), Dave Wheeler (bass trombone), Clive Acker (tuba), Gave Baltazar (alto saxophone), Sam Donahue (tenor saxophone), Paul Renzi (tenor saxophone), Marvin Holladay (baritone saxophone), Wayne Dunstan (bass saxophone), Pete Chivily (bass), Jerry Lestock McKenzie (drums), Mike Pacheco (bongos), George Acevedo (congas)

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Arranged by Johnny Richards. Composed by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein

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Recorded: Goldwyn Studio, Hollywood, CA, March 15, 1961

Albumcoverstankentonwestsidestory

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Kenton’s ultra-slow ballad style featuring piano and trombones was one of his trademarks, resulting in one or two hit singles, but here it appears with a difference. His “New Era in Modern American Music” ensemble of the early 1960s featured four mellophoniums to provide a French-horn-type section sandwiched in between the trumpets and trombones. Richards’s setting is lyrical and rich in warm yet powerful sound. Kenton’s piano is the main solo voice, but there is a muted improvisation by Conte Candoli. The score to West Side Story was perfect for this ensemble, and the album won a Grammy Award.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Stan Kenton: Chiapas

Track

Chiapas

Group

Stan Kenton and His Orchestra

CD

Live at Redlands University (Creative World STD-1015)

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Musicians:

Stan Kenton (piano), Mike Vax (trumpet), Dick Shearer (trombone), Warren Gale (trumpet),

Jim Kartchner (trumpet), Dennis Noday (trumpet), Joe Ellis (trumpet), Mike Jamieson (trombone), Fred Carter (trombone), Tom Bridges (bass trombone), Graham Ellis (bass trombone, tuba), Quin Davis (alto saxophone), Richard Torres (tenor saxophone), Norm Smith (tenor saxophone), Willie Maiden (baritone saxophone), Jim Timlin (baritone saxophone), Gary Todd (bass), John Von Ohlen (drums), Efrain Logreira (congas)

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Composed by Hank Levy

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Recorded: Redlands University, Redlands, CA, August 4 & 5, 1970

Albumcoverstankentonredlands

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Kenton was still on the road -- and still leading an excellent band -- when this was taped during a week-long clinic at a California college. Stan formed his own record label and continued to explore new directions in big band music along with dance gigs, where “Eager Beaver” was still requested. Enamored of the Don Ellis Orchestra’s performance of music in unusual time signatures, Kenton asked one of Ellis’s composers to write for the band. Hank Levy had played baritone saxophone with the old man in 1954, and was on the staff of Towson College in Baltimore, Maryland, when he contributed this composition. The band despised this music at first, but they finally got the hang of it, as this exciting performance shows. Dick Shearer plays the trombone solo, and there are improvisations by Davis and Gale. Levy would contribute quite a number of pieces in a similar vein until 1976. Kenton passed away in 1978.

Reviewer: Jeff Sultanof


Afterword

Although Kenton stipulated that there was to be no ghost band after his death, Mike Vax gathers alumni to make annual tours to keep Kenton’s music alive (This writer has contributed compositions and arrangements to this ensemble). Kenton’s music continues to influence younger musicians due to the availability of the band’s music in printed editions, and the continual reissues of the ensembles’ many recordings.

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