Stan Kenton

Stan Kenton is one of the most controversial jazz musicians. While Kenton was disliked by jazz purists from different genres, he is loved by many others. Kenton is considered the top jazz cult figure alongside Sun Ra and Chet Baker. Kenton led a series of original bands that emphasized emotion, power and advanced harmonies more than swing. This upset many who believed that every big band should sound like Count Basie. Kenton always had a different vision. Kenton was a member of the 1930s dance bands Vido Musso (Gus Arnheim) but he was born to lead. He founded his first orchestra in 1941. It was later named after the theme song of his song, “Artistry in Rhythm”. Kenton, a decent Earl Hines-influenced pianist was more important than ever in his early days as an arranger. He also inspired his loyal sidemen. Kenton was a regular performer at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach in 1941, despite not having any major players in his band (bassist Howard Rumsey is the closest) and a very appreciative crowd. The Stan Kenton Orchestra was influenced by Jimmie Lunceford, who, like Kenton enjoyed high-note trumpeters as well as thick-toned tenors. The Decca recordings weren’t big sellers, and it was forced to act as Bob Hope’s backup band. Les Brown took Kenton’s spot permanently. The Stan Kenton Orchestra began to gain popularity with the Capitol contract in late 1943. Its soloists in the war years were Art Pepper, briefly Stan Getz and altoist Boots Mussulli. The singer Anita O’Day was also a member. The band had changed a lot by 1945. Pete Rugolo was appointed chief arranger, extending Kenton’s ideas. Bob Cooper and Vidomusso provided very different tenor styles. June Christy became Kenton’s new singer. Her popular hits (including “Tampico” and “Across the Alley From the Alamo”) allowed Kenton to finance more ambitious projects. Kenton called his music “progressive Jazz” and he wanted to lead a concert orchestra rather than a dance band during a time of major bands breaking up. Kai Winding had a significant influence on Kenton’s trombonists’ sound by 1947. The trumpet section featured such screamers Ray Wetzel and Buddy Childers. Jack Costanzo’s bongos brought Latin rhythms into Kenton’s sound and a lively version of “The Peanut Vendor” was juxtaposed with the more serious “Elegy for Alto”. Kenton had created a very unique and radical band that was well-received by its audience. Kenton took a year of leave in 1949. He put together the most advanced band, the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, which consisted of 16 strings, a woodwind section and two French Horns. The music included Bob Graettinger’s unique, densely composed modern classical charts and works that somehow swung despite their weight. This remarkable project was not commercially feasible, however, Maynard Ferguson, Shelly Manne and Shelly Manne were all part of it. Kenton was able to manage two tours between 1950-1951, but quickly reverted back to his 19-piece group. Kenton experienced a swinging period, which was quite unexpected. Charts of arrangers such as Gerry Mulligan and Marty Paich, Lennie Niehaus and Johnny Richards began to dominate the repertoire. These talented players, in addition to those already mentioned, included Stan Levey and Stan Levey, Conte Candoli. Stan Levey, Stan Levey. Frank Rosolino. Richie Kamuca. Zoot Sims. Sam Noto. Charlie Mariano. Mel Lewis, Lucky Thompson. Pepper Adams. Jack Sheldon. Although the music could be quite brash and unpredictable, it still maintained Kenton’s sound. Kenton’s 1960-1963 mellophonium group was his last success. This Kenton orchestra was not without its challenges. The Kenton big band’s flavor changed from 1963. Kenton preferred to use talented soloists over using originality. Although arrangements, including those by Hank Levy, were still challenging, after Gabe Baltazar’s 1965 “graduation”, there were very few Kenton alumni other than Peter Erskine or Tim Hagans. Many of the young musicians felt that touring with Kenton was the highlight of their career, rather than an important step in their development. Kenton Plays Wagner (1964), was an important project. However, the bandleader was focusing his attention on jazz education. Kenton made his charts available to high school and college stage bands. Kenton also conducted a lot of clinics. The result was that Kenton’s young orchestra sound like a college band. Kenton continued to lead and tour with his big band until his passing in 1979. Kenton recorded 25 years for Capitol (1943-1968). He also created his Creative World label in the 1970s to reissue most Capitol material and record his current band. Capitol has started reissuing Kenton’s legacy on CD in recent years. There have also been two outstanding Mosaic box sets. Allmusic

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