Stan KentonStanley Newcomb Kenton (December 15, 1911 – August 25, 1979) was an American popular music and jazz artist. As a pianist, composer, arranger and band leader, he led an innovative and influential jazz orchestra for almost four decades. Though Kenton had several pop hits from the early 1940s into the 1960s, his music was always forward-looking. Kenton was also a pioneer in the field of jazz education, creating the Stan Kenton Jazz Camp in 1959 at Indiana University.
Early lifeStan Kenton was born on December 15, 1911, in Wichita, Kansas; he had two sisters (Beulah and Erma Mae) born three and eight years after him. His parents, Floyd and Stella Kenton, had moved the family back to Colorado, then, finally in 1924 to the Greater Los Angeles Area, settling in suburban Bell, California.
Kenton attended Bell High School; his high-school yearbook picture has the prophetic notation "Old Man Jazz". Kenton started learning piano as a teen from a local pianist and organist. When he was around 15 and in high school, pianist and arranger Ralph Yaw introduced him to the music of Louis Armstong and Earl Hines. He graduated from high school in 1930.
By the age of 16, Kenton was already playing a regular solo piano gig at a local hamburger eatery for 50 cents a night plus tips; during that time he had his own performing group named "The Bell-Tones". His first arrangement was written during this time for a local eight-piece band that played in nearby Long Beach.
1930sIn April 1936 Gus Arnheim was reorganizing his band into the style of Benny Goodman's groups and Kenton was to take the piano chair. This is where Kenton would make his first recordings when Arnheim made 14 sides for the Brunswick label in summer of 1937. Once he departed from Gus Arnheim's group, Kenton went back to study with private teachers on both the piano and in composition. In 1938 Kenton would join Vido Musso in a short-lived band but a very educational experience for him.
From the core of this group come the line up of the first Stan Kenton groups of the 1940s. Kenton would also go on to working with the NBC House Band and in various Hollywood studios and clubs. Producer George Avakian took notice of Kenton during this time while he worked as the pianist and Assistant Musical Director at the Earl Carroll Theatre Restaurant in Hollywood. Kenton started to get the idea of running his own band from this experience; he created a rehearsal band of his own which eventually become his group in the 1940s.
In 1940, Kenton formed his first orchestra. Kenton worked in the early days with his own groups as much more of an arranger than a featured pianist. Although there were no "name" musicians in his first band (with the possible exception of bassist Howard Rumsey and trumpeter Chico Alvarez), Kenton spent the summer of 1941 playing regularly before an audience at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, CA. Influenced by Benny Carter and Jimmie Lunceford, the Stan Kenton Orchestra struggled for a time after its initial success. Its Decca recordings were not big sellers and a stint as Bob Hope's backup radio band during the 1943–44 season was an unhappy experience; Les Brown permanently took Kenton's place.Kenton's first appearance in New York was in February 1942 at the Roseland Ballroom, with the marquee featuring an endorsement by Fred Astaire. By late 1943, with a contract with the newly formed Capitol Records, a popular record in "Eager Beaver", and growing recognition, the Stan Kenton Orchestra was gradually catching on; it developed into one of the best-known West Coast ensembles of the 1940s. Its soloists during the war years included Art Pepper, briefly Stan Getz, altoist Boots Mussulli, and singer Anita O'Day. By 1945, the band had evolved. The songwriter Joe Greene provided the lyrics for hit songs like "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" and "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'". Pete Rugolo became the chief arranger (extending Kenton's ideas), Bob Cooper and Vido Musso offered very different tenor styles, and June Christy was Kenton's new singer; her hits (including "Tampico" and Greene's "Across the Alley from the Alamo") made it possible for Kenton to finance his more ambitious projects.
Artistry in Rhythm
When composer/arranger Pete Rugolo joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra as staff arranger in late 1945 he brought with him his love of jazz, Stravinsky and Bartók. Given free rein by Kenton, Rugolo experimented. Although Kenton himself was already trying experimental scores prior to Rugolo's tenure, it was Rugolo who brought extra jazz and classical influences much needed to move the band forward artistically.
During his first six months on the staff, Rugolo tried to copy Kenton's sound; on encouragement from the leader he explored his own voice. By incorporating compositional techniques borrowed from the modern classical music he studied, Rugolo was a key part of one of Kenton's most fertile and creative periods. After a string of mostly arrangements, Rugolo turned out three originals that Kenton featured on the band's first album in 1946: (Artistry in Rhythm): "Artistry in Percussion", "Safranski" and "Artistry in Bolero". Added to this mix came "Machito", "Rhythm Incorporated", "Monotony" and "Interlude" in early 1947 (though some were not recorded until later in the year). These compositions, along with June Christy's voice, came to define the Artistry in Rhythm band. Afro-Cuban writing was added to the Kenton book with compositions like Rugolo's "Machito."
The Artistry in Rhythm ensemble was a formative band, with outstanding soloists. By early 1947, the Stan Kenton Orchestra had reached a high point of financial and popular success. They played in the best theaters and ballrooms in America and numerous hit records. Dances at the many ballrooms were typically four hours a night and theater dates generally involved playing mini concerts between each showing of the movie. This was sometimes five or six a day, stretching from morning to late night. Most days not actually playing were spent in buses or cars. Days off from performing were rare. For Stan Kenton they just allowed for more record signing, radio station interviews, and advertising for Capitol Records. Due to the financial and personal demands, following an April performance in Tuscaloosa, he broke up the Artistry in Rhythm incarnation of Kenton ensembles.
After a hiatus of five months, Kenton formed a new, larger ensemble to present Concerts in Progressive Jazz. This goal proved mostly obtainable but the band had to still fill in its schedule by booking dances and movie theater jobs, especially over the summer.
Pete Rugolo composed and arranged the great bulk of the new music; Kenton declared these works to be Progressive Jazz. A student of famed composer and educator Russ Garcia, Bob Graettinger wrote numerous works for the band, starting with his composition Thermopylae. His ground-breaking album City of Glass would be recorded by Kenton; works created from 1947 to 1949. Ken Hanna, who began the tour as a trumpet player, contributed a few compositions to the new band, including Tiare and Somnambulism. Kenton contributed no new scores to the Progressive Jazz band, although several of his older works were performed on concerts, including Concerto to End All Concertos, Eager Beaver, Opus in Pastels, and Artistry in Rhythm.Cuban inflected titles from the Progressive Jazz period include Rugolo's Introduction to a Latin Rhythm, Cuban Carnival, The Peanut Vendor, and Journey to Brazil, and Bob Graettinger's Cuban Pastorale. The addition of a full-time bongo player and a Brazilian guitarist in the band enabled Kenton's cadre of composers to explore Afro-Latin rhythms to far greater possibilities.
The Progressive Jazz period lasted 14 months, beginning on September 24, 1947, when the Stan Kenton Orchestra played a concert at the Rendezvous Ballroom. And it ended after the last show at the Paramount Theatre in New York City on December 14, 1948. The band produced only one album and a handful of singles, due to a recording ban by the American Federation of Musicians that lasted the entirety of 1948.
The lone record, "A Presentation of Progressive Jazz," received a 3 out of 4 rating from Tom Herrick in DownBeat. Metronome rated it "C" calling it a "jerry-built jumble of effects and counter-effects" and "this album presents very little that can justifiably be called either jazz or progressive." Billboard scored it 80 out of 100, but declared it "as mumbo-jumbo a collection of cacophony as has ever been loosed on an unsuspecting public.
Many sidemen from the Artistry band returned, but there were significant changes. Laurindo Almeida on classical guitar, and Jack Costanzo on bongos dramatically changed the band's timbre. Both were firsts for the Kenton band, or any jazz band for that matter. The rhythm section included returnees Eddie Safranski (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums), both destined to win first place Down Beat awards.Four of the five trumpet players returned: Buddy Childers, Ray Wetzel, Chico Alvarez, and Ken Hanna. Al Porcino was added to the already powerhouse section. Conte Candoli joined the band, replacing Porcino, in February 1948.
Kai Winding, star trombonist of the Artistry in Rhythm band would not be a part of the Progressive Jazz era, except for a few dates on which he subbed. Milt Bernhart came in on lead trombone. And Bart Varsalona returned on bass trombone. Bernhart's first big solo with the Kenton band proved to be a major hit, The Peanut Vendor.
The saxophone section was much improved and modernized. Returning saxophonists included baritone Bob Gioga, holding down his chair since the very start, and Bob Cooper on tenor. With Vido Musso's departure, Cooper and his modernist sound became the featured tenor soloist. Art Pepper came on as second alto, the "jazz" chair. And the new lead alto was George Weidler.
This was literally a band of all-stars. They received five first place awards in the Down Beat poll at the end of 1947, and similar awards from the other magazines. The arrangers continued to push the limits of these superb instrumentalists in their compositions. Works from this period are more sophisticated than those written for the Artistry band, and are some of the first and most successful "third stream" compositions.
The band criss-crossed the country, appearing in the nation's top concert venues, including Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Hall, Chicago Civic Opera House, Academy of Music (Philadelphia), and the Hollywood Bowl. They had extended stays at New York's Paramount Theatre and Hotel Commodore, Philadelphia's Click, Detroit's Eastwood Gardens, Radio City Theater in Minneapolis, and the Rendezvous Ballroom, a special place in Kenton's musical life.
Kenton's band was the first to present a concert in the famous outdoor arena, the Hollywood Bowl. His concert there on June 12, 1948, drew more than 15,000 people, and was both an artistic and commercial success. Kenton pocketed half of the box office, walking away with $13,000 for the evening's concert.
The band broke attendance records all across the country. Thanks to Kenton's public relations acumen, he was able to convince concert goers and record buyers of the importance of his music. Comedy numbers and June Christy vocals helped break up the seriousness of the new music.
Kenton's successes did not sit well with everyone. In an essay entitled Economics and Race in Jazz, Leslie B. Rout Jr. wrote that "the real scourge of the 1946–1949 period was the all-white Stan Kenton band. Dubbing his musical repertoire 'progressive jazz,' Kenton saw his orchestra become the first in jazz history to reach an annual gross of $1,000,000 in 1948." He contrasted this with a situation in which critical and public recognition of "Dizzy Gillespie as the premiere bopper could not be transformed into coin of the realm."
At the end of 1948, as the band was fulfilling an extended engagement at the Paramount Theater in New York City, the leader notified his sidemen, his bookers, and the press, that he would be disbanding once more. Kenton's most artistically and commercially successful band ceased to be at the top of their game. On December 14, the Stan Kenton Orchestra played their last notes for over a year. When they returned, there would be new faces, new music and a string section.
1950sAfter a year's hiatus, in 1950 Kenton finally put together the large 39-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra that included 16 strings, a woodwind section, and two French horns. The music was an extension of the works composed and recorded since 1947 by Bob Graettinger, Manny Albam, Franklyn Marks and others. Name jazz musicians such as Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Milt Bernhart, John Graas, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Laurindo Almeida, Shelly Manne, and June Christy were part of these musical ensembles. The groups managed two tours during 1950–51, from a commercial standpoint it would be Stan Kenton's first major failure. Kenton soon reverted to a more standard 19-piece lineup. Bill Mathieu was highly skeptical of the decision to record his music like Cuban Fire! in a cavernous ballroom. Mathieu adds: "Stan and producer Lee Gillette were absolutely right: the band sounds alive and awake (which is not easy when recording many hours of slow-tempo music in a studio), and most importantly, the players could hear themselves well in the live room. The end result is the band sounds strong and cohesive, and the album is well recorded." This is the last set of studio dates before Kenton would retool the entire orchestra in 1960.
1960sThe Kenton orchestra had been on a slow decline in sales and popularity in the late 1950s with having to compete with newer, popular music artists such as Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin and The Platters. The nadir of this decline was around 1958 and coincided with a recession that was affecting the entire country. There were far fewer big bands on the road and live music venues were hard to book for the Kenton orchestra. The band would end 1959 beaten up by poor attendance at concerts and having to rely far more on dance halls than real jazz concerts. The band would reform in 1960 with a new look, a new sound, a larger group with a 'mellophonium' section added and an upsurge in Kenton's popularity.
The new instrument was used by Kenton to "bridge the gap" in range, color, and tonality between his trumpet and trombone sections. Essentially it creates a conical, midrange sound that is common in a symphonic setting with a horn (French horn) but the bell of the instrument faces forward. Kenton's 1961 recording The Romantic Approach for Capitol is the first of 11 LPs that would feature the "mellophonium band". Kenton arranged the whole first mellophonium album himself and it was very well received in a September 1961 review in Down Beat.The Kenton Orchestra from 1960 to 1963 had numerous successes; the band had a relentless recording schedule. The albums Kenton's West Side Story (arrangements by Johnny Richards) and Adventures In Jazz, each won Grammy awards in 1962 and 1963 respectively. Ralph Carmichael wrote a superb set of Christmas charts for Kenton which translated into one of the most popular recordings from the band leader to date: A Merry Christmas!. Also, Johnny Richards' Adventures in Time suite (recorded in 1962) was the culmination of all things the mellophonium band was capable of. After the Fall 1963 U.S./U.K. tour ended in November, the mellophonium incarnation of Kenton bands was done. The conditions of Stan’s divorce from jazz singer Ann Richards was that a judge ordered Stan to take a year off the road to help raise their two children or lose custody all together. Kenton would not reform another road band for tour until 1965.
Kenton had ties from earlier writing of country/western songs that were a success with Capitol and again he tried his hand in that genre during the early 1960s. In a music market that was becoming increasingly tight, in 1962 he cut the hit single "Mama Sang a Song"; his last Top-40 ( 32 Billboard, No. 22 Music Vendor). The song was a narration written by country singer Bill Anderson and spoken by Kenton. The single also received a Grammy nomination the following year in the Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording category. The other attempt he made into that market was the far less successful Stan Kenton! Tex Ritter!, released in 1962 as a full LP.
After the breakup of the mellophonium band, Kenton / Wagner (1964) was an important recording project that Kenton arranged himself, again moving towards "progressive jazz" or third stream music. This album was not a financial success but kept Kenton at the forefront of 'art music' interpretation in the commercial music world. Stan Kenton Conducts the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra (1965) was an artistic success that garnered another Grammy nomination for the band leader. During this time Kenton also co-wrote the theme music for the short lived NBC television series Mister Roberts (1965–66).
The 1966–1969 Capitol releases for Stan Kenton were a severe low point for his recording career. Capitol producer Lee Gillette was trying to exploit the money making possibilities of numerous popular hits to include the 1968 musical Hair featuring contemporary rock music. Due to lack of promotion by Capitol, four LPs were financial failures; this would be the last releases for Kenton under the aegis of long time Kenton producer Lee Gillette and Capitol. In fact, by the time it was recorded Kenton had no involvement in the Hair LP except for Kenton's name placed on the jacket cover; Ralph Carmichael and Lennie Niehaus were placed in charge of the project. Two exceptions to this late 1960s period are the Billboard charted single the band cut of the Dragnet theme (1967) and another Kenton presents release featuring the music of composer and ex-bandsman Dee Barton: The Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton (1967). The album featuring Barton's music was another unsung artistic success for the Kenton band though widely unseen commercially by the a music listening public. Kenton also made his print music available to college and high-school stage bands with several publishers.Kenton continued leading and touring with his big band up to his final performance in August 1978. In June 1973 Bob Curnow had started as the new artists and repertoire manager overseeing the whole operation of the Creative World Records. It was just the year before (in 1972) the Kenton orchestra recorded the National Anthems of the World double LP with 40 arrangements all done by Curnow. As per Curnow himself, "That was a remarkable and very difficult time for me. I was managing (Stan's) record company with NO experience in business, writing music like mad, living in a new place and culture (Los Angeles was another world), traveling a LOT (out with the band at least 1 week a month) and trying to keep it together at home."
When Kenton took to the road during the early 1970s and up to his last tour, he took with him seasoned veteran musicians (John Worster, Willie Maiden, Warren Gale, Graham Ellis and others) teaming them with relatively unknown young artists, and new arrangements (including those by Hank Levy, Bill Holman, Bob Curnow, Willie Maiden and Ken Hanna) were used. Many alumni associated with Kenton from this era became educators (Mike Vax, John Von Ohlen, Chuck Carter, Lisa Hittle and Richard Torres), and a few went on to take their musical careers to the next level, such as Peter Erskine and Tim Hagans.
Timeline of Stan Kenton Orchestras
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at:01/01/1941 color:black layer:back at:01/01/1946 color:black layer:back at:01/01/1951 color:black layer:back at:01/01/1956 color:black layer:back at:01/01/1961 color:black layer:back at:01/01/1966 color:black layer:back at:01/01/1971 color:black layer:back at:01/09/1976 color:black layer:back at:31/07/1979 color:black layer:back
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LegacyKenton was a salient figure on the American musical scene and made an indelible mark on the arranged type of big band jazz. Kenton's music evolved with the times from 1940 through the 1970s. He was at the vanguard of promoting jazz and jazz improvisation through his service as an educator through his Stan Kenton Band Clinics. The "Kenton Style" continues to permeate big bands at the high school and collegiate level, and the framework he designed for the "jazz clinic" is still widely in use today.
Starting in the waning days of the big band era, Kenton found a multitude of ways in which to progress his art form. In his hands the size of the jazz orchestra expanded greatly, at times exceeding forty musicians. The frequency range (high and low notes) was also increased with the use of bass trombones and tuba, and baritone and bass saxophones. The dynamic range was pushed on both ends; the band could play softer and louder than any other big band. Kenton was the primary band leader responsible for moving the big band from the dance hall to the concert hall; one of the most important and successful players in the Third Stream movement.
Interest in his music has experienced somewhat of a resurgence, with critical "rediscovery" of his music and many reissues of his recordings. An alumni band named for him tours, led by lead trumpeter Mike Vax, which performs not only classic Kenton arrangements, but also new music written and performed by the band members (much like Kenton's own groups). Kenton donated his entire library to the music library of North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), and the Stan Kenton Jazz Recital Hall is named in his honor. His arrangements are now published by Sierra Music Publications.
When comparing the four longest running touring jazz orchestras (Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington), Kenton's band had a higher turnover of personnel. Bob Gioga, Buddy Childers, and Dick Shearer are among only a very few who played for Kenton for over a decade. Other important soloists such as Lennie Niehaus, Bill Perkins and Chico Alvarez had lengthy stays on the band as well. The list of noted jazz players, studio musicians is impressive and the consistency of the group from 1941 to Kenton's passing in 1979 is notable. Stan Kenton's leadership and music vision was clear to marshal the forces of such a diverse set of players and arrangers over this long period of time; Kenton stands alone in the respect.
Personal lifeKenton was born on December 15, 1911, according to his birth certificate, according to British biographer Michael Sparke.
Kenton was conceived out of wedlock, and his parents told him that he was born two months later than the actual date, February 19, 1912, to obscure this fact. Kenton believed well into adulthood that the February date was his birthday, and recorded the Birthday In Britain concert album on February 19, 1973.
The true date remained a closely held secret, and his grave marker shows the incorrect February birthdate.
Kenton was married three times. Three children were produced from the first two marriages. His first marriage was to Violet Rhoda Peters in 1935 and lasted for 15 years. The couple had a daughter in 1941, Leslie. In her 2010 memoir Love Affair, Leslie Kenton wrote that, from 1952 to 1954, when she was between the ages of 11 and 13, her father sexually molested and raped her. She nonetheless maintained a close relationship with him during his lifetime, though she states that she was emotionally scarred by the experience. She stated that the rapes always occurred under the influence of alcohol, that he was not fully aware of his actions, and that 20 years later he apologized profusely. Leslie was an author of several books about health, spirituality and beauty.
In 1955, Stan Kenton married San Diego-born singer Ann Richards, who was 23 years his junior. The relationship produced two children: daughter Dana Lynn and son Lance. In 1961, Richards posed for a nude layout in Playboy magazine's June 1961 issue. She signed a contract to record with Atco, a company other than Capitol Records that her husband was unaware of. The Playboy shoot was done without Kenton's knowledge, and he only found out about it while playing at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago when handed the magazine by Charles Suter, who was the editor of Down Beat magazine at the time. Richards was not typically on the road with the band, though she had recorded the album Two Much! with Kenton in 1960. Kenton filed for divorce in August 1961 and it was finalized in 1962, he would retain custody of their two children.
Hits as charted albums(Albums charting history with Billboard Magazine)
Awards and honors
Wins and honors from major publications
|- |rowspan="2"| |rowspan="2"|West Side Story'' (album) |Best Performance by an orchestra - for other than dancing | |- |rowspan="2"|Best Jazz Performance - Large Group (Instrumental) | |- |rowspan="2"| |rowspan="2"|Adventures In Jazz'' (album) | |- |Best Engineered recording (other than classical and novelty) | |- |style="text-align:center;"| |Mama Sang a Song (single) |Best Documentary or Spoken Word Recording (other than comedy) | |- |style="text-align:center;"| |Artistry in Voices and Brass (album) |Best Performance by a Chorus | |- |style="text-align:center;"| |Stan Kenton Conducts the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra (album) |Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Individual or Group | |-Grammy Hall of Fame
|- |rowspan="1"| 1943 ||rowspan="1"| Artistry in Rhythm (with the Stan Kenton Orchestra) || Grammy Hall of Fame (1985) ||
International Music Awards
Other awards and honors
United States Library of Congress National Recording Registry
Noted band personnel;Instrumentalists
Discography and on film and television
On film or television
Stan Kenton's compositions include "Artistry in Rhythm", "Opus in Pastels", "Artistry Jumps", "Reed Rapture", "Eager Beaver", "Fantasy", "Southern Scandal", "Harlem Folk Dance", "Painted Rhythm", "Concerto to End All Concertos", "Easy Go", "Concerto for Doghouse", "Shelly Manne", "Balboa Bash", "Flamenco", and "Sunset Tower".
Although several compositions are co-credited to Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo, Rugolo was the primary composer, with Kenton oftentimes merely offering verbal suggestions. Compositions that were true collaborations include "Artistry in Boogie," "Collaboration," and "Theme to the West." Additionally, in spite of getting co-composer credit, Kenton's sole contribution to his hit song from 1944 "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" was that of being a band leader; Joe Greene wrote the lyrics, Charles Lawrence composed the melody and Bob Hope's resident arranger, Buddy Baker, supplied the arrangement.