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Stan Kenton

This Is an Orchestra!

Michael Sparke

Publication Year: 2010

Stan Kenton (1911–1979) formed his first full orchestra in 1940 and soon drew record-breaking crowds to hear and dance to his exciting sound. He continued to tour and record unrelentingly for the next four decades. Stan Kenton: This Is an Orchestra! sums up the mesmerizing bandleader at the height of his powers, arms waving energetically, his face a study of concentration as he cajoled, coaxed, strained, and obtained the last ounce of energy from every musician under his control. Michael Sparke’s narrative captures that enthusiasm in words: a lucid account of the evolution of the Kenton Sound, and the first book to offer a critical evaluation of the role that Stan played in its creation. “Michael Sparke’s book, the first general history of the Kenton Orchestra, is the best evaluation yet of Kenton’s 40-year musical development.”—The Wall Street Journal

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page

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Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-x

When I mentioned to a friend that I’d been commissioned to write a book about Stan Kenton, he groaned. “Not another book about Stan,” he said, ignoring the fact that hard-core fans can never get enough about their favorite artist. But if I hadn’t realized it before,... it realerted me to the fact any new publication would need to be substantially different from those that had preceded it.

Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-

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Prelude

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pp. 1-5

Stella was the dominant voice throughout Stanley's childhood, and indeed well into his adult life. She had married Floyd Kenton two months after conception, and some months later the couple moved from the family home in Colorado to temporary accommodation in Kansas. There could have been many reasons for the relocation, but the obvious ...

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1. Balboa Bandwagon (1941)

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pp. 6-12

Human nature being the way it is, it’s unlikely music was uppermost on the minds of most youngsters crowding the Californian beach-side resort of Balboa, some 30 miles south of Los Angeles. But for many, music came a close second to socializing, and word that summer of 1941 was that the band playing the Rendezvous Ballroom was HOT.

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2. Hollywood Highs and Big Apple Blues (1941-1942)

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pp. 13-20

Popular music, then as now, was part of show business, with the emphasis on business. To those running the jungle, musical creativity was only as commendable as the money it generated. These hardheaded business men would see Stan primarily in terms of dollar signs, as “Kenton” became a brand name...

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3. Hanging On (1942-1943)

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pp. 21-27

New Jersey’s Meadowbrook was one of America’s more popular dance spots, so when the band was shunted out of there halfway through the engagement, Kenton knew the outlook was rough. He would have to play pop songs and accept whatever bookings GAC offered. Actually, a lot of the “pops” that...

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4. Dance Band Days (1944-1945)

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pp. 28-35

In theory, Kenton’s reception into millions of homes every week, via America’s most popular radio show, should have brought him international success. In reality, no one tuned into the Hope show to listen to the music. To most listeners, the house band was an anonymous unit, reduced to playing musical cues and accompanying the very “legit” voice of Frances Langford and...

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5. A New Beginning (1945)

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pp. 36-42

During the summer of 1945 Stan was giving serious thought to the future direction of the orchestra. With the end of the war came a desire for change. Public acceptance of the more daring modern bands was growing, the Woody Herman Herd setting a lead, and Kenton became increasingly convinced this was the time to return to the jazz course he had largely abandoned...

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6. The Arrival of Rugolo (1946)

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pp. 43-48

Not all long engagements were as welcome as the Hollywood Palladium. There, the band might get day-calls for rehearsals, recording, filming or benefits, but mostly the work was at night. Theatre dates were another matter. In a routine exclusive to the USA, at theatres the band performances alternated with a film throughout the day, as Stan recalled: “The theatres were awfully hard work. We used to do...

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7. The Artistry Orchestra (1946)

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pp. 49-56

Whoever initiated the name “Progressive Jazz”— and evidence points to Rugolo—the term did not come into immediate widespread usage. The 1946 band was referred to by the more established title “Artistry in Rhythm,” and remains perhaps the most popular of all the Kenton orchestras. That was certainly the view...

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8. Artistry off the Rails (1947)

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pp. 57-62

As 1947 dawned, Stan Kenton had achieved just about everything he had set out to accomplish in music. Stan had every reason to be satisfied, but below the surface problems were accumulating. For six years almost without a break, Kenton had driven himself at a pace that would have exhausted most men within a month, and for the first time in his life he was feeling tired. The constant travelling, lack of sleep, snatched meals, and ever-present cigarettes were having their effect....

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9. Progressive Jazz (1947)

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pp. 63-70

Several leading members of the Artistry band failed to respond to Stan’s open invitation to rejoin. Christy was very uncertain, but was persuaded by Carlos Gastel she needed more band experience in order to succeed as a single. Vido Musso’s rejection was initially seen as a blow, but soon came to be recognized as a blessing. Woody Herman’s new Herd was opening frontiers with the Four Brothers...

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10. The Lost Years (1948-1949)

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pp. 71-79

In 1948 people still wanted to dance, and Stan soon found his plan to concentrate exclusively on concerts unworkable. He blamed a lack of suitable halls, overlooking the fact that had there been the demand, promoters would soon have found the necessary venues. So in essence the band still carried two separate books,...

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11. Innovations in Modern Music (1950-1951)

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pp. 80-93

By 1950 big bands were disappearing fast. Those that remained generally cut down in size or diluted their repertoires. The new Herman Herd was a pale shadow of the glory days at Columbia and Capitol. It was against this backdrop that Kenton and Rugolo planned their greatest adventure yet: a 40-man concert orchestra complete with a 17-piece string section....

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12. New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm (1952)

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pp. 94-104

Kenton literally couldn’t afford to sit around. Records were an artist’s life-blood, and during lengthy discussions, his colleagues at Capitol pointed out that while the advanced music had failed to sell whatever tagline he called it by, reissues of the easier, earlier music were moving fast...

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13. If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium (1953)

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pp. 105-116

Kay Brown quit in January 1953 in search of unfulfilled movie stardom, leaving Stanley to search for a new singer. June Christy recommended Chris Connor, whom she happened to hear on a Jerry Wald broadcast (though Chris’ main big-band experience had been with Claude Thornhill). “Stan sent for a demo of mine,” Chris related, “and I guess he liked it, because next thing I got a call from...

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14. "Kenton Presents Jazz" (1954-1955)

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pp. 117-125

After a short breather, the Festival of Modern American Jazz reassembled in January 1954 minus Slim Gaillard and Stan Getz. Slim’s comedy spot was replaced by the less-than-frivolous alto of Lee Konitz, whose demeanor had frequently suggested his rightful place was featured artist rather than mere band member....

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15. Stompin' at the Savoy (1955)

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pp. 126-132

The two most influential chairs within a jazz orchestra are filled by the lead trumpet and the drums. Previously, Buddy Childers had been willing to follow Holman’s lead and “change the direction of the band,” but Stan Levey had sided with Kenton, so an alliance...

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16. Fuego Cubano! (1956)

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pp. 133-142

Bill Perkins for one wasn’t best pleased: “In 1956 Stan brought in a couple of totally inept French horn men. They were both legit players, and they weren’t very good. Julius Watkins—he knew how to play jazz, but these guys just loaded the band down....

Photo Section

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17. Back to Balboa (1957-1958)

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pp. 143-150

Standard songs composed by Duke, like “Solitude,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Sophisticated Lady,” performed and recorded daily by artists world-wide, assured Ellington a steady income to supplement his band earnings. Kenton had no such fall-back, and knew he had to trim his sails. French horns and guitar were out....

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18. Standards in Silhouette (1958-1959)

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pp. 151-161

Stan did what he always did when the going got rough: he set about writing himself a hit record, though by 1958 it had to be an LP rather than a single. His first thought was to repeat the success of “September Song” with an album of band vocals, but after a couple of sessions Lee Gillette must have pointed out that while a single song might have made it in 1951, the monotony...

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19. The Restless Searcher (1960)

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pp. 162-169

It must be coincidental, but Kenton greeted the start of every new decade with a fresh initiative. In 1950 it had been strings and concert music. By 1960 Stan needed the dance halls to survive, and anyway he couldn’t begin to afford the luxury of a large string section. French horns had already been found wanting, changes had...

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20. Four of a Kind: The Mellophonium Orchestra (1961)

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pp. 170-180

Kenton wrote the first mellophonium albums himself, believing that as leader it was his responsibility to point the way—though it’s unlikely Johnny Richards required any instruction. Both Stan and John liked their music splashy, and tended to have the mellophoniums play too high, where they were most vulnerable and less likely to blend with the other sections....

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21. Adventures in Time (1962-1963)

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pp. 181-193

Tex Ritter was Capitol’s foremost C&W singer, Stan Kenton the label’s leader of experimental jazz. Any chance of a musical alliance seemed remote, yet Lee Gillette was enthusiastic, and Kenton quickly became equally convinced. Only Ritter remained deeply skeptical. Stan was an enigma. His heart belonged to jazz, but his head...

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22. Adventure in Emotion: The LA Neophonic (1964-1968)

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pp. 194-201

For much of 1964 Kenton was turned off from music altogether, in what may have seemed like over-reaction to a mere two weeks’ poor reception overseas, but which Stan explained in a long letter to Joe Coccia dated September 7, 1964. This is just a short extract: “I haven’t been any place other than at home with the children, they need me so much to be with them. I’ve been through a period of adjustment, from...

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23. Marking Time (1965-1966)

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pp. 202-206

Kenton had hoped that the Neophonic movement would grow and spread to other cities, but when it became apparent that even the Los Angeles Orchestra was doomed without hefty subsidies from his own pocket, a new source of revenue became urgent. In 1965 Dana was eight (nine on September 10), and Lance (born January 16, 1958) only seven....

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24. Delights and Disappointments (1967-1969)

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pp. 207-219

With the children growing up fast, Kenton felt able to leave home in 1967 for two three-month tours, which combined with all the local gigs made the band feel less part-timeish. A number of sidemen had made it their priority to stick with Stan in preference to other jobs, including Jay Saunders (tp), Ray Reed (as), Bill Fritz (bs), and John Worster (b), as well as a near-complete trombone...

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25. The Creative World of Stan Kenton (1970)

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pp. 220-231

Several prominent jazzmen had dabbled briefly with their own record labels in the past: Gillespie with Dee Gee, Herman on Mars, Mingus and Debut. All had quickly found it unprofitable, and had sold out to an established company. Even Sinatra and Reprise had finally succumbed. Kenton had the advantage of access to his entire back catalog, on lease from Capitol and Decca Records, plus a highly loyal if relatively small fan-base on which to build....

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26. Macumba! (1971)

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pp. 232-239

“Without Stan the band couldn’t exist very long. Well, it’s his music. You can play Stan Kenton music, but you can’t really get that sound unless you’ve got him there. I mean, the arrangement will do it, but a great leader gives it that added dimension,” said John Von Ohlen.1...

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27. Height of Ecstasy (1972-1973)

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pp. 240-256

With the traumas of 1963 still clear in his mind, it must have been with some apprehension that Stan embarked in January 1972 on his first European tour of the decade. If so, he need not have worried. Stan’s newly deserved jazz status had preceded him, and only in Germany were some poorly advertised dates ill-attended....

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28. Kenton Goes Rock (1973-1974)

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pp. 257-267

Bob Curnow was 31 when he joined the Kenton organization, ten years older than his first stint with the mellophonium orchestra in 1963, but still a young man. He was certainly young enough to have been influenced by the fusion music that had actually worked both ways, with a few of the rock bands like Chicago...

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29. The Road to "No Where" (1975-1976)

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pp. 268-278

Stan’s physical deterioration when he next returned to Britain in January 1975 was all the more marked after an absence of 16 months. Overweight and stooped, and in near-constant back pain, Kenton moved with difficulty, and appeared 10 years older than his 64 years. Happily, Stan remained mentally alert, though his physical ailments...

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30. Accident! (1977)

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pp. 279-285

When the band reconvened in January 1977, Terry Layne was gone, his place taken by Michael Bard, a fluent soloist and an excellent lead who transformed the sax section and somehow lifted the morale of the whole orchestra, so that John Worster was able to report, “You won’t believe how much better this band is than last year’s....

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31. Wounded Warrior (1978)

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pp. 286-294

The musicians assembled in Buffalo, New York, that cold January day quickly realized it was going to be a bumpy ride. Stan Kenton was more obviously candidate for a convalescent home than the rigors of life on the road, particularly in the East Coast’s severe mid-winter weather conditions....

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32. The End of an Era (1979)

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pp. 295-301

An indication of the severity of Kenton’s plight is that almost overnight he switched from parading his problems in public to secluding himself in his own home. Word on the grapevine in early 1979 included several reports concerning a new tour to begin in April, suggesting Stan remained as keen as ever to re-form...

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Postlude

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pp. 302-308

Over 30 years after his life ended, one thing is beyond question: Stan Kenton is assured of his place in the pantheon of jazz. He is an heroic figure, a musical crusader. He experienced more triumphant achievements and suffered more humiliating failures than most people would encounter in half a dozen lifetimes. Stan Kenton is as strong as his music. To his fans he is immortal....

Notes

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pp. 309-324

Bibliography

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pp. 325-

Index

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pp. 327-345


E-ISBN-13: 9781574413304
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412840

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Lives of Musicians