Reflections, Observations & Anecdotes
From time to time I'll try to add to this diverse group of messages

To quickly locate a topic simply click on the title:

'Adventures In Blues' Recording Sessions 'War Horses' - Kenton Signature Charts
'Adventures In Jazz' Recording sessions A Lesson Not Easily Learned
Australian Tour - 1957 Bill Holman & How 'Malaga' Came To Be
Basin Street East The Beatles/We Hardly Knew Them
'City of Glass' Bob Fitzpatrick
Mellophoniums 'Thou Shall Not Swear'


               'The Boys In The Back Room'
                   An E-mail reply regarding a question about the Orchestra's arranging staff


Colin Glascol wrote:

'I am intrigued as to how Kenton's arrangers were always able to come-up with new and exciting charts. Can you give us some background.'


You asked about the arrangers . . .

Keep in mind that even though all the arrangers had a keen aptitude for being able to work & write within the skeletal framework of the Kenton Sound each used highly personalized constructions which pinpointed their own individual styles. It didn't take long for a practiced ear to begin picking-up on the many, rather personal musical signposts they left scattered across their original and very innovative manuscripts.

Each had a particular forte. Lennie Niehaus, for example, was responsible for the Orchestra's dance band arrangements, marked by one or more artfully improvised solos.

Bill Holman was renowned for big, bravado-filled production numbers which became a signature of the Kenton Orchestra and always included a series of climax chords at the conclusion of the chart which enabled Stan to control the marvelous tension that ensued as the Orchestra thundered back to earth in a series of sliding, stair-step augmented 11th, 13th & 15th chords.

Gene Roland was the master of the riff. Often referred to in black oriented bands as the 'lick.' Although simple in format and easy to follow he engendered his creations with an extraordinary grasp of how and when to open-up the ensemble work. 

Like Willis (Holman) he delighted in taking megaton blocks of sound and cleaving them into a thousand pieces so they had a precise amount of buoyancy and appeared to float along the time line. Roland, to Stan's continual dismay, was also hell bent on swinging the Band. In fact, there is a large trunk somewhere that contains all the charts Gene wrote which Stan felt sounded much too much like material done for the Herman, Rich & Basie Orchestras. All of whom the very eclectic Roland contributed to while whipping-off charts for the Kenton Band.

Capable of playing any and all of the instruments in the Orchestra he worked closely with Stan to subtly change the instrumentation used in the various sections. It was he who was responsible for adding a fifth trumpet (two of which would share the lead and high work) along with a fifth trombone. Later he suggested using three tenor trombones driving above two bass trombones, ultimately leading to one of the instruments doubling on tuba. 

Stan & Johnny Richards may have hit upon using the mellophonium and handling all the grunt work to make them work, but it was Roland who gave the instrument life and vitality and proved what a lyrical instrument it could be in the hands of someone who knew what the hell they were doing. Roland's mellophonium solos on 'Misty' and on all the tracks included on the 'Adventures In Blues' album rank as legendary, classic Kenton masterpieces.

Unfortunately, only Gene & later, Ray Starling, were to the instrument born. The rest of the horn players were frustrated journeyman trumpet players biding their time until an opportunity opened-up for them to slip into one of the Samurai Warrior trumpet chairs.

Blessed with perfect pitch he could (and did) write without the aid of a piano whenever the mood struck him. On the bus. In a bar. Shaving and bathing. Eating. While with a woman. You get the picture!

Completely and totally irresponsible he constantly lived on the edge and was forever being chastised for leaving his instrument behind on the stand, never having any money, sneaking women aboard the bus and fueling his system with a smorgasbord of pharmaceuticals. Roland was the only member of the Orchestra that Stan turned a blind eye to when it came to inhaling those long, 'funny cigarettes' and self-medicating himself by injection.

Don't forget Stan and Gene went way back to the earliest days of the Kenton Era.  Although they were never terribly close Stan had a personal affinity for Roland which enabled Stan to transcend Gene's many immature transgressions.

Roland lived for jazz. Night and day. It was his passion. It was the guiding force which kept him going on and off the Road. Unquestionably a genius, he often had a difficult time handling such mundane things as tying his shoelaces, settling his hotel bill, balancing his checkbook, paying his bills. Next to music the only thing he was quite proficient at was bedding down an array of women who were drawn to him like Jesus freaks to a new religion.

Long underrated, he would get quite a giggle out of the fact an entirely new generation has become enchanted with his 'Adventures in Blues' charts. It would also amuse him that so many of his manuscripts are used as teaching aids. Then again, like Willis, being able to write as well as he did he considered no big deal. He long labored under the delusion that everyone was capable of doing what he did. It was this self modesty, coupled with his one of a kind talent that made him so special.

I, like everyone else who came in contact with him, miss him. Immensely.

Top of the page


 Bob Fitzpatrick --- Lead Trombon
  In reply to: 'Where is Bob Fitzpatrick now?'


My beloved seat and soul mate on the 'Bus To Nowhere' passed away several years ago after a long illness from injuries he sustained when a drunken driver hit him while he was crossing the street.

He was, as you undoubtedly know, one of a kind. One of the most talented musicians I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

He was bright.  Generous. Talented. Cynical. Sarcastic. Gregarious. Witty. Took absolutely no prisoners. And, as we know from listening to the remarkable legacy of Kenton recordings he did for Stan over 20 years, a master technician and outstanding creative force. He was also responsible, as you undoubtedly know, for the Kenton Orchestra's signature trombone choral sound, which has been widely imitated, but never duplicated. No one I know could chair a section like he did and engender pluperfect control over the dynamics. No one!

I think of him often and remember him with great fondness and admiration. The night his daughter, Judy, called and told me he had taken a quantum leap up to 'Jazz Alley,' I hoisted a flacon of J&B scotch in his honor.

Every so often I hear him calling: 'Noel, god dammit get your ass up here and let's go have a drink. Or two. Or three.'

Matter of fact I'm listening at this very moment to 'Fitz' from Gene Roland's 'Adventures in Blues' album. 

What a coincidence you just checked in.

Top of the page


'Adventures In Jazz'
In answer to: 'Can you give us some background on this great album?'


This was not the first album recorded in the 'Adventure' series.

It was Number Two.

Several weeks earlier the Band gathered in Capitol's Studio 'A' to run down charts submitted by Willis & Johnny Richards. No one else was present. No wives. No executives. No star-crossed luminaries. This was a working session, albeit an expensive one. Two sessions scheduled back-to-back. I don't think I have to tell you what that cost.  At today's prices, somewhere around $60,000.

First up was an original by Johnny Richards entitled 'Wagon.' John did everything he could, including standing on his head, to convince Stan that yes, indeed, he had managed to write definitive passageways between the three brass sections, effectively amplifying the richness of the mellophoniums. It didn't take long to realize Stan wasn't buying into Richards' 'nothing happening here' explosive chart.

And yes, the track got laid down. And yes it went into the vault (Capitol, like all record companies, never culled the good from the bad. And yes, it showed-up years later cobbled onto the 'Cuban Fire' newly re-released CD. And yes, Stan would have thrown a major fit -- big time -- if he knew that rejected track had a life of its own.

Next up was a long -- very long -- Holman original, which also went nowhere. Over-laid across a very tepid theme were a series of improvised solos: mellophonium (Roland), trumpet (Marvin Stamm), alto (Gabe Baltazar), baritone (Allen Beutler) and trombone (Bob Fitzpatrick). Talk about a lack of direction! No one had a clue as to what Willis wanted the chart to sound like and the track just wandered for some 12 boring minutes. It, too, got laid down and ended-up in Capitol's vault. God help us and Michael Cuscuna if this one ever shows up on a Capitol CD..

Renowned for being a glutton for punishment, Stan called-up two more back-to-back sessions the following night. Again several Holman & Richards' originals were brought forth only to go down in flames casting a bit of a pall over sessions that ran deep into the morning hours.

It quickly became apparent to Stan that the only way the mellophonium sound was going to make it was for him to clearly demonstrate how to write for the section. Although a bit discouraged with what had transpired so far he scheduled a meeting of the arrangers (Richards, Roland & Niehaus), for later in the week. The unhappy trio gathered at Stan's house and after laying out the direction he thought the album should take Stan brought forth several of the charts he had begun writing for 'The Romantic Approach' album.

There in black & white were numerous Kenton mellophonium constructions which dramatically set the section apart from the trombones & trumpets. Although they were clearly put off by Stan's dictatorial approach to writing for the section they admitted he had solved a good portion of the writing problems they had been experiencing. This working session also uncovered the fact the mellophonium players were using trumpet mouth pieces, instead of the ones supplied by Conn. This little digression effectively changed the pitch and intonation of the instrument and was quickly taken care of by Stan announcing at the next scheduled recording session that any member of the section caught using a trumpet mouth piece would run the risk of being fined $25.00. 

He ended the meeting by stating he was thoroughly disgusted with what had been submitted thus far and they had better come-up with some dazzling material that knocked his socks off. Or else some very drastic changes would be made with regard to the arranging staff!

I don't think I have to remind anyone that there were some mighty huge egos involved with the conception of this album. Like no one, except Stan, ever faced-off with Willis and told him what he had written was 'pure, unadulterated crap.' He also had some pretty choice words for Richards', who had gone into one of his long sulks after Stan pulled the plug on the initial sessions.

Nonetheless, to a man, they knew he was right and they had better set creative pen to paper damn fast. Or else!

First up at the next recording session was Bill Holman's spirited manuscript for 'Limehouse Blues.' Without one wasted motion Stan dropped into that famous crouch position of his and clicked the time off at Mach One. Jerry (Lestock) McKenzie & Pat Senatore dove into it and worked Willis' driving time patterns like they were attached at the hip. McKenzie's thundering rim shots vigorously sailed in and out of Senatore's cannon-like bass lines. Not to be left hanging in the lurch, Fitzpatrick's stalwart group moved to the forefront and took charge. As was his custom, Fitz leaned a shoulder blade forward from the rest of the section so they could stretch out like football lineman and support his big, round lead notes as they sizzled atop an array of maddeningly complex time sequences.

Later Stan learned that Fitzpatrick had been conducting early morning technical rehearsals whenever the band landed in a hotel in an effort to smooth out their sound so it arced ahead in a triangular formation rather than being spread out in a horizontal line. Bob Fitzpatrick determined that if kept his lead note a schoosh in front and let the rest of the section ride just slightly against him the power they unleashed would be something to be reckoned with. 

He figured right. Even now, 25 years later, the configurations Fitzpatrick had worked out for his section during his long tenure with the Orchestra have been used time and again by most of the high school and university stage bands.

Midway through this blazing Holman mini-masterpiece Dalton Smith was heard to yell out: 'Holy Shit, Stan, this god damn band is on fire.' With that the trumpets rose like Samurai Warriors and lifted the entire Orchestra up and out onto Hollywood & Vine Streets.

To say that Willis had redeemed himself was putting it mildly. For those of you who like to keep your hip cards punched in all the right places 'Limehouse' was laid down in two takes. The only reason two takes were required was because Gabe Baltazar, ever the perfectionist, thought his second solo was better than his first and asked Stan if it could be inserted into the final take. Stan agreed.

What was even more thrilling was watching a very young trumpet player walk nonchalantly over to one of the solo mikes with his bell lowered toward the floor and then on cue, lift that glowing horn upwards as he began flailing the heavens with one of the most superb trumpet solos ever captured on tape. What was even more amazing was that young trumpet player, Marvin Stamm, was only 21.

The best memory I have of that session were the big smiles everyone was wearing as the great Kenton Orchestra left no doubt as to who was in charge. Once the die was cast the remainder of the sessions, thanks to some pretty spectacular charts went off with precision.

Top of the page


'Adventures In Blues'

The following is in response to the number of E-mail messages

which flowed back and forth on the Kenton Forum regarding the

re-mastering of Gene Roland's exciting charts for 'Adventures In Blues.'


I find it difficult to understand the engineering controversy that has suddenly begun swirling around the re-mastering of the newly released 'Adventures in Blues' CD.

My CD takes me right back to the sessions, which were a joy.

The opening track, 'Reuben's Blues' sets the stage for things to come with a crackling trombone opening. Under Bob Fitzpatrick's ever vigilant stewardship his section, thanks to several days of technical rehearsals, (they didn't see Roland's charts until the first session night) powered their way through some of the most haunting music every written for a 14-man brass section. 

What Roland wanted, and what Roland got, was for Fitzpatrick's section to keep laying down a very distinctive, very dark, bass line between the trumpets and mellophoniums. Fitzpatrick was well aware that the intonation had to be dead-on in order to separate the brass sounds. Everyone in that section also knew how important it was to stay focused and keep the chord sequences rolling like thunder and lightning a few degrees west of Roland's marvelously constructed solos.

My CD faithfully does that. In my mind Michael Cuscuna has more than maintained the integrity of the original Capitol recording sessions.

Let me digress. The sessions were taped & mastered by John Palladino, Capitol's senior man in the booth. In addition to having an electrical engineering degree from MIT, Palladino was noted for his ability to mike a large -  very large - big band. I'm assuming that everyone is aware that the individual sections are isolated from one another and spread across the room. It was said Palladino was so good at what he did that if one of the trumpet players snapped his shorts hitting high 'C' above 'C' John would have dutifully captured it on tape.

Playbacks were done on specially designed Altec speakers which had the wherewithal to turn your ear drums inside out. After every take Palladino, Lee Gillette (Stan's Capitol executive producer) & Stan would crowd around the speakers and listen intently to the tape. Nothing escaped their demanding ears. Nothing!

Even the production dub we received after the sessions were completed was an engineering marvel. Remember this was just a raw approximation of how the tape would eventually sound before it was mastered and it was top of the line. One of John Palladino's finest efforts.

I can only assume those of you who are complaining about the mix and balance have a flawed CD. Mine roars. It thunders. It pirouettes. It curtsies & bows when told. It is the Kenton Orchestra at its finest.

From the moment Stan kicked the time off and all the while he flailed his long arms sending in signals to the individual sections his face was ablaze with a huge smile. Don't forget this was the first time anyone, including Stan, had heard the Band play Roland's charts. It was one thing for Stan to read the conductor's score over at his house; it was quite another experience for him to hear how the Band handled Gene's charts.

Something very important to know is that 'Adventures in Blues' was the 3rd album recorded by the Band before the 'Mellophonium Orchestra' went on the road. Thanks to a lot of press anyone who was 'anyone' requested an invitation to the sessions to see and hear Kenton's latest deux machina in action. Over several nights of recording a gaggle of Hollywood luminaries, DJs, and Capitol executives crowded into Studio 'A.'  So many, in fact, Palladino had the air conditioning turned up to the freezing point in order to compensate for the massive amount of unappreciated body heat that was being generated and had a tendency to deaden the room.

Anxious to cement in time the amount of power and creativity this Orchestra could unleash the guys were in top form. Most of the tracks were done in two or three takes, which was most unusual for anything Stan recorded.

Roland was in rare form throughout the recording sessions. At one point everyone broke-up when he said he had refrained from eating from noon on just so he 'wouldn't have a load of lead in my belly messing around with my chops. ' I believe I am correct that all his solos were done in one take. The only time two takes were done was when he switched instruments (soprano saxophone to mellophonium and back to soprano saxophone) to hear what those particular versions sounded like.

It should also be noted that prior to the sessions Gene was in the doghouse with the Old Man due to his very irresponsible (and dangerous) lifestyle. That all changed once the track for 'Reuben's Blues' was laid down. It was, in the immortal words of Dalton Smith, the beginning of 'Wild Willy' things to come! It also included an invitation for Gene to join the Band at our Las Vegas opening a month later.

All the sessions ended sometime around 11:30 pm. Everyone was so up and so thrilled at what was being laid down several frosty friends at a close by bar on Vine Street were necessary before the delegates began slowly winding their way home to prepare for another evening of unbridled fun & creativity.

It is my opinion something got royally screwed-up with the tape that was sent to Europe for pressing. I can't imagine either, in this day and age of gorgeous, radiant sound, Europe was ever sent a mono version.

It is also my opinion that this was one of the most important albums ever recorded by the Kenton Band and more than compensated for the 'Tropicana' CD which turned out to be a flawed project from beginning to end. Rightly, or wrongly, Kent Larsen bore the brunt of Stan's wrath for the album being poorly mixed and balanced.

'Adventures in Blues' conclusively proved that an extremely gifted arranger/composer could cleave sound with the best of them and over several nights had left a creative legacy to be reckoned with and enjoyed for years to come.

Top of the page


'Basin Street East'

  A Gathering of Eagles At 47th Street & Lexington Avenue 



John Mason wrote:

'Now, the Vanguard is a rather small club, and one might consider it to be a 'cupboard,' and the Mellophonium Orchestra would probably not fit in with its usual stage setup, but Mel carried 9 brass and the recordings are just fine.'

I'm pretty positive the 'Village Vanguard' & 'Basin Street East' were approximately the same size. 'Basin Street,' much like the 'Vanguard' resembled a long, narrow closet. Rumor has it that when they first opened several of the waiters keeled over from a bad case of claustrophobia and had to be rushed to Bellevue Medical Center for a dollop or two of oxygen.

'Basin Street East's bandstand was minuscule. So small, in fact, the saxophone section ended-up sharing space with a revolving roster of high-stepping customers who constantly bought them drinks. It took a Herculean effort on their part to remain halfway sober until the final set of the evening.

Due to the narrowness of the club, one of the owners, a giant of a man who never smiled, told me in a voice honed to a knife's edge in the back alleys & byways of Hell's Kitchen: 'To tell your Boss to keep the trumpets down. We don't want to scare the customers with a bunch of noise!'

I passed this chiseled-in-granite request along to the Old Man who was not terribly pleased. Nor was the section overly thrilled when word was passed to them 'to cool it.'

The atmosphere in the club remained rather muted for the next 15 minutes or so until a tall, elegantly dressed gentleman, surrounded by a bevy of drop-dead gorgeous models, dramatically rose, tipped his glass toward the trumpet section and yelled out to Stan:

'Hey, Stan, how about letting the trumpets roar. Hell man, that's the big reason why we're all here!'

His request was followed by a thunderous round of applause from everyone, including busboys, maitre 'd's, waiters & bartenders, many of whom had worked in front of the Band during previous engagements at the Commodore Hotel and Birdland and were well aware the Club would be jammed once word got around that the Band was in town.

With that, Stan kicked-off Bill Holman's 'Limehouse Blues' somewhere around Mach Two. Turning ever so slightly to the audience with a big Cheshire grin on his face he shot his arm out, signaling his five Samurai Warrior trumpets to stand up, lift their bells skyward and grab a piece of the stratosphere.

One megaton blast from the 'Boys-in-the Back- Row' as they began their dazzling climb up a series of Holman-inspired, diminished 11th & 13th chords and 'Basin Street' took a spin toward another world.

I looked over at 'Mister Tiny' who was now smiling ever so slightly as he looked out over the standing-room audience and began mentally clicking off the vast amount of business 'Basin Street' would be doing over our three-week stay.

The following morning, the renowned jazz critic, Stanley Wilson wrote in the New York Times 'That last night the power & majesty of the great Stan Kenton Orchestra moved the west wall of 'Basin Street East's kitchen 15-feet out onto 47th Street and Lexington Avenue. I urge you to get over there while the rest of the walls are still standing.'

The remainder of our memorable stay at that celebrated little hole-in-the-wall, as they are wont to say, was history.

Top of the page


The Mellophoniums
Somewhere West of Nowhere wrote:

'More than a few Kenton 'experts' were quick to say how wonderful the band sounded in 1960 with the Mellophoniums. Would you agree that most of the time the mellophoniums sounded awful!


There were certain ensemble passages within a half dozen or more charts the horns never got right. Someone was always late coming in. Or their intonation was somewhere on the other side of the city. Or, like Dwight Carver, on several charts found themselves wildly out-of-focus.

One night Stan sarcastically inferred he had fallen asleep on stage. Bear in mind Carver was an excellent French horn player. A true master of his instrument. Unfortunately he just didn't belong on the Kenton Band.

More than once I would see Stan suck in his breath as a particular passage came on line, then wince as the horns scattered to the four corners of the room. Eventually the charts they couldn't cut were moved to the bottom of the 'let's not play this one again' trunk kept underneath the bus.

Top of the page


'City of Glass'
Shattering Some of the Myths 


John Mannheim wrote:

'I have never been able to understand 'City of Glass' and I considered this to be a total failure on my part.'

You're not alone! 

Even some of the arrangers had a hard time deciphering just exactly what Graettinger had in mind. More so than any of the other composers who passed through the ranks Bob continually had his mind's eye in the stars. It was terribly important to him -- remember he was only 34 when he died -- to leave his mark. If that meant reaching far beyond the applied & acceptable rules of composition then that was the way it must be.

Buddy Childers was undoubtedly being charitable when he described his opinion of Graettinger's work. Others were a bit more blunt.

However . . .

No one dared cast a derogatory remark about 'City of Glass' or 'This Modern World, which was only recorded because Stan had made a death bed commitment to Graettinger to record it Stan's way. To criticize this decision was was to invite professional suicide, accompanied by an icy glare from the Old Man, followed by: 'You don't know jack shit!'

It was generally agreed among the members of the Band that 'City of Glass' was not only an uncommoningly complex piece to execute, it was so atonal it was beyond the scope of mere mortals. Stan claimed to understand what Bob had done. But we knew he knew he was deluding himself. Truth was even Stan didn't know what in god's name Graettinger was striving for.

However . . . and this is a very critical 'however' . . .

Bob Graettinger was a classically trained composer possessed with a finite grasp of theory, counterpoint & harmony. He was no slouch when it came to fully comprehending all the composition rules (and then some) so he could break them with abandon.

More to the point, he was a crackerjack writer who tried just a wee bit too hard to escape the boundaries.

Top of the page

'The War Horses'
'Please, no requests!'

Jerry Lapham wrote:

'The story I heard was that Stan never liked playing 'the old stuff' when he was fronting the band -- he always wanted to move forward.'

Stan had little or no problem playing a number of the signature Kenton charts. 'Peanut Vendor,' an elongated version of 'Artistry in Rhythm (the Band's theme), 'Minor Riff,' 'Eager Beaver,' 'Intermission Riff,' a few others.

He just didn't like having anyone request them. In fact, playing requests was anathema to him. Don't ask me why.

I remember one night in Omaha when, near the close of the last set, he did 20 reflective minutes on the 'Theme.' All piano with some very tasty accompaniment by John Worster and some light brush work by Jerry Mckenzie. He wandered in & about some chord work I had never heard him do before. 'Dazzling' is about the only adjective I can think of to describe it. For the 100 or so diehards who had gathered around the bandstand it was a historic moment in time. A rare opportunity to watch a master craftsman open a tiny door into his soul and travel with him as he instantaneously re-strung a series of musical beads, featuring one of his own compositions. For those Kenton aficionados who kept moving ever closer to the piano in an effort to travel with him across time & space it was more than magic. It was an undeniable love affair.

On the beat, and after he once again had returned to this planet, Stan nodded his head ever so slightly sending in the signal to Bob Fitzpatrick to begin that haunting trombone choral sequence we all know and admire so much.  It sounded that night as though a quintet of angels had slipped into the horns of the section.

Not to be outdone, Dalton Smith's section rose and began working somewhere around Galaxy Nine. Clean. Crisp. Powerful. So powerful smoke was coming out of their bells.

Once the brass work began working in tandem people began whistling. Clapping. Bopping. Clapping. Smacking each other on the shoulder. More to release themselves from the extraordinary grip the Band held on them than anything else.

Jerry, it was a night to remember. Never to be repeated again. Might you understand how thrilled I was to be there. And what pleasure it gives me to share that experience with others?

Top of the page


The Australian Tour - 1957
Stan & Five Musicians Were Hardly Representative Of The Kenton Orchestra


Excerpted from an article submitted by Bill Barlow, who later added several of his own personal comments when he submitted his article for publication on the Kenton site.

Stan & the Orchestra were engaged to tour Australia by Lee Gordon, an American entrepreneur, born in Coral Gables, Florida and who, some years before, managed a hotel in Canada where he gave Frank Sinatra his chance at a come-back and who previously (1951) had also toured Australia.

Kenton arrived in Australia with several American lead players including Sam Noto (trumpet), Lennie Niehaus (alto saxophone), Bill Perkins (tenor saxophone), Chuck Flores (drums) and Kent Larsen (trombone).  The remainder of the 'Kenton Orchestra' was made-up of Australian musicians.

Although he was billed as lead & jazz trombonist Kent Larsen, with the exception of 'Peanut Vendor,' turned most of the trombone solo parts over to his Australian counterpart, John Bamford.  'Occa,' as he was affectionately known to his friends and colleagues, was so much admired by Kenton that he was asked to join the Band, once they returned to the States. But in those days you had to have permission from your spouse to leave the country and, as with so many musicians, John was in trouble at home and missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

The 'Kenton Band' performed at Newcastle in the historic Civic Theatre, off Hunter Street, and a double-decker bus was hired for the trip from Sydney. One can only imagine the journey along the old Pacific Highway with the bus swaying & swinging around corners and laboring up the then, very steep road from the Hawkesbury River. Stan preferred to travel with the musicians on the return trip, rather than use the hire car the promoter had  provided for him. 

As one might suspect the bus held a considerable amount of booze which  was rapidly consumed. Sadist that he was, the bus driver adamantly refused to stop at any of the tiny gasoline stations which occasionally popped-up along the long, winding highway. Those, whose need was pressing, would hang-out from the rear platform of the bus to relieve themselves, while holding onto the stairwell bar with one hand, their 'willy' in the other and their coat held by the tall Mr. Kenton. Trombonist, Arch Hubbard, at one stage, rushed down the stairs from the top deck and spun around the pole at the back of the bus with such force he gave his fellow musicians, and the traffic following behind them, quite a start.

The American musicians who accompanied Kenton were not paid a lot of money which ultimately forced them to move to the hotel where the Australian musicians were staying. This change in plans hardly fazed the Kenton group since they were more than used to 'roughing it' on long, tiresome road trips back in the States.

The Band also played at the St. Kilda Palais in Melbourne, a year after the 1956 Olympics were held in that city. Chuck Flores, who was not noted for being a good sight reader, had to spend hours privately rehearsing all the arrangements, prior to the main rehearsals. He also lost his virginity in Melbourne, thanks to the Australian musicians, who were more than delighted to procure a girl for his 'night of nights.'

Jimmy Knowles, a well-known member of the Melbourne underworld, was also a great jazz fan. He later owned 'The Embers,' where Frank Smith, one of that city's legendary alto players, had worked for years. During a party for the Kenton group at Knowles' home on Good Friday, Chuck Flores made a near fatal mistake by spending a wee bit more attention to Jimmy's girl friend than thought necessary. In no time at all he was taken outside the house by drummer Johnny Blevens and shown a row of machine gun bullet holes that had made a deep tattoo across the garden wall and a nearby gate. Suffice to say Chuck's ardor was quickly quelled.

Top of the page


Musicians Born With Natural Talent
 A Gift From the Almighty!


Bob Crispen wrote:

"Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys did have formal training of a sort -- and I doubt he'd have passed without being able to read notation.  So it is an inference."


And I agree Brian Wilson most definitely has left his mark. 

My thesis is, however, that he is more than likely a musical savant and never had to spend four or five years, like most composers, working his way through University courses, including Harmony 201, Theory 425, Counterpoint 600. That, thanks to the miracle of genetic encoding, everything was in place as soon as he popped out of his Mother's womb.

"During rehearsals he sort of strolled over to the piano when the chart got to one of his solos, sat down, and started swinging.  It was like turning on a fire hose -- like the music was constantly going in his head, and when he sat down to play it was like, 'Oh, by the way, this is what I'm listening to now."

I once naively asked Stan while he was writing the 'Romantic Approach' charts if he heard the Band in his head as he sketched out different passages.

'I not only hear it now, I hear it all the time,' he replied. 'Sometimes it's like a hurricane and won't stop until I get everything straight in my head so it falls into place when I began the arduous task of writing. (Note: Stan despised writing. Mainly because getting all the notes down and in their proper places was a mechanical thing. It interfered with all the wonderful things that kept swirling around in his head. He had little or no patience with stopping down the creative process to 'print' his ideas out). He told me, "Some call it a gift. I call it a pain in the ass." That said he then laughed uproariously.

I looked him straight in the eye and (much too seriously) said: 'I'd give my right testicle if if I was able to do what you can do."

That made him laugh even more as he suddenly realized the magnitude of the gift the Muses had handed him.

"Only one?" he smiled at his own little joke.

"I gather Frank Rossolino was like that too.  Allegedly he could be talking and somebody could nudge him and say, 'Your solo' and he'd pick up his horn and knock you over with his melodic invention.  Does anybody else on the band stand out as a plug-in-and-swing kind of improviser?"

God, yes! Perkins. Mariano. Baltazar. Stamm. Roland (Gene never played his solos quite the same way on the 'Blues' sessions). Pepper. Ray Starling. The list goes on & on. Unlike writers who edit on paper, they edit in their head a bar or two before the notes come rolling out.

No one yet has been able to completely explain how this happens. It can't be taught, so no one tries. 'You just gotta feel it,' said Bob Fitzpatrick. 

One night on the bus several of us were talking about the various drummers who had passed through the ranks. Mel Lewis's name came up and Stan said: "Mel was born with a god damn metronome in his brain. He 'feels' the time, then begins nudging it, smoothing it, molding it to his liking. He never alters what the composer has indicated, but once Mel gets through punctuating it with a fusillade of rim shots, cymbal swishes here & there, and begins working the hi-hat like a priest on a mission to save a sinner the entire time sequence has taken on a life of its own. A Mel Lewis life". 

Stan then took a long drag on his cigarette and looked out the window. "'The one guy, however, who continually knocked me out was Jimmy (Campbell). He did things that made the hairs on my neck stand-up. He had a way, don't ask me how he did it, of picking the whole god damn Band up and floating it. What was even more amazing is that Jimmy is self-taught."

The Kenton Band, as you might suspect, was a very complex machine. Both in temperament and talent. There were those who joined the Band only because it looked good on their resume or thought it an easy way to attract women. They left little or nothing behind and over the years have become mere faces in the crowd. 

Others left an indelible mark due to the fact they had an extraordinary sixth sense in seeing beyond mere notes on a page and with the speed of light could enhance their participation with a bit of personal punctuation & turn-of-phrase that elevated the Band into another dimension. A dimension that constantly challenged them never to look back. To go beyond what they had done the night before. To explore. To reach for the stars. This ability, this gift, was what kept Stan going and brought a big glorious smile that crowned his face from ear to ear as he sat quietly on the piano bench and permitted himself to marvel in what this Band, his Band, was capable of doing.

I reveled in watching the reactions of the various soloists as they ended their flight to some far off place that existed only in their minds. Some stood quietly for a moment or two, modestly bathing themselves in applause. Others became slightly dumbfounded their creativity had taken them to another level. Still others got a vicarious thrill out of lowering their instrument to their side, letting a slight smile cross their face and slowly walking back to their seat enamored with the realization they were one of the chosen few.

I vividly remember one of the saxophone players walking briskly back to his seat after a solo that left the audience so thunderstruck they hesitated for one brief millisecond before collecting their wits and burning their hands with applause. As he dropped back into his seat he turned and said something to one of the tenor players. Later I asked Bob Fitzpatrick, who was sitting directly behind him, what he had said.

Fitz grinned and replied: "Well, that's enough bullshit for one night, now we can go home."

The intensity of his solo had momentarily even surprised him and his off-hand remark was his way of settling back to earth and again taking his place as a mere mortal.

Note, too, that most of the players rarely went on ego trips. The one thing that constantly kept their heads screwed-on tightly was the constant fear (albeit groundless) that there would come a day when the ideas stopped flowing. That they would be called upon to do their thing and the well would be dry. That all that would come out was a cascade of notes which went absolutely nowhere. I have yet to see that happen with any of the geniuses I worked with, most of whom are now in the 60s & 70s. None have lost their touch and continue to effortlessly carve out dazzling new pathways to the stars and beyond on recordings, on television and on film.

Top of the page


Bill Holman
'Willis' To All Who Love Him


Lisa Lockhead wrote:

'Can you tell us something about Bill Holman?'

Bill Holman is with a doubt my favorite Kenton Orchestra composer/arranger. 

His inner line writing has a crystal clean, linear quality to it, not unlike Stan's. The fact that he often uses some of Stan's voicings is not so unusual when you consider Willis was always known as the 'prodigal son.' He was the man-child Stan never had. The 'creative son' he so desperately wanted his son, Lance to become.

Willis' forte is writing huge, all-encompassing blocks of sound and then cleaving them into quarters (trumpets/trombones/saxophones/rhythm) and then hurling that massive, glowing block of sound at the audience somewhere around at Mach Two.

He is a past master at altering the time sequences several times within the chart. He, probably more so than any of the other arrangers understands how to manipulate the triad structures, which ultimately led he & Stan to unraveling the mystery behind the 'hidden note' concept, which, in large part, has completely revolutionized writing for a big band. To do as they did, one has to be thoroughly grounded in theory, harmony & counterpoint. It also helps to be part innovator, part visionary, part genius.

I love his 'Spanish Period,' which includes 'Malaguena,' 'Tico Tico,' 'Granada,' & 'Malaga.' The latter being an excellent example of power-house writing constructed atop a myriad of very intricate time sequences. It is an absolute bitch (and joy) to play.

The story goes that Willis presented a fragment of the 'Malaga' idea to Stan during rehearsals over at Hollywood's Gower Street studios. Unfortunately, due to a big upcoming road tour, Stan was a million miles away and wasn't terribly interested in discussing anything creative. Willis persisted. Stan resisted. The Band held its breath. Finally, Willis said 'later for this,' reached for his manuscript and left the rehearsal studio fuming. Over the next week he huffed & puffed, vowing he would never again write another note for the Band. Meanwhile Stan disappeared into a huge sulk, angry at himself for not taking more time with Willis and extending him the professional courtesy he richly deserved.

Several weeks later a high school music director asked Willis to write an original for his high school stage band. In a flash, Willis dusted off his partially completed manuscript for 'Malaga' and completed a 'Stan Kenton Big Band' arrangement in less than 24-hours. As fate would have it Stan conducted a jazz band clinic at  that very same school later in the summer and after class one morning heard a group of young musicians struggling to bring life to Willis' brilliant arrangement. 

It didn't take more than a minute or two for him to tell Dick Shearer (road manager/lead trombone player at the time) who was standing inside the classroom, along with six or seven other Kenton band members, to find a Xerox machine and start making copies of Willis' starlit ride across Spain's dapple-washed countryside. As Shearer hurried off in search of a Xerox, Stan began rounding up the Band for an unscheduled rehearsal to begin right after dinner. 

Would you care to guess what new Holman arrangement was played night after night and was responsible for stopping the concert down for four or five minutes as the audience kept applauding and yelling for more! 

Might you also imagine Willis' lack of wonderment when he heard that the Band was cooking-up a storm with his latest addition to the library?

'Doesn't surprise me in the least,' the laconic one said. 'I knew the little sucker would get to him sooner or later!'

And so it went with one of the most brilliant arranger/composers to ever grace a Stan Kenton concert stage.

Top of the page


The Beatles
'We Hardly Knew Them'


David Umemoto wrote to Mike Blair:

'Thanks for saying something positive about the Beatles. Most current posts on the Kenton Forum lately have been quite negative.'


I certainly hope you are not including my 'how they came to be' post about the Beatles as being negative. If you are, sobeit.

You had to have been there to appreciate the debilitating effect the Beatles had upon many of the premiere artists who had been an integral part of the Capitol Records organization for a decade or more.

As soon as it became apparent that the Beatles might become the cash cow Capitol needed to move them out of their financial doldrums (in the late 50s record sales were stagnant & the red ink was flowing with increased rapidity), the greed factor took hold.

Capitol's senior management, particularly those involved with the financial end of the business, began robbing 'Peter to pay Paul.' Overnight, a vast amount of promotional monies were diverted away from Capitol's major artists and shunted toward expanding Beatle mania. The PR department, in particular, overworked & underpaid even before the Beatles arrived in this country, were told in no uncertain terms to concentrate their energies on Paul, John, Ringo & George. Consequently, everyone else was left hanging in the wind. 

You have no idea what an impact this had with regard to relying on Capitol to stand tall behind us and move smartly out across the United States & Canada to help launch the Mellophonium Orchestra. Visualize a listless void. 

Any pre-press that was generated was done by us. Keenly aware of what advance publicity could do to shore up the attendance at a score of dates that had been booked for the Mellophonium Tour Stan came into the office every afternoon for a week and called DJs and music editors (in those days they were few and far between) all over the country and asked for their assistance. Unfortunately, they too, were swept-up in Beatle mania and gave us short shrift during our city stay. Believe me, it was god damn discouraging to take that huge machine out & play to 300 or 400 people in a venue that held 1500. The thing that kept us going, however, was to constantly remind ourselves everything would change once word got out this Orchestra had the power & creativity to make an audience's hair stand on end.'

Yeah, right!

It took 19-months of Herculean effort on everyone's part before the screw began turning. Can you imagine what it did to Stan's ego (and income) to give-away dates for $850.00 at dingy road houses that should have been shuttered a long time ago when he knew those  dates should never have been booked. Understand that once on the Road, Associated Booking Corporation was obligated to fill-in as quickly as possible all open date's that remained to be contracted for before we left Los Angeles. Otherwise the transportation jumps were horrendous. Try traveling from Phoenix to Cincinnati with no stops along the way and no place to sleep except in a cramped seat on the 'Bus To Nowhere.' 

Long jumps also took their toll psychologically on the men. We drank too much. Ate too much. Worried too much about our wives & girl friends. We also let our short fuses explode needlessly. And generally felt like the wrath of god. So much so that it took a supreme effort to 'get-up' for the date. Compounding all of this was the fact Capitol's area promotional guys were never around to lend their support. They also hadn't done one damn thing to generate any prior interest in our arrival. On more than one occasion the guys wanted to hunt them down and tie their balls to the rear of the bus.

I pose this question to you.

If you were a premiere artist with a major record label and you were keenly aware how you had been left in the lurch by another Capitol artist group how charitable would you feel toward them? Hell, we didn't even know the Beatles let alone have heard any of their music up to that time. All we knew was they were stealing our promotional thunder. Consequently, it was damn easy (obligatory, if you will) to cast brickbats their way. However, it was all done on the bus. Never in public.

Nonetheless, it didn't take long for Stan to fall back on the old bromide: 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' Hence, the decision to record several of their compositions in an effort to demonstrate how contemporary the Orchestra was. In retrospect that decision to compromise was probably a huge mistake

It must be noted that Lee Gillette, our executive producer at Capitol, went out of his way to try and move Capitol to see the error of their ways. But, he could only do so much. It also was quite unfair to expect him to realize how painful the tour was due to little or no advance promotion upon the part of Capitol from his office in Los Angeles as we struggled to make a go of it in Roaming Flats, Idaho.

Eventually, thanks to large part to Gillette's efforts, Capitol finally freed-up a niggling amount of promotional monies and helped us launch the Creative World of Stan Kenton fan appreciation organization. It was Gillette who went to Stan Gortikov, president of Capitol Records Distributing Corporation, and made the convincing argument that Gortikov permit Stan to have his own personalized dust sleeve. No mean feat, since it meant stopping down the production line at CRDC and re-configurating it to accept the Creative World of Stan Kenton sleeve. Nor did this part of the operation run smoothly. It was not unusual for thousands of Kenton newly released albums to get packaged before someone midway through the production run remembered to exchange Capitol's generic sleeve for Stan's.

From what I read, all the tours Mike Vax took part in had dates that were whiz-bangers. Our's were filled with some of the most god awful, out-of-the-way places imaginable. I remember one road house we played in Montana where 40 people showed-up. Then there was the night we traveled all the way to Quebec, Canada when we should have been in Toronto. Associated Booking Corporation had sent us the wrong information. Through it all Stan maintained a dignity & calmness that was admirable. I think he knew that if he 'lost it' the Band wouldn't have been worth a fiddler's damn. To this day I don't know how he did it. Lesser men would have caved and said the hell with it all.

With regard to the 'Four Freshmen,' Stan never quite got over the fact they were a pale imitation of all the work he had done with his own vocal group, 'The Pastels,' (assembled in the mid-forties). And if you don't believe that go back and listen to Stan's arrangement of 'After You,' with Dave Lambert (Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) setting the pace for Bob Flanigan's version a decade later.  No comparison.

It also annoyed the hell out of him that early on in the Freshmen's career people would say: 'Gee, you guys sound just like the Kenton Band.' Then a few years later a number of people told him: 'Gee, the Band sounds just like the Four Freshmen.' 

Imitation, according to the Old Man was not the sincerest form of flattery. It was, pure and simple, lost energy!

But, that's another story.

It amuses me that some of you have such strong opinions about the Band, yet weren't there. Nor do you have a clue as to what we went through on many of our exhaustive pilgrimages through America's hamlets and byways.

Was it fun? You betcha. Was it worth it? You betcha. Could it have been better? Probably! Would I do it again? You betcha. In a heartbeat!

I trust this clears-up any misconceptions regarding what those of us who were there felt about the Beatles. Or to paraphrase a famous JFK book title: 'We hardly knew them.'

Top of the page


A Hard Lesson Not Easily Learned

    All Hell, and Then Some, Breaks Loose On the Bus One Night




By the time the date ended and Stan had a chance to relax on the bus with his bottle of J&B he was in no mood for the usual helling around that ensued once the bus got under way. He made it clear he wanted to be left alone and that it would be prudent upon everyone’s part not to engage him in conversation, nor ask him any questions.

Everyone respected his wishes except two of the trumpet players who began a pillow fight, which quickly involved several other members of the Band. It didn’t take long before good-natured roughhousing escalated into a fist fight  between one of the trombonists and a trumpet player he hadn’t been getting along since we left Los Angeles.

The two had been sharing an apartment with the trombonist’s girl friend, who turned out to be less than faithful. Apparently she had slept with the trumpet player while her boy friend was working a weekend engagement in San Francisco. He was none the wiser until she suggested upon his return that they engage in a ménage a trois the night before the guys were leaving on tour.

Having led somewhat of a protective life the trombonist was aghast to think about sharing his bed with another man and the woman he loved. His girl friend, who took a perverse pleasure in shocking him by walking around their apartment in only her bra and panties, leaving the bathroom door open when she relieved herself  and screaming like a banshee during sex, told him it was high time all of them shared a bed since they shared everything else. The trombonist was mortified. He was certainly no prude, having had his fair share of sexual encounters, but they were always one-on-one; not two-on-one. His girl friend told him they were going to bind together in a sexual romp before the guys left, or else.

“Or else what?” the angry trombonist shouted.

“Or else Roger and I,” she replied, grabbing the delighted trumpet player, “are going to take up where we left off last night.”

The trombonist couldn’t believe she had cheated on him and with a close friend, to boot. Seething he packed-up everything he was taking on the Road, left the apartment and went to stay with his sister out in the Valley. The next morning he confronted his friend and asked him for an explanation. None was forthcoming. And no one had a clue as to what had happened to cause two great friends to be at odds with each other.

As they battered their way up the aisle toward the front of the bus, the trombonist, who was a head taller and  30 pounds heavier, lifted the struggling trumpet player off his feet, turned him sideways and threw him into the empty compartment beside Stan. Half asleep and slightly tipsy from having finished a half bottle of Scotch Stan leaped up and cracked his head on the overhead luggage rack. As he fell back into his seat the remainder of the Scotch flowed out and soaked his pants.

As quickly as it had begun, the fight ended. Those who had been standing in the aisle hurried back to their private areas, slipped quietly into their seats and turned off their reading lamps. The silence  was deafening as everyone waited to see what Stan would do.

We didn't have long to wait as he rose majestically and brushed past the two terror stricken men without saying a word. He went directly to Eric and told him to stop the bus. As Eric carefully maneuvered our mammoth machine into an emergency parking area Stan turned and in a voice that left no doubt who was in command ordered both men to get their things and disembark.

They hurriedly gathered up their personal gear, stumbled down the stairwell and waited like two condemned prisoners as they anxiously waited for Eric to open-up the underneath luggage rack so they could retrieve their bags.

As Stan stood glowering in the door well one of the guys began apologizing for their actions.

“I don’t want to hear it,” bellowed Stan.

“You two have been causing trouble since the day we left. I should have sent you packing long before this. Do either of you have any loot?”

“No,” they both answered in unison.

“Good!” he smiled fiendishly, “The next town is about a mile and a half dead ahead,” he said, pointing down the darkened road, “the date is some 225 miles beyond that. Get there an hour before we begin tonight or consider yourselves sacked.”

The look of desperation on their faces as the bus pulled away and left them in the middle of nowhere at 3 in the morning became a lesson for all that Stan would not tolerate anyone  acting like a thug while we were on tour. Violence was not to be condoned, no matter what the provocation.

For the rest of the trip everyone was lost in thought trying to ascertain how in hell those two guys were going to get to the date. Although no one had the courage to speak up we also felt Stan had been a bit too harsh leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere. It was, however, a lesson well learned and remembered as one by one everyone scrunched down in their seats and tried to get a few hours of much needed rest.

About an hour later, Eric, who had been driving the Band for over 20 years and was capable of nodding off with his eyes open while driving, suddenly became fully alert as he struggled to keep the bus on the Road just as a gigantic tractor trailer rolled alongside and the driver began blowing his air horn and blinking his lights as he roared ahead then disappeared into the blackened night doing at least 80 miles an hour.

“Jesus Christ, are you all right Eric?” yelled Stan, visibly shaken. “I wonder where that sonafabitch was going in such a hurry?”

From the back of the bus came a lone voice, “He’s on his way to tonight’s concert and didn’t want to be late.” No one dared laugh.

“Everyone all right?” Stan asked standing up in the aisle looking around to make sure no one was hurt. “I think we’d better take a rest stop and give Eric a breather.”

For the next 30-minutes the main topic of conversation was how the tractor trailer had come from nowhere, passed us, then disappeared into the foggy night like some apparition from a Stephen King horror novel. Although we had not been in any real danger, since Eric had plenty of room to pull over, the thought of the rig passing us at breakneck speed still gave everyone the jitters.

Adding more mystery to the unexpected turn of events that occurred during the night was pulling up to the motel and seeing our musician friends standing by the front door awaiting our arrival. They greeted everyone quietly as they left the bus, then climbed aboard and sheepishly asked Stan if they had been forgiven since they had made the date in time.

“I’d say you made it in plenty of time,” a surprised Stan said. “How’d you get here so damn fast?”

“Let’s just say it was a divine stroke of luck,” the trombonist said grinning.

“Yeah,” his friend chimed in, “God was watching over us.”

“God doesn’t even know you guys exist,” Stan laughed. “I’ll bet that crazy truck driver who passed us last night picked you up, didn’t he?”

“She!” The trumpet player grinned. “A gorgeous, wonderful gal from San Antonio. Man, you should have seen her handle that rig. Pure poetry.”

Just then, the huge, gleaming black rig that had passed us earlier came around the corner and pulled up alongside our bus and stopped, its huge diesel thundering in the early afternoon crisp air. We couldn’t see the driver because our view was blocked by both vehicles being parked nose-to-nose. The look of surprise on all our faces when an extremely attractive young girl, 20 or so, dressed in jeans, plaid shirt and high-top boots came strolling over with a tall man who appeared to be in his late 50s.

“Hi, Mr. Kenton,” she purred in a soft Texas drawl, “I guess Daddy and I got your boys here in time for your concert. Good thing we came along, otherwise they might still be a-sittin’ back there among the prairie dogs and weeds.”

“Did they tell you they had been fighting on the bus and that’s why they got left behind?,” Stan said very seriously.

“I can’t believe these two little angels,” she replied coquettishly, "could have caused anyone any trouble. Daddy and me had a wonderful time talking with them last night. They also think you’re a real neat guy even if you did cause them a bit of grief by leaving them stranded in the middle of Nowhere.”

“Do we owe you any money for your trouble?” Stan said reaching into his pocket.

“No sir, but Daddy and me would like to hear you boys play tonight. We’ve got a load to drop off, then we’ll be back around 6.”

Stan assured them they were welcome to attend the concert as his guests and that he would look forward to seeing them at the hotel later in the day. He also told them to ring his room when they arrived and they’d have dinner together.

“Thank you, Mr. Kenton,” the pretty young driver replied. “I know Daddy would enjoy that, but I’ll take a rain check. “I’m having dinner with Bobby,” she said, sending a dazzling smile to the trombonist. Then she and her Father climbed back up into the rig and roared off down the Road.

As with most things that happened on the Kenton Band this was not the end of the story. Seems the young girl’s father owned a fleet of trucks, along with an oil well or two, that ran between the east and west coasts. The day before one of their drivers came down with appendicitis and there was no one else available to take the run except them.

Ashley Sue, who was a senior majoring in marketing at the University of Texas was home for the summer helping her Daddy run his sprawling ranch and various corporations. How fortuitous that they came along in time to rescue the two stranded musicians. How fortuitous, indeed, since Ashley and Bobby continued seeing each other after he left the Band to teach English Literature at UT.

Two years later they were married and invited the Band to their social-event-of-the-year wedding in Austin, where Bobby still teaches and Ashley Sue is in charge of her Father’s many diversified, very profitable businesses.


Top of the page


     The Numbers Game

         'Thou Shall Not Use Bad Language On The Kenton Band'



One early morning, midway through a sleep depriving series of 'hit & run' dates in the Midwest, Stan brightly bounced aboard the bus, looking as though he had just stepped out of Saville Row, while the rest of us looked like death warmed-over from a night of revelry spent at one of the area’s infamous bars.

A night off was considered play time on the Kenton Band and was never given over to rest & recuperation. Consequently the guys were not in the best of spirits, especially if one of Stan's little pep talks was about to commence.

Picking-up the pint-sized, klaxon air horn someone had purchased in a novelty shop he let go with a few blasts, motioning to everyone he wanted their attention.

“There's no easy to say this, other than to jump right in,” he said, draping himself across one of the front seats. "The language you guys have been  using, on and off the bus is atrocious. One nasty, filthy word after another. I can't believe that a group as well educated and as articulate as you guys resort to using 'fuck,' 'shit,' 'crap' . . . I don't think I have to go through the entire laundry list . . . without regard to caring who might be within earshot. I'm especially concerned about the kids hearing some of the words you use and thinking that's they way they should talk. Ok, enough said. Let's try to watch what we say and talk like the sophisticated gentlemen everyone thinks we are.”

With that he dismounted from the bus and slipped into a waiting car that would take him to a radio interview several cities away and on to that evening's concert date.

The silence, more like a pall, that swept over the bus following his little announcement and hasty departure was so thick it was scary. Chastisement, however, quickly turned to anger at being treated like wayward juveniles and it didn't take long before that anger turned itself around to create a memorable display of Kenton Orchestra one-upmanship.

Bob Fitzpatrick was the first to come up with a solution. “What if,” he grinned like the cat who had just swallowed the canary, ”we take every god damn foul word we can think of and give it a number?”

“For example,” he began writing on a piece of score paper, “let’s list 'crap' as Number One. 'Piss' as Number Two. ‘Cunt’ as 13.  'Shit' as 2.  And just to throw the Old Man and everyone else off , we list ‘Fuck’ as Number 14 and ‘Mother fucker’ as Number 23.”

In less than a half-hour we had a fulsome list of  50 or 60 of the most commonly used and nastiest gutter words our fertile minds could think of.

Later that night, after the date, Dalton Smith brushed by the Old Man as he sat waiting on the bus for everyone to assemble and muttered to no one in particular:

“Boy, that was a 23 date. And did you see that 13, staring at John Worster? (the Band's bass player). I thought for sure that 33 was going to 27 him before the 14 night was over.”

Stan looked at Dalton as though he had lost his mind. He became even more perplexed as one band member after another entered the bus talking in 'numbers,' as they acknowledged Stan with a big grin.

Early the next morning Fitz and I noticed him standing up in the well of the bus talking softly to Eric, our driver. It was difficult to hear what he saying because he kept his voice just above a whisper and his back was turned toward the rear of he bus.

We knew immediately what the conversation was about when Eric blurted out, “Stan, I don’t have a 52 about what you’re talking about. It’s a 28 to me!” Now that Stan was aware that Eric, whom we involved in all our hi-jinks, was in on our latest act of madness, he felt even more left out. And frustrated.

 After four long days of listening to everyone talking in 'numbers' and trying to give the impression he knew what was going on, the Old Man finally pulled Fitzpatrick aside and asked him what “What the fuck is this Number shit?”

“No, no, Stan,” Fitz grinned, “You mean “What the 14 is this 2?

At first Stan's face was a total blank, then he began laughing as it dawned on him what the numbers stood for. Fitz then handed him a copy of the 'Numbers List,' which one of the guys had run off on a hotel Xerox machine. Being the good sport he was, Stan began laughing so loudly he woke-up the rest of the bus.

“I'll be damned.” You sonafabitches are certainly full of surprises.”

“Hey, Stan,” one of the trumpet players yelled out, 'sonafabitches’ is out. Thirty-nine is in!”

 Stan lost no time in telling a select group of friends: “You'll never believe what those geniuses have come-up with now!” handing them a copy of the 'Numbers.'

For the remainder of the tour the guys took an inordinate delight in talking in 'Numbers' anytime they wanted to throw a curve to some annoying, obnoxious fan. Even Stan joined in the fun. No doubt there is a legion of Kenton fans who became convinced ”the boys on the bus” had stayed on the Road far too long.


Top of the page