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    Progressive Jazz Orchestra

    March 1, 1948


Seldom in all its 57 years had Carnegie Hall been so jammed – and never so racked by such raucous music. The 300 fans on stage had the most tranquil spot: they were behind the brass. But out in front, the louder it got, the better they liked it. And no band yet had out blown Stan Kenton’s for sheer din per man.

It wasn’t swing: toothy Stan Kenton had already pronounced that 'dead, gone, finished.' Some doubted that it was even jazz: it had a shifty beat (and sometimes none), little – if any – form, and even less improvisation. Most of it sounded like Duke Ellington with the D.Ts. But when Kenton’s band got to pushing out such huge, screeching blotches of sound as 'Artistry Jumps' and 'Message to Harlem,' the Fans ripped the place wide open. They listened to his newest and most pretentious masterpiece, 'Prologue Suite in Four Movements' in a state of glassy somnambulance. When Kenton capped it all with 'Concerto to End All Concertos,' Carnegie hadn’t heard such yelling in years.

This week Kenton moved into Chicago’s Civic Opera House for a one-night stand; the 4,200 seats and standing room been sold out for two weeks and 3,000 ticket buyers had been turned away. (It was no trouble at all to get seats in advance for the Metropolitan Opera’s famed Ezio Pinza that afternoon.)

Not since the first the first golden days of Glenn Miller and Harry James had a band’s popularity reached the proportions of a craze. What was all the shouting about?

Kenton is a 6 ft. 41/2 in. Californian who at 36 has the same ambition Paul Whiteman had in the ’20s:  to marry classical music and jazz. In Whiteman’s case, what emerged was pseudo symphonic – a blend of Tin Pan Alley and Tchaikovsky. In Kenton’s, it is a driving, nervous (and technically skillful) wedding of swing and Schonberg. Kenton started his outfit in 1941, got ahead fast by getting up early to sign autographs, and looking up disc jockeys whenever he hit a new town. For the past two years, his musicians have been voted Band of the Year.

Stan Kenton considers his 'progressive jazz' just what the psychiatrist ordered. Last month, he sat down with DownBeat reporter (Harvard man Mike Levin), who gave him a 6½-column interview that sounded sometimes like a seminar in psychology, sometimes like a talk with Father Divine. Said Kenton: 'The human race may be going through nervous frustration and thwarted emotional development which traditional music is entirely incapable of not only satisfying, but representing.'

Last fall, he decided to dispense his music only from concert halls (it is undanceable anyway). Long-haired competition is the least of his worries. Said Kenton: 'Jazz will dominate and swallow up classical [music] as we know it in this country. . . Stravinsky, Milhaud, Prokofiev and Hindemith . . . use some of the same sounds and rhythmical devices, but we still are the only ones to rely on the emotional projection of the freely individual musician.'

But of one notoriously freely individual musician, he says: 'What's wrong with Louis [Armstrong] is  that he plays without any scientific element . . . all natural forms of inspiration in music – have been exhausted -- today we have to create music scientifically and then project with it and into its emotion.

That kind of thing was too much even  for some of the initiates. Stormed Barry Ulanov, who is an editor of a rival cultist magazine called Metronome: 'Kids [are going] haywire . . .  over the sheer noise of this band . . . There is a danger . . . of an entire generation growing up with the idea that jazz and the atom bomb are essentially the same natural phenomenon.'

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    Progressive Jazz Orchestra

    March, 1948


Music's problem child was on the loose again. It could be said that Stan Kenton at 36 was old enough to know better -- to know better than to gamble his career on concertizing. 'To present the finest music we know how to create,' Kenton announced on February 2, 'we have to do it without being hampered by people who come to dance, eat popcorn, make a contact of some sort, or maybe just come in to get warm.' Hence the bandleader said, no more one-nighters and as few theater and hotel dates as possible.

Those who think Kenton is music's answer to the terrifying implications of the atomic age (and they are many) laughed happily and said that Stan would now get his. Those who think that Kenton is heaven's solution as to how to get jazz out of New Orleans (and they appear to be as numerous) said a little prayer and wondered how concert productions of little-known numbers would sell enough Capitol records to buy pappy his quota of shoes.

'The Kenton band has everything,' wrote George Frazier in Down Beat as far back as 1942. 'But I don't like it . . . to me, it's terrific in a revolting way. It's the poor man's Whiteman.' 

'Let's face it,' said Barry Ulanov in the February issue of Metronome, 'this is the loudest band ever . . . a neurotic conception of jazz, if not of all of music.'

But to Robert Goffin, the Belgian jazz expert, Kenton was 'completely revolutionary . . . to music what Dali is to art.' And to Rudi Blesh, who reviewed his February 14 Carnegie Hall concert for the New York Herald Tribune, the Kenton band emerged 'as the sort of tonal instrument of which Berlioz, Mussorgsky, and even Satie must have dreamed.' But, conditioned Blesh, 'none of the original pieces of Kenton and his top arrangers is to be taken seriously as serious music.'

Despite -- and with some help from -- sentiments like these, Kenton went ahead with his plans. A concert last November 11 at the Chicago Civic Opera House grossed $10,000. Then on February 13 in Philadelphia at the staid Academy of Music, he went into high gear. With himself and his band all decked out in Ascot ties as befitted such activity, he took in $7,600. Carnegie Hall in New York grossed a record of $8,700 -- with a high $4.80 top and sold out well in advance. Symphony Hall in Boston on February 15 brought in $8,000. Pittsburgh, at the Syria Mosque last week, saw $9,600 roll in, and Chicago, revisited on Sunday, February 22, to the tune of a rescaled $4.80 at the Civic Opera House, donated an estimated $11,000.

Sages in the business, like Billboard, pointed out that the concert circuit could only supply 60 working days, and what would he do when that ran out? The trade magazine had to admit, though, if he sold out such an itinerary he might be able to gross $250,000. Whatever the outcome, Kenton always had ready a philosophy stemming from 1941, when he first started his band. 'I've played solo piano  for drunks in saloons before and I can do it again.'

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    Innovations' Orchestra
    Ted Hallock
    Seattle Times 
    Winter 1950


What happened at this city's auditorium last night should happen to the country at large, and will be happening during the coming three months. At 8:30 P.M. Thursday, lanky Stan Kenton raised the curtain on a musical aggregation bound to shock, thrill and puzzle young and old for years to come.

With the first, beautifully-shaded notes of Kenton's theme, 'Artistry In Rhythm,' Stan's orchestra revealed an intellectual intent unparalleled in the history of modern American music . . . and I do not qualify that statement with the use of such restrictive categorization as 'dance,' 'jazz,' 'swing,' 'be-bop,' or any other one type of playing. 

Kenton's music is the first produced in this country since the immortal Duke Ellington's real heyday (1940-45) which cannot be typed, compared to, contrasted with, or placed neatly in this 'school' or that Stan Kenton's 40 serious young gentlemen, schooled musicians all, blew, pounded, scraped, and plucked the most significant collections of sounds (and Kenton delights in toying with that word) these ears, those of the audience (3000) and probably those of the musicians themselves had ever heard . . . sounds quite apart from the at-times blatant blowing of Stan's last all-brass band. Sectional phrasing, intonation, attack, and 'emotional projection' were beyond belief. 

If this sounds a bit thick, it is meant to be just that, a commendation in words much too inadequate to convey any idea of what did happen on the Seattle stage. Specifically, bop addicts were satisfied with the individual instrumental efforts of altoist Art Pepper, drummer Shelly Manne, trumpeter Shorty Rogers, and such bop-spiced compositions as Rogers ' An Expression From Rogers' and 'Blues In Riff.' Tone color in all its true vital majesty was manifest as always in the gutty, brilliant scores of longtime Kenton arranger Pete Rugolo -- such compositions as 'Mirage' and 'Conflict.' 

The technical virtuosity of Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida and conga drummer Carlos Vidal was spectacularly showcased in 'Amazonia' and 'Cuban Episode.' But then we've already said that critical language just can't cope with this man and his music. I would suggest that you be present Saturday evening, February 11, at The Auditorium, Portland, to see and hear for yourself what Stan Kenton's 'Innovations in Modern Music for 1950' is all about.

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    Innovations' Orchestra

    February 9, 1951


A year ago last December, 'progressive' Jazzman Stan Kenton decided to quit. His band was making almost as much money as it was noise, but Stan, who regarded himself as strictly a concert man, didn’t like some of the places he had to play, especially the dance halls. And he wasn’t sure, he added, that he was 'contributing.' 

He toyed with the idea that he might contribute more by becoming a psychiatrist. "I guess I talked up a storm about the thing," he says. 'Everybody thought that was going to be the next move.' But it would have meant a long grind through pre-med courses, medical school, internship and a 3-year residency and Stan was already 37. 

Last week his latest move, right back to what he started from, was the loudest thing in Los Angeles. To the frenetic mob, mostly teen-agers, that overflowed Los Angeles 2,670-seat Philharmonic Auditorium to hear him, Bandman Kenton nervously explained what he was up to: he wanted listeners to write their confidential reactions to his 'Innovations in Modern Music for 1950' on the cards that had been handed out.

But he warned, 'If you start looking for melody, you won’t find any . . . We get a great thing out of concocting sound.' He went on rapidly to add: 'Its sound concoction.' With that he whirled around to let them have it.

The first belt of sound from the brasses pinned the audience to its chairs. Lanky Stan Kenton flapped his arms like a scarecrow in a hurricane as the band blasted out a 'montage' of the jazzed-up dissonances that Kentonites have slavered over since 1941: 'Artistry in Percussion,' 'Opus in Pastels,' 'Artistry Jumps.' 

Every once in awhile he gave them a breather. June Christy . . . cooed 'Get Happy, 'Lonesome Road' and 'I'll Remember April.' Most of the time it was a bewildering battle between the violins, violas and cellos on one side and the bursting brasses on the other.

Kenton himself, admitted there was room for improvement. 'The greatest criticism we had was for the fact that the brass section, when it spoke, it spoke so loud that the string section which it interrupted was so completely dominated that it all sounded disconnected -- as if they were playing two different pieces.' He was sure he was on the right track with his main idea. 'People hear music and they don't know what the hell they like about it, but it creates a certain turmoil, a certain insecurity, things that are with us today.'

Earnest, ever-posing Stan Kenton was set to take his turmoil on a tour of 77 U.S. and Canadian cities, beginning this week.

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    Mellophonium Orchestra
    John S. Wilson
    New York Times
    September 1961


Stan Kenton, whose brassily bellicose bands have been challenging American eardrums for more than fifteen years, brought the latest edition of his orchestra to Basin Street East on Thursday night.

There are four more brass instruments than usual in this group, but Mr. Kenton has chosen them to serve as a mellowing, softening influence as well as to intensify the band's normally piercing brassiness.

The four added instruments are mellophoniums, mellophones whose tubing has been straightened out so that the bell points straight ahead like that of a trumpet instead of being directed back over the musician's shoulder. It was created several years ago by Don Elliott, a jazz mellophonist who had found that solos played on a regular mellophone could not be heard properly unless he played with his back toward his audience. Mr. Kenton added the unusual instruments to his orchestra last winter to remedy what he felt was 'a lack of tonal color' in its performance.

At first, he says, he had difficulty finding musicians who were willing to play the mellophonium. Trumpeters and French hornists, who were the logical choices, bridled at the suggestion that they switch to what they looked on as a freak instrument.

But, Mr. Kenton, who insists that the mellophonium is no freak and is here to stay as far as he is concerned, was persuasively persistent, and he now has a mellophonium section manned by two former trumpeters, one former French hornist and one mellophonist who had to be weaned away from his past habit of using a trumpet mouthpiece.

Playing as a section, the mellophoniums frequently sound like muted trumpets with a slightly darker tone. They can also create the distant, haunting sound of French horns (Mr. Kenton chose them in preference to French horns, because, he says, they are capable of a stronger attack than the French horn). Both aspects enable the current Kenton band to play slow, moody numbers with a richer, more lustrous voicing than it has had in the recent past.

But when Mr. Kenton lets all the stops out, the mellophoniums also add a full share to the pandemonium, sailing with surprising agility around and over the trumpets and trombones like exultant Valkyries. Their presence gives the Kenton band more scope and balance than it has had for years.

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    Mellophonium Orchestra

    May 27, 1962


It was a hot. muggy, starlit night in the dusty Ontario lake town of Port Stanley (pop. 1,480). The fish flies swarmed and the rickety Stork Club Ballroom had just disgorged 800 jazz fans. By 2:25 a.m., all 23  bandsmen had clambered aboard the big silver, red and white bus, followed by Bandleader Stan Kenton carrying a cardboard carton with 30 ham sandwiches. Somebody snapped on the switch of a blue light that signified drinking time, and the bus began to roll.

Stan Kenton's crew, which last week was midway through a nine-month tour, is riding the crest of a post-rock ’n’ roll revival of interest in bands. The revival has not yet risen to the peak of the ’30s when the bands roamed the countryside in gaudy caravans, carrying a whiff of the wide world with them. But, although there are fewer bands today, the top ones are making bigger money and getting more bookings. If they wanted to, such men as Ray Anthony, Harry James, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman and Les Brown could probably work every day of the week playing at colleges, in high school gymnasiums and under the tents. Stan Kenton nearly does work a seven-day week.

Touring the summer circuit, Kenton keeps his men in a state of near exhaustion that, strangely, seems to add to their cohesion and musical esprit. To the usual jazzed-up dissonances that are his musical trademark, Kenton this year has added the sound of the mellophonium, a kind of straightened French horn that he developed to fill in a range of sound that usually remains unexploited – somewhere between the trumpet and the trombone. Whipped by the rhythm section’s artfully lagging beat, the buttery mellophonium sound satisfies the taste of as many as 5,000 a night. As a result, the Kenton band is this summer’s briskest moneymaker.

In the Kenton band, the ritual of the hit-and-run – two one-nighters laid back to back – is a commonplace, if still nightmarish, feature of touring life. Kenton himself has been at it for 21 years, as has his driver, who first wheeled a Kenton bus in 1941. The hit-and-run from Port Stanley was typical: the destination was Cleveland, 300 miles away, where the band had a concert the following afternoon. As soon as the bus pulled out the bandsmen settled down to the jazz world’s two favorite antidotes to boredom – poker (rear of the bus) and drinking (front). Kenton rode in the well at the front door. A few lucky musicians were able to sleep notably Saxophonist Joel Kaye, who at 140 lbs. is small enough to slip into the overhead luggage rack. A couple of other bandsmen listened over individual earphones to the tape recorder that Kenton had installed at the start of the tour. Favorite listening: Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Puccini.

At 3:50 a.m., the bus stopped at an all-night diner for a 45-minute breakfast break (the band had not eaten since 6 p.m.). By 9:30 a.m. the bus was within '14 hands' of Cleveland distances are invariably measured in poker hands), and the bandsmen hoped they might have time for some sleep before the concert. As it turned out, they had time only for showers before piling out into 90-degree heat in the big tent where they were to play. For all that, the band blew its lungs out for two hours; in such numbers as 'Malaguena' and 'Waltz of the Prophets' it produced the most exciting big-band sound around.

Is the hit-and-run life worth it?

'There’s loneliness here on the road,' says Trumpeter Marvin Stamm, 'but then there’s loneliness anywhere in life.'

Says Kenton, who believes that this band is the best he ever had: 'It’s not really a grind; it’s the way we live.'

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    Mellophonium Orchestra
    Donald Watts
    New York Daily News
    September 1961


    The music of Stan Kenton's band never has been and probably never will be -- designed for the drawing room.

    His music such as was performed last evening can only be described as exciting. The power, color and drive can hardly fail to move a lover of modern jazz.

    Jazz historians who have followed Kenton's career since he first rose to prominence in the 1940s feel that this 22-piece group may well be the greatest of all his bands.

    The total shadings and harmonic structures of Kenton arrangements still bear the mark of his early Balboa Beach, California band. But the addition of more brass instruments (four mellophoniums) and the deepening of his saxophone section (replacement of an alto with a tenor saxophone and occasional use of the bass saxophone) give a deeper voice to the ensemble.

    The band which has played together since last spring is young as jazz organizations go. The machine-like precision of the saxophone section has not quite been achieved. This polish will come as the band matures.

    Also being developed is a stable of soloists comparable to Shelly Manne, Conte Candoli and Vido Musso who departed from the original band to make their own individual marks on modern jazz.

    Marvin Holladay's showcase solo on 'Stella by Starlight' demonstrated his versatility on the baritone saxophone. Trumpeter Marvin Stamm, alto saxophone Gabe Baltazar and trombonist Dee Barton also gave polished performances.

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    Mellophonium Orchestra
    Frank Tate
    Kalamazoo Gazette
    Summer 1961


The big, beautiful band sound came back to Battle Creek last night and proved that the 'Kenton Touch' could still work its magic spell. A wildly enthusiastic audience greeted Stan on his third appearance here, and such fervent, spontaneous applause has not been heard at the W.K.Kellogg Auditorium since the Yugoslavian Chorus.

A man who is never content to rest on yesterday's laurels, Mr. Kenton has come up with an exciting new range of color and tone, made possible by the addition of an instrument designed specifically for the Kenton Orchestra by the Conn. Co. The mellophonium is, as its name suggests, a warm, vibrant horn with a register that fills the gap between the trumpets and trombones and opens up endless avenues of tonal variations.

Resembling a French horn and keyed in F, the mellophonium was the undisputed star of last night's brilliant program -- a program where virtuosity was the norm and superlatives the only means of description.

The Kenton Orchestra shines like a bright star in a decade of popular music, distinguished only for its mediocrity, except for show tunes. The rich, full baritone voice of trumpeter Ernie Bernhardt only served to emphasize the gulf between the fine male vocalist of the big band era and the pathetic excuses that now masquerade under the title, 'singer.' It was a sad day when someone discovered that a guitar could be used for other than serenading ladies under balconies.

But no excuses were needed for the Kenton aggregation. It could blast in a wild melee of strange rhythms and uncomfortable harmonies, or produce an 'April in Paris' that was achingly beautiful.

When the deafening applause wouldn't stop for this lovely piece, he congratulated the audience on their excellent taste.

Although the Kenton style is distinctly his own, and far more progressive than his contemporaries of the early 40s, it nevertheless evokes nostalgic memories of the pre-war period when high school youngsters the nation over danced to the strains of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Glen Gray.

No program helped guide these jazz buffs but each selection was greeted by a burst of applause, so the aficionados apparently knew the way. Kenton, himself, is an immensely attractive man and his easy banter was pitched at just the right level. He wandered from the piano, where his delightful playing gave the men a needed respite, to the front of the band in such a casual, happy way that everyone returned his friendliness in kind.

The soloists out did themselves -- some a little farther out than others. Marvin Holladay neatly probed the outer fringes in space with his unearthly sound on the baritone sax. His technique was fabulous but he lost your reviewer at the same time 'Stella by Starlight' disappeared in a welter of diminished 5ths and augmented 7ths

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    Mellophonium Orchestra
    Jim Morrissey
    Louisville Courier
    Summer 1961


This duff sitting in the next seat had just had the wax blown out of his ears by a Stan Kenton rouser, 'Peanut Vendor,' replete with 22 musicians of great verve.

"You know," said the buff, "Kenton isn't going to be really satisfied until they let him set-off a hydrogen bomb. He's got to get that BIG sound."

That could be. But it's hardly a fair appraisal of Kenton & Company, who held a 1200 crowd at Memorial Auditorium enthusiastically enthralled last night.

This was Kenton's new big, BIG BAND -- five trumpets, five trombones, four mellophoniums (kind of a straightened out French horn toned between trumpet and trombone), five saxophones and three rhythmists.

Let's see, now. How do you describe this concert? 'Tremendous' has been long over used in connection with Kenton appearances. But I'd have to manufacture a word to take its place and I can't think of one right now.

Kenton stirred the Memorial Auditorium jazz crowd as they have seldom been stirred. At one point -- the charging, crashing climax of 'Malaguena' -- many were on their feet cheering.

The concert was more than sound. There was the special Kenton treatment of ballads like 'April in Paris.' Few people in the music business have Kenton's soft, sure touch with a ballad. His section work is perfectly balanced and lyrical in quality -- a pure joy to hear..

For change of pace there was the old music horse, Sam Donahue, who played brilliant tenor sax with a driving down home flavor. Baritone saxist Marvin Holladay was outstanding on 'Stella by Starlight.'

About the only disappointment was the well-touted 'new sound of Kenton.' The sound was different -- it has to be with the bigger band and the addition of the mellophoniums.

It follows that Kenton was louder, he had more blow pressure. Too, Kenton was mellower. The addition of a tuba, the gentle-sounding mellophoniums and a monster, deep-throated saxophone brought this about. 

In summary: Kenton was never better and he was never appreciated more in Louisville.

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    Mellophonium Orchestra
    Steve Taylor
    St. Louis Dispatch
    Fall 1961


It was, as one lady said, 'hard on the ears,' but it wasn't necessarily the loud shadings of Stan Kenton's 22 pieces at the Bushnell Saturday night; it was the absolute pitch that made the eardrums reverberate.

Showing off some old, some new numbers, some newer faces, Stan 'The Man' (in the music world) gave a well-rounded and slightly mellowed accounting for his more than 20 year uphill fight against the 'progressive' tag. What was progressive then, Bushnell patrons recognized as leadership -- or genius -- now.

The mellow mellophoniums filled the range superbly between trumpet and French horn, providing the coloration and warmth that is making his newer arrangements more popular.

Gabe Baltazar's alto sax work on 'Stairway to the Stars' is an object lesson for all the little kids who don't see the need to practice their finger exercises. His sweet embouchure and rapid attack brought down the house.

'I've got Rhythm' showed technical ability at a killing tempo; 'All the Things You Are' showcased the chorale effect of the mellophoniums developed at Kenton's bidding.

Also outstanding was the constantly flashy wrist technique of drummer Jerry (Lestock) McKenzie, trying to turn the cymbals inside out on 'Limehouse Blues.'

Dropping back to his earlier years, Kenton pulled 'Intermission Riff' out of his deep hat. That and 'Malaguena' showed his flair in leading the band.

Loud? Yes, like always, but soft and cloying when necessary as in his wondrous 'Maria' from 'West Side Story,' Kenton & Company showed skill, technique and zest.

The crowd wasn't disappointed.

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    1970s Orchestra
    Max Brantley
    Arkansas Gazette
    August 15, 1973


It should have been in a smoky underground bar crowded with swaying bodies, but Stan Kenton and his Orchestra's concert at the Auditorium Tuesday night still brought a small, jazz-crazed crowd to its feet with what might be the most innovative music in the country.

The crowd applauded incessantly as a parade of brilliant instrumentalists alternately played dozens of solo riffs and blended flawlessly in a two-hour program of jazz, swing, ballads and rock -- what Kenton calls creative contemporary music.

Here's why Kenton and his orchestra are superb and called by some critics the best jazz group in the country: first, he has an 18-piece group of versatile musicians. The five persons in the saxophone section all double on flute and a trombonist doubles on an upright concert tuba, an unusual instrument for most American jazz orchestras.

Kirby Stewart, a string and electric bass player in his 20s picked like a fool for about five minutes on 'Intermission Riff,' a traditional Kenton tune and the crowd went wild.

Stewart is not the only exceptional musician.

Among Kenton's innovations were numerous musical confrontations of the 'Dueling Banjos' ilk.

Baritone saxes dueled each other as well as surprisingly wild combinations of flute and trombone, trumpet and saxophone and trumpet and muted trumpet. Each musician who stepped to center stage earned his spot. If there was a star it had to be either a wild hippie drummer named Peter Erskine, saxophonist John Park or any one of the glass-shattering trumpeters.

Kenton himself has been suffering with an ailing back and he does move slowly across the stage. But his fingers are nimble and his direction precise. The performance opened with Kenton playing blues on a ballad 'What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life' and swung imperceptibly into a dissonant fortissimo of every instrument in the band.

Kenton's group shines in musical sublteties. Their tempo changes during individual numbers as well as in a wide-ranging repertoire that jumps from blues to marimba rhythms to pop movie themes like 'The Godfather' and 'Live and Let Die.'

The band can be loud, in fact incredibly loud, but it has the ability to drop from a fully orchestrated blast to a quick subito piano measure by the saxes -- and then up again. And even when loud (rock musicians take notice) every note is there -- in time, on key and mixing with the fellow -- or girl -- in the next chair.

The band was great and the crowd knew it, bringing them back for two encores with a raucous standing ovation. After playing heavier tunes earlier like 'Blues, Between & Betwixt' and 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra,' the band closed the performance with the swing classic 'Take the "A" Train, 'schmaltzed by a trembling muted trumpet.

The band picked up the enthusiasm of the audience early in the evening and carried its exuberance past the final curtain as several band members sat around backstage taking solitary flights, cooling down from what was a frantically paced performance.

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1970s Orchestra
Indianapolis Star
John Haskins
August 19, 1973







There are those among us who think that anytime Stan Kenton sets up his big band and begins playing it is a jazz




There are those among us who think that anytime Stan Kenton sets up his big band and begins


There are those among us who think that anytime Stan Kenton sets up his big band and begins playing it is a jazz festival. Thousands of us, lining both banks of Brush Creek in the Plaza thought so last night, as Kenton and his young 18-piece band brought the Parks and Recreation Department's summer series of free concerts to a triumphant conclusion.

festival. Thousands of us, lining both banks of Brush Creek in the Plaza thought so last night, as Kenton and his young 18-piece band brought the Parks and Recreation Department's summer series of free concerts to a triumphant conclusion.

The band was setup in extended order, straddling the creek beneath the Central Street bridge. There, depending on how one feels about such things, the sound was optimum -- natural from the instruments close in behind the stand, backed up by amplification and the bridge served as a natural baffle. David Beatty's sound system provided clarity and good balance in each quadrant of the vast area, but under the bridge it was fine and dense.

Fine and dense is not too bad a phrase to sum up the typical Kenton arrangement -- soloists working out front, five screaming trumpets socking it in there, four trombones and tuba building a firm foundation, five eloquent reeds filling out the texture against driving rhythm of drums, congas and bass. One can get carried away!

And carried away one got. There are brilliant soloists in the Kenton organization -- John Park may be one of the most complete saxophonists playing these days. Richard Torres is a splendid tenor saxophonist, Dick Shearer will give you whatever you want from a trombone. Peter Erskine at 19 plays more drums than one can expect from a youth. Ramon Lopaz is a fiercely competent and exciting conga player. And then there is Kenton at the keyboard.

He presided over his group in a magisterial manner, relaxed, urbane, his minimal directions mainly consisting of knowing looks. The discipline of the band is almost incredible, and the sound -- ah, there is the secret, the Kenton sound. Players come and go, they seem to get younger every years, but the sound instilled in them by the thoughtful changes not.

In the solo work one of the high spots of the evening came in 'Blues, Between and Betwixt,' featuring Richard Torres on tenor; another came with Mary Fettig on flute, Dick Shearer on trombone, in 'The Peanut Vendor;' and then, any time John Park walked out front to the solo microphone it was a special time, for he is a fine, fine alto player.

But the band was the hero of the evening, the band and its great leader, Stan Kenton. He made his own introductions through the evening. At one point his remarks were interrupted by the noise of a fire engine or ambulance siren. He shrugged and remarked: 'There goes Woody Herman.' It was a most rewarding evening for a jazz buff.

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    1970s Orchestra
    James Ryan
    St. Petersburg Times
    Summer 1971



A quarter of a century ago it could be said with reasonable accuracy that there were two distinct schools of thought on the music created by Stan Kenton and his 'Artistry in Rhythm' orchestra.

People either loved it or they couldn't stand it; there were no gray areas, no one was neutral and arguments could rage long and loud about the man who had dared to break away from the 'poop-poop-de-poop' sound that characterized many of the big bands of that era.

Kenton broke up the 'Artistry in Rhythm' group in 1947 and as the 50s dawned fronted other bands that moved even farther away from convention with first "progressive jazz" and then 'Innovations in Modern Music.'

This was too far even for many of Kenton's early and staunch fans, who could squirm with delight at Eddie Meyers' tenor sax solo on 'Eager Beaver,' but were appalled at the alarming dissonance of his later 'City of Glass.'

Thus, there was a question in the minds of many who braved cold rain and wind to attend Kenton's concert at St. Petersburg High School Thursday night.

Which Kenton would we hear, the old, the less old, or something completely new and different?

It didn't take long to get an answer.

Grayer, heavier now at 60 than when we last saw him in 1947, Kenton appeared much more relaxed and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely before a nearly-full house that had given him a rousing welcoming ovation.

Although the first tune was a new one, 'Windmills of the Mind,'  the piano phrasing was by the Kenton of old, the chording reminiscent of 'Willow Weep for Me.'

And when 'Windmills' finally built to a crescendo with five saxes, five trumpets, five trombones, drums, bongos, bass and piano all speaking a different but closely related language there was no mistaking the sound.

It was Kenton.

And there was a standing round of applause, not only from the also graying, also heavier group that loved him when, but from a surprising number of young listeners, many of them still in their teens.

One of the things that struck us during the two-hour concert of instrumentals was the youth of many of Kenton's sidemen. The No. 1 trumpet, for example, had the look of a freshly-scrubbed choir boy.

The long-haired drummer (Peter Erskine), while not a Shelly Manne, reportedly is only 18.

Another aspect was the obvious delight the musicians get from their work. Some of this probably could be ascribed to audience enthusiasm. But not all. There was a spontaneity to laughs, jokes, nods and whispers of encouragement and applause for a particularly good solo that could not be attributed to anything but the pure pleasure of performance.

And out front, having as much fun as anyone, was Kenton.

Meyers, who sat in Kenton's lead sax chair for five years during the 'Artistry in Rhythm' period was in the audience and was recognized by the man in gray on stage.

Meyers now teaches music in St. Petersburg and is a reason for Kenton's return to this city. Another reason is the honorary citizenship presented him by City Manager Ray Harbaugh.

But the biggest reason for Kenton to come back is the hundreds who discovered Thursday that Kenton of old hasn't disappeared. He's only been away for a while

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1970s Orchestra
Leonard Feather
Los Angeles Times


'Now,'  said Howard Rumsey, 'the club is officially open.'

Of course Rumsey's Concerts by the Sea have been in operation since August, but last Monday's two recitals by the Stan Kenton orchestra (sold out two weeks in advance) had a special significance. This was the first big band to play the room, and it was the band in which Rumsey first came to prominence as a bass player 30 years ago.

The sentimental reunion was a musical triumph for Kenton. Never has the band played with more stunning precision. The lead trumpeter, Dennis Noday, drove the 10-man brass section with Herculean strength. The five trombones, as always, keynoted the band's style with their plunging sonorities.

Instead of opening flashily, Kenton started with a maestoso piano solo on 'What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life.' The balance of the set was well contrasted with respect to tempos, moods and dynamic variations.

A couple of the arrangements sounded too self-important: I have never care for Kenton's 'MacArthur Park,' and found 'Tonight' too slow for comfort. But these were the exceptions. The charts, mostly by Hank Levy, were as expertly written as they were brilliantly performed. Among Levy's originals were 'Chiapas,' 'Blues, Between & Betwixt' and the 5/4 'Of Space and Time.'

Though stronger as unit than as a showcase for individuals, the orchestra boasts two fine soloists: John Park, whose alto sax in 'Street of Dreams' was boppish, fast and funky; and the amazing 18-year old drummer Peter Erskine, part of a strong rhythm section with Ramon Lopez on conga and Kirby Stewart on bass. 'The set ended with an Afro-Cuban treatment of 'Artistry in Rhythm,' played with high-spirited bravura.

In the context of today's shrinking big-band scene, Kenton deserves the highest praise for his standard bearing, and particular praise for avoiding jazz rock or electronic compromises.

For the rest of this week, the club has Cal Tjader. Next Tuesday, Earl 'Fatha' Hines strides in. But the overtones of that unique Kenton evening will take a long while to die out.

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1970s Orchestra

Toronto's Palais Royale

Peter Newman


The Palais Royale is a decrepit ballroom on the edge of Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto which looks and smells like some shoddy papier-maché invention of a madly nostalgic Hollywood director, anxious to recreate the cheapest possible set for a movie about the Fabled Forties. One good shove and the whole peeling structure would float out into Lake Ontario and dissolve in a burst of giant bubbles, Panama ceiling fans, colored light bulbs, cracked mirrors and all.

Into this time-machine atmosphere, one hot Tuesday evening in July, came Stan Kenton and his 19-piece orchestra. It was their first Toronto visit in seven years, and as the Kenton crew shambled on a stage that ordinarily accommodates a five-piece polka group, the omens were not good. The boys in the band hadn’t bothered with matching suits that used to be a swing-era trademark and unlike most big band instrumentations this one had two baritone saxophones and a tuba, for God’s sake. “Looks as if Stan picked them up on his way through Guelph,” a small sleek man muttered.

Along with most of the 1200 Torontonians in the hall, he had obviously come down to the Palais expecting an evening of instant nostalgia, the recreation of the time when he was young, 20-or-so hectic years ago. A time when everybody thought Studebakers were the sexiest thing on the road, people were laughing at L’il Abner, buying fountain pens (remember the Parker ’51?), listening to the Make Believe Ballroom and worrying about teenagers’ petting. When “going steady” was a new craze, only cellists had long hair, lipstick was bright red and kids put nickels in their loafers, danced cheek to cheek, and The Pill (“that rules the waves”) was a seasickness remedy.

Before the music started, you could almost imagine through half-closed eyes that everything was the same. The men had 'mickeys' in brown paper bags, the women stood on the slanting terrace in summer dresses and one barely noticed that too many of them had midriff rolls and dye jobs.

But then Stan Kenton came on stage. After tuning the band with a stunning version of 'Rainy Day', he gave the countdown for a rowdy version of 'Aquarius' from Hair.  Suddenly all of us stopped believing we wanted to be young again and started feeling, quite simply, alive.  Awareness had replaced nostalgia.

The flash, the flair, the sensuous thrust of the Kenton sound had more than survived; it had conquered two decades of decline in jazz to become classic. There was the brass section  blowing as if it were suspended 10 feet above the rest of the band  counter pointed by the lyricism of the saxophones, pulling from underneath, modulating the mood. The music’s total effect was to engulf its listeners with the same feeling of decompression that comes after a long airplane ride.

But this was a much looser band than past Kenton aggregations, some of which sounded as though its musicians were reading from computer punch cards. This was a road band, airy and free, possessed by undeniable resonance with the contemporary world outside the dinginess of the Palais Royale. The multiple brass climaxes, the swirl of tonal colors overlaid on haunting harmonic patterns, the carefully paced ensemble statements glimpsed off charted arrangements that read like pages torn from a Dostoyevsky novel, combined into a kind of deep-mouthed empathy  not so much a remembrance of sounds past as a revelation of music’s future.

Setting up the living environment for the Kenton sound has always been the drummer’s
assignment, and this one (John Von Ohlen, last heard backing Woody Herman’s 103rd Herd at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967) took his job seriously. A square-looking gent with the air of a small-town barber, he pushed and lifted the music with complex syncopations of cross-rhythms, punctuating, goading, catapulting the band with an endless variety of fill-ins, regulating its volume and intensity according to his predetermined flight plan.

The music came down like a hailstorm and the least excited presence in the hall was Stan Kenton himself. The Billy Graham of jazz, he just stood there and beamed, knowing that he could make converts effortlessly. Kenton has musical charisma, that rare ability to fuse a collection of raw young musicians into a polished, pulsating orchestra.  He loves his craft and his men respect him for it.

The fusion of rock and jazz he played that night (such as a superb arrangement of Jim Webb’s 'MacArthur Park') amply demonstrated his contention that big bands are the ultimate form of jazz expression, because only the resources of full orchestration can express the fury, the distance, the ultimate loneliness of contemporary music.

Although Kenton, whose first band played at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California in 1941, found his early direction from the Jimmy Lunceford style, his music quickly matured in three directions: the polytonal inventions of Bartok and Stravinsky; the Afro-Cuban rhythms translated for big band by Johnny Richards; and the intricate harmonies of the great French modernist Darious Milhaud, as adapted by Pete Rugolo.  London’s Sadlers’ Wells company has experimentally choreographed some Kenton arrangements and several French and Italian art films have been built around his music.

In his late middle age (he is 58), Kenton plies his trade with rare dignity.  He is determined not to become an anachronism in a musical time he helped to create. It was Kenton who first moved American music beyond its “polka dots and moonbeams” phase into a meaningful rapport with the changing fluorescent environment of the late 40s. Much of the thematic pseudo-jazz that now backgrounds avant-garde films and television series is derived directly from the Kenton style. He believes that rock will eventually evolve into jazz because that’s the only direction in which it can grow.

The young have turned music into an expression of their defiance. You can hear them at the rock festivals, paying homage to dissonance, and their parents have responded with a mixture of fear and embarrassment. But Stan Kenton's music transcends the generations, not as a music that expresses the smugness of the balmy 1950s or the protest of the frantic 1960s but as an enduring interpretation of our changing times.

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1970s Orchestra
Dayton-Springfield News 
Michael H. Drew
Summer 1973


Stan Kenton's brass wailed excitingly, but there was a tall, thin hole on stage in Germantown's Washington High School gym Monday night.

For 30 years, that spot has been filled by Stanley Newcomb Kenton, now 60 and home on the West Coast, nursing an aorta ailment.

But about 1,400 people indicated with three ovations, that they loved the Kenton boilermaker, with or without its originator.

Actually Stan doesn't play much piano these days. And fill-in Willie Maiden, moving over from reed row, didn't play much, or well, Monday. The conducting was divided by arranger Ken Hanna, 51, and lead trombonist Dick Shearer, with none of the The Man's multi-jointed flair.

With the boss away, there was somewhat less crispness in attack and some blurring in sectional cross voicings. But the renowned thunder was unoppressive in the gym's wide open spaces and nicely spread across the stage.

Surprisingly, the program sidestepped Kenton standards, except 'Peanut Vendor,' which has become a dissonant novelty.

The largely original repertoire -- tunes by Maiden, Hanna, Bill Holman, Hank Levy and the late Johnny Richards -- also bypassed rock and its derivatives. This didn't disappoint the young audience.

Impressive, too, was the youth at key desks. Drummer Peter Erskine, 18, shouldered Kenton's heavy percussion duties.

Some of the night's finest solos came from Bob Winiker, 20, with Kenton only two weeks, on trumpet and flugelhorn. Shearer, reedman Quinn Davis and Richard Torres and bassist John Worster also had moments, especially on Holman's 'Malaga' and Levy's 'Blues, Between & Betwixt.'

With Kenton gone, did anyone request the proffered refunds?

'Just one boy,' said Washington High's Allen Wirth, whose school jazz band opened the bill. 'But then he stood outside and listened.'

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1970s Orchestra
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Charles H. Sanders
Summer 1973


Soaring trumpets, phrased reed choir, mellow trombones, wild congas and, of course, keyboard artistry can only mean one man -- Stanley Newcomb Kenton.

And Kenton and his 18-man big band were back in the Quad-Cities for the third time within a year to drive home some of the biggest sound around today. Kenton didn't disappoint, but the small turnout of Quad-Citians did. But some 200 in the Gold Rooms of the Blackhawk Hotel Tuesday night got a real full menu of Kenton music, more than three hours worth.

Kenton at 61 is every bit as young inn musical inventions as when he organized his first 'Artistry in Rhythm' orchestra in 1941, blasting off at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California.

The tall, lean, snow-topped Kenton knows how to pick young talent and his current band is young, but thoroughly experienced. There's the recent addition of a brilliant trumpeter Alejandro Rodriquez, plus young 19-year old drummer Peter Erskine, bassist Pat Senatore, conga player Ramon Lopez, and Mike Barrowman, a trumpeter who hits highs almost as fantastically as the great Maynard Ferguson, a Kenton alumnus.

Kenton opened the evening with his great version of 'What Are You Doing the Rest of Your life,' followed by the theme from 'Live and Let Die.' Roy Reynolds, regularly a baritone saxman sitting in on alto sax for John Park who is recovering from a slight heart attack, had some great solos throughout the evening, particularly in 'Theme from The Godfather,' 'Street of Dreams,' and 'Montage.'

A salute to Duke Ellington placed Kenton at the keyboard for 'Take the "A" Train,' which gave Rodriguez time to shine in the muted trumpet spotlight. That latter was spectacular earlier in 'Chiapas.'

No Kenton concert is complete without some version of 'Artistry in Rhythm,' and that one Tuesday night was a real blast off with Lopez making his usual magic on the congos.

Kenton found the audience more than happy with his '2001 -- A Space Odyssey,' then going to the cool side with 'Body & Soul,' an outstanding example of full brass interplay with the reed choir. Incidentally, all five saxmen double in flutes and did a stunning bit of fluting in 'MacArthur Park.' Tenor sax Richard Torres was solid in 'El Cordobes.' 'Here's That Rainy Day' had both Torres in Reynolds front and center.

It's not every night you get to hear this kind of sound, and the regrettable part of it all was that so few did!

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1970s Orchestra at Disneyland
Los Angeles Times
Leonard Feather
Summer 1973


Whether they are digging in on a heavy first set of strictly-for-listening music, or a second, lighter set designed for dancing, Stan Kenton and his Orchestra seemed pretty much at ease ensconced in the Plaza Gardens at Disneyland.

This is not to suggest that ease or dynamic variety has ever been the main objective of this band. Even 'Love Story,' starting rather tediously with the leader outlining this saccharine melody at the piano, soon builds into a passage of that ageless Wagnerian bravura without which Kenton would be unrecognizable.

Along the way, though, there is a welcome interlude in which Quinn Davis on alto sax and Willie Maiden on baritone improve in casual counterpoint.

In general, few o the band's arrangers are content to let anything settle or subside; they seem to accept the postulate that working toward a climax is endemic and essential to the Kenton mystique.

On some of the Latin rhythm specialties this concept works particularly well. In 'Bogata,' an original work, Ken Hanna concocted a dashing mix of flutes, muted trumpet and conga, drums, the latter played by Ramon Lopez. 'Malaguena' was another such piece, in a tradition that goes all the way back to the 1940s and 'The Peanut Vendor.'

The tendency toward grandiloquence works less well in 'MacArthur Park,' a Dee Barton chart in the course of which members of the band start singing in unison, then indulge in corny visual gestures as if to assure us it's all a put-on. Moments later the brass section brings the ensemble alive in all its florid glory.

In terms of performance, this is one of the most brilliant, tightly knit bands Kenton has ever directed. Concept-wise, it's a compromise; but even in compromising somewhat by playing songs and arrangements of minor interest, the band tends to elevate the average listener's sense of values.

Eschewing the excesses of wah-wah and electronics at one extreme and a Welkian wasteland at the other, Kenton moves along a middle ground that has served him and jazz very well through the years.

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1970s Band At Disneyland
Lucien Freeman
Fall 1973



Stan Kenton and his orchestra introduce exciting harmonies and tone colors to youngsters previously limited to electronic mini-harmony mishmash. Their accompanying parents revel in the nostalgia of the Kenton 10-man brass sound and hear some newer, exhilarating compositions.

With the volatile congas of Ramon Lopaz and the exuberant drumming of Peter Erskine, the current Kenton crew leans heavier than ever on Latin rhythms. This eight-in-bar propulsion appeals to kids raised on the double time of rock. Erskine has played drums with the band for just one month. He's only 18 and a sensation. (Kenton found him at Indiana University).

Willie Maiden, Ken Hanna and Bill Holman wrote many of the exotic, newer charts. Baritonist Maiden and trumpeter Ray Brown solo on 'A Step Beyond,' which features some double-stopping on electric bass. 'Love Story' starts with a simple statement of the tune by the maestro at the piano. Then follows the typical Kenton solo trombone sound of Dick Shearer in slow Latin rhythm, proceeds to Quinn Davis (alto) and Willie  to ad lib counterpoint and climaxes with trumpets in the stratosphere.

'MacArthur Park' has the band unison vocal-ensemble, first a Kenton trademark with 'September Song.' Hanna's 'Bogata' spotlights Lopez. Holman's perennial arrangement of 'Malguena' displays the timing and confidence of Erskine.

Kenton's uncanny ability to pick new musicians continues. The range, bite and precision of this young band are absolutely remarkable.

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British Tour/1975
Melody Maker
Chris Bird
February 1975



The current Stan Kenton band, which played to four packed houses at Ronnie Scotts' London, over the weekend, is something of a weird mixture.

On the one hand, there is the usual well drilled section work (and let's not deny that just to hear that kind of playing, regardless of the music, is still quite a thrill, and impossible to hear from bands this side of the Atlantic), with a couple of fair soloists on flugelhorn, Bob Whittaker and alto, John Park.

But at its heart there's a rampaging lion of a drummer, Peter Erskine, who, from his awkward looking style and bottom-ended sounds has 'rocker' written all over him. Together with conga man Ramon Lopez, particularly on the specifically Latin things he is a kind of rhythmic time bomb, who almost succeeds in making you believe that Kenton's music is something you do with what's going down now.

But it's all an illusion really: the creamy trombones and two baritone saxophone solo passages on 'Street of Dreams,' for example -- remember 'Opus in Pastels,' 'Artistry in Rhythm,' 'Intermission Riff.' ? and so forth are, I suspect, what the fans, surprisingly middle aged, really want to hear. Or 'Tonight.' 'Love Story,' and 'MacArthur Park' if we must have a touch of the long forgotten, boring Sixties.

Down the years, Bill Holman has written some of the finest charts in big band music. For this band, he has come up with 'Malaga,' a flashy show stopper, pseudo bull fight music that brings the house down.

But that's it; survival is the name of the game, and to do it Stan has had to go back to Balboa with a vengeance and the kind of super hip dance band that started the whole thing over thirty years ago.

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British Tour/1975
London Times
Chris Welch
February 1975


'Malaga! . . . Anything!'

Thus yelled those most devoted of all fans, the Kentonites, at London's Royal Festival Hall on Saturday evening. And they had reason for enthusiasm. For Stan Kenton's orchestra delivered a magnificent concert, reminding us that Stan is one of the last of the great & exciting American band leaders.

And like the late Duke and the present Count, Kenton has that ability to stamp his personal style and sound on his men, whether seasoned old hands, or brash newcomers.

And the Kenton sound is unequivocal. For the band is all about power, and glory. The shining fanfares, roaring percussion and accelerating tempos, bring Wagnerian dimensions to big band jazz, and you can revel in it or develop a distinct aversion. As every jazz fan is also a jazz critic, one could hear the odd 'too loud,' or 'not jazz,' at half-time, but the dissidents were a tiny minority and my own impression was of a superbly cohesive orchestra, playing exhilarating music, whatever the category.

And the band can play with remarkable restrained, controlled power, able to hold down the slowest tempos, and deliver the subtlest shading and tone colours. A showcase for the saxophone section playing as one man, was a gem of execution and clever writing.

Stately Stan, silver haired and pacing slowly, but resolutely about the stage, gave directions while his eager and equally composed musicians, reacted like the cream of some highly trained cadet force. There was humour, too, when Latin American percussion was handed out for a vibrant version of the time honoured 'Peanut Vendor,' cowbells and scrapers deftly hurled and caught over the heads of the trombones.

And talking about percussion, Ramon Lopez proved a brilliant conga player with the fastest pair of hands I can recall seeing, and an ability to wallop and caress that gave the oft-misused congas, a whole new stature. Peter Erskine is a marvelous young tear away at the regular kit drums with an exuberance that is difficult to resist, as he lifts and sparks the whole band.

While the other soloists were somewhat uneven (the tenor work taken by British member Roy Reynolds), they were hampered by underpowered amplification, and the full band crescendos tended to drown them out. It is an orchestra that Kenton's men score anyway, and the solo work is an adjunct to the rich textures employed in 'Artistry in Rhythm,' and 'Intermission Riff.'

It would be good to see the Kenton band play a rock venue, like the 'Rainbow,' for I am sure fans of bands like ELP and 'Yes' would find plenty to enjoy and appreciate in this explosive exciting music.

If Stan's current band had one fraction of the exposure accorded and expected as a right by the most average of rock bands, then his following would quadruple overnight. Well, that's my theory. It ain't rock 'n' roll, but thousands like it!

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British Tour/1975
Birmingham Dispatch
John Francis Carlisle
February 1975


Stan Kenton was once the most controversial figure in big band jazz, and in recent years he has admitted that he went too far too fast, losing many of his audience on the way.

Now, it seems he has gone back to the period for which he is probably best remembered, when he was first pushing back the boundaries of his area of jazz with the band that contained -- if that is the right word -- such musicians as Pete Rugolo, Vido Musso, Maynard Ferguson, Lee Konitz, Art Pepper and Eddie Safranski.

Taking that as his starting point, he has gone a little way down a new path, with an orchestra of exceptionally talented musicians who play with great discipline and control in a style that other bands follow, but, on recent concert evidence, with less success.

His orchestra still sounds highly individualistic, however, and the return to his music of 15 years ago brings no feeling of nostalgia. Instead, it demonstrates how far ahead of his time he was, playing 'Peanut Vendor' and 'Interlude' again and making them sound as fresh and exciting as more recent additions to the band's repertoire.

On his present tour he may be disappointing those who expect him to push the boundaries even further back, but he gives the impression that he is still waiting for everyone else to catch him up.

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'Birthday In Britain' CD
High Fidelity Magazine
June, 1973

'Birthday in Britain,' recorded on February 23, 1973 at Fairfield Hall, in Croydon, England, on the occasion of his sixty-first birthday, brings Stan Kenton back, if not into the mainstream where he has never wanted to be, certainly to claim the jazz legitimacy that has never quite caught up with him. After thirty-two years of traveling with just about every format into which the jazz orchestra can be expanded, he has returned, with of all things, a genuine road band, young and airy and free. The flash, the flair, the sensuous thrust of the Kenton sound has more than survived' it has conquered two decades of decline in jazz to become classic. There is the brass section, five men loud and true, blowing as if they were suspended ten feet above the rest of the band, counterpointed by the lyricism of the saxophones, pulling from underneath, modulating the mood. The broad, vibrant voicing, the staccato phrasing, the showers of open, scalding notes engulf the listener with a sense of shared loneliness which is exactly what great jazz -- and Kenton's music -- is all about.

But there's a difference. The biblical cadence once so characteristic of Kenton is missing. Gone is the syrupy commercialism of his muddled middle years when Kenton was sounding pointlessly fussy and decorative in a desperate attempt to keep from becoming an anachronism in a musical time he helped to create. No more compromises; no overblown sound tracks from 'Hair;' no albums with country western singer,Tex Ritter.

Instead, Kenton has returned to his roots, to depend on the intuition of the moment which night after night is all the jazz artist can really trust. On this and five other double albums recorded with virtually the same orchestra, Kenton manages to re-create that indefinable magic that makes the band sound as if it had been created especially to fulfill this particular one-night stand. That's artistry of a rare calibre. All the abstracts of his craft -- timing, harmony, phrasing -- have fallen into place so that the music Kenton is now playing at peeling dance halls, university auditoriums, and shopping center plazas across North America and Europe can claim that essential art of surprise absent from some of his past congregations.

The Kenton band started as a hybrid offshoot from the rhythm machine put together by Jimmie Lunceford in the late Thirties, while Kenton's own piano style descended straight from Earl Hines. His charts quickly, perhaps too quickly, introduced harmonic values alien to jazz, as Kenton moved toward the polytonal inventions of Bartok and Stravinsky, the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Johnny Richards, and the intricate harmonies of the French modernist, Darius Milhaud, courtesy of Pete Rugolo. Then came the forty-piece Innovations orchestra which took two hours to unload out of five buses and mercifully collapsed under its own weight.

In September 1970, after twenty-seven years with Capitol Records, Kenton left to establish his own Creative World label which has since issued sixty-five albums. His new works have been drawn mostly from three arrangers: Willie Maiden, the band's baritone saxophonist whose writing gives new definitions to big-band jazz as a hot, get-it-off music; Ken Hanna, who sustains a trampoline-like tension with his brooding and beautiful reflections; and Hank Levy, the former Don Ellis arranger. By using time signature changes based on the goading, mystical punctuations of Far Eastern, especially Indian music, Levy's scores achieve a sense of dramatic imbalance that keeps listeners and musicians constantly on the edge of about-to-be-fulfilled expectations.

Three examples of Levy's experiments are featured on this album. In 'Ambivalence,' Chris Galuman's flute dances above the loose clusters of sound (played in 5/4 time) until the band switches into a 20/16 tempo cascading behind the chant of John Park's alto. In 'Blues, Between & Betwixt' Levy extends the blues form into alternating 7/4 and 7/8 time with Peter Erskine's drums propelling the band along its predetermined flight plan, while Richard Torres blows macho salute on his tenor. 'Of Space and Time' (written in 5/4 time) is the album's most exciting track, with each of the orchestra's sections fanning in and out in a kind of inexorable succession of salutes to the proposition that with enough talent and commitment jazz composition, however intricate, can produce an ensemble sound that just plain swings. The Bill Holman arrangement of 'Daily Dance' turns out to be an emotionally draining hailstorm of sound which provides an object lesson in the arts of collective improvisation. What Kenton has always demanded of his musicians is that they broaden the harmonic, rhytmic, and structural boundaries of the band's charts, so that they follow not only the letter but the spirit of the composer's intent. This is more difficult than it sounds because the more conventional styules of jazz require only that a composition trigger a musician's own ruminations.

What's really impressive and unusual about this particular Kenton band is that despite (or could it be because of) their leader's high expectations, it's a relaxed group of musicians, and they sound like it; nineteen kindred spirits out to convince their audiences and themselves that in big-band jazz the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The happy mood is infectious. (Kenton opened one recent concert, recorded on the Phase-4 London label, by excusing his informality: 'We usually come on stage and the band blows about ten fanfares before I come on; then I'm wheeled on in a chariot; sometimes I use a bicycle . . .' -- then broke up as he gave the downbeat for the opening number.)

Unlike some past Kenton ensembles, which evoked the sterile perfection of musicians reading their arrangements off punched IBM cards, this one sounds as if the charts were pages torn out of a late Dostoevski novel. The pillows of sound and the swirl of tonal colors combine into a kind of deep-mouthed empathy -- not so much a remembrance of sounds past as a revelation of jazz's future. (The LP was mastered directly from the original 2-track 1/4" 3M 207 master tape, with no limiting, no echo added, no high-pass (bass) cutoff used and only minor equalization added. Unlike other new Kenton releases, this album is not available in quadraphonic (SQ) sound but recording quality is superb throughout.)

Late in his middle age, Stan Kenton has come home at last, plying his craft with dignity and humor, a man and a musician firmly in command of his worth.

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1977 Orchestra

Interview in Big Band Jump

Summer 1977

In an interview that Stan Kenton gave with 'Big Band Jump' in 1977 he commented about his music. He was asked about 'nostalgia.' "Well I think nostalgia is certainly the most commercial commodity in every way. People somehow are always looking back and I think there's a psychological problem there. I think they feel they've made it through one part of their life and they're afraid of today and tomorrow so they want to go back and relive the past again.

"So many programs on television and radio and that sort of thing are based upon the appeal that nostalgia has that the American people are no different than anybody else. The same thing is probably true throughout the rest of the world. But I think that people who are constantly living in the past are really missing out on something. They're missing the excitement of what's going on in the world today."

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Kenton Commemoration

David Zahniser

Pasadena Star News

May 20, 1996


More than 200 fans of such jazz classics as 'Artistry in Rhythm' and 'Intermission Riff' came out on Sunday to commemorate the late Stan Kenton and his Orchestra.

Musicians and jazz aficionados gathered at the Monrovia Holiday Inn to pore over old photographs, watch vintage film footage and listen to a live orchestra composed of many former band members.

"It's an era," said Pasadena resident Gloria Armstrong. 'It's our years of growing up. That's all there was -- Stan Kenton -- and we loved him. Dancing to his music was great!"

Though Stan Kenton and his Orchestra reached their peak of fame in the 1940s and 1950s, they continued to thrill audiences until a year before Kenton's death in 1979. And though Kenton performed in the Big Band era of Glenn Miller and Woody Herman, some consider his compositions to be more cutting edge. 'It was wild stuff iin its time" said Burbank resident Milt Bernhart, who performed with Kenton from 1948 to 1952. "It wasn't designed to make the crowd happy. It was designed to make them listen."

The Stan Kenton club memorial began in 1989, when Armstrong and her husband, Don, invited 10 people to eat pizza and commemorate Kenton's music. The event grew until it had to be moved to the Pasadena Cafeteria, and then to the Holiday Inn.

"Can you imagine this in the family room?" said Gloria Armstrong, surveying the crowd. Some fans wore polo shirts with the message "Artistry in Rhythm,' the name of Kenton's popular 1942 hit. The Orchestra typically traveled 500 miles each day by bus and as soon as a gig ended, Kenton drove to the next town to promote the next performance on early-morning radio.

But Mollie Bert, whose husband, Eddie, played trombone with the Orchestra said Kenton also provided something unheard of in other orchestras: a bus for the wives of band members. "Eddie wasn't one of those musicians who stayed on the road for a year or so. "That's why we're still married," Bert said. Glendale resident Mike Pacheco, who played with Kenton from 1959 to 1962, performed with vocalist Peggy Lee as well as Perez Prado. "But working with Stan was the epitome of my performing life," he said.

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