All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm - Portrait Of A Jazz Legend

By Published: April 4, 2011
After a sabbatical, Kenton returned in 1950 with Innovations in Modern Music. That ill-starred endeavor, complete with string section, "ran for about two years," Kenton says in one of several voice-over clips. "There were about 43 men in it, and it cost a tremendous sum of money. In fact, I went broke with the thing. It was an artistic success but a financial fiasco." Bob Graettinger had started writing for the orchestra, producing such enigmatic works as "City of Glass," about which Graettinger's biographer, Dr. Robert Morgan, says, "It's not jazz," likening it instead to modern classical music. Trombonist Eddie Bert
Eddie Bert
Eddie Bert
1922 - 2012
trombone
is even more perplexed. "I don't know what it is," he says. "You tell me." Down but nowhere near out, Kenton opted for a more swinging groove in 1952, adding such talented soloists as saxophonists Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
and Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca
1930 - 1977
sax, tenor
, trumpeter Conte Candoli
Conte Candoli
Conte Candoli
1927 - 2001
trumpet
, drummer Stan Levey
Stan Levey
Stan Levey
1925 - 2005
drums
, and, later on, saxophonist Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims
1925 - 1985
sax, tenor
and trombonist Frank Rosolino
Frank Rosolino
Frank Rosolino
1926 - 1978
trombone
to such talented holdovers as Holman, Russo and the incomparable high-note trumpeter Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
Maynard Ferguson
1928 - 2006
trumpet
. Russo was chief arranger, while Holman had begun writing swinging charts like "What's New," "Theme and Variations," "Kingfish," "Fearless Finlay" and "Stompin' at the Savoy."

The orchestra also returned to radio with the successful Concerts in Miniature broadcasts and their successor, Concert Encores. Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
was added to the arranging staff, "setting a standard," Poston says, "for modern big-band writing at the time." The years 1955-59 were quite productive musically, capped by another masterwork, Johnny Richards' Cuban Fire! The album, says Poston, "was something very special and very unique . . . And probably legitimized Kenton to some of the critics, especially some of the East Coast critics," many of whom hadn't warmed to Kenton's music, to say the least.

It was in the late 1950s that Kenton turned his attention to another arena, that of jazz education, sponsoring a series of clinics and summer camps that, in the words of drummer Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
, "became a model [for other programs] around the world." Meanwhile, the orchestra continued its never-ending "road trip," grabbing another brass ring with Richards' memorable take on West Side Story, adding (and later subtracting) mellophoniums, cruising through The Neophonic Years, parting with Capitol Records, forming a new in-house label, Creative World, and keeping abreast of the changing times by adding rock and pop tunes and Broadway themes to the band's repertoire. But everything changed in 1977 in Reading, PA, when Kenton, who'd survived an aneurysm five years earlier, fell heavily in a parking garage and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, an injury from which he never fully recovered. "It's a wonder he lived," says Audree Kenton. "It was the hardest recovery you could imagine. [Stan] couldn't even remember the guys' names." Nevertheless, Kenton insisted on going back on the bus, which he did until shortly before he died following a stroke in 1979.

While Artistry in Rhythm is by no means the last word on one of the twentieth century's most controversial, best-loved and charismatic bandleaders, it has plenty say about the man and his music: why Kenton succeeded, often against overwhelming odds, and kept the band and the music intense and alive at a time when most leaders had abandoned hope. And why he drove himself implacably onward until he literally had no more to give. Even without these insights, the archival footage alone makes the viewing experience more than worthwhile. To most of the many hundreds of musicians who passed through his orchestra, Stan Kenton was like a father figure. The impression given is that many of them would have followed him off a cliff (a premise underscored by the fact that some of them did, at least figuratively). The same is true of those who love and ardently support Kenton's music more than three decades after his passing. Artistry in Rhythm is for them, and for those who may have heard Kenton's music only in passing but were intrigued and curious enough to want to learn more about it. On a scale of one to ten, this engaging and informative appraisal of Stan Kenton's career in music is at least a nine.


comments powered by Disqus