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Big Band Report

Did Stan Kenton Swing? You Bet Your Walkin' Shoes He Did...

By Published: November 16, 2012
I've been listening to a lot of Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton
1911 - 1979
piano
's music recently while coming to grips with the age-old question, did the Kenton orchestra really swing? The answer, to me, is a no-brainer: Yes, Kenton swung. Liberally and often. [Note: This of course depends on how "swinging" is defined; opinions may vary]. In his own way—although he'd have been loath to admit it—Kenton's series of orchestras swung as hard as anyone, even Basie, Herman or Rich. For assurance, one need look no further than some of the arrangers Kenton employed—die-hard swingers such as Shorty Rogers
Shorty Rogers
Shorty Rogers
1924 - 1994
trumpet
, Bill Holman
Bill Holman
Bill Holman
b.1927
band/orchestra
, Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
1927 - 1996
sax, baritone
and Marty Paich
Marty Paich
1925 - 1995
composer/conductor
, to name a few. There's no doubt that Bill Russo could muster a swinging groove too, as could Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
b.1915
composer/conductor
, Johnny Richards, Gene Roland
Gene Roland
b.1921
, Dee Barton, Manny Albam
Manny Albam
Manny Albam
1922 - 2001
arranger
, Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti
Neal Hefti
1922 - 2008
trumpet
, Willie Maiden
Willie Maiden
b.1928
, Lennie Niehaus
Lennie Niehaus
Lennie Niehaus
b.1929
composer/conductor
, Hank Levy
Hank Levy
1927 - 2001
sax, tenor
, Bob Curnow and their kin. With master craftsmen of their stature calling the tunes and writing the charts, how could any band not swing?

Kenton's brand of swinging, of course, neither began nor ended with the arrangers. He also hired musicians to whom swinging was second nature, guys like Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims
1925 - 1985
sax, tenor
, Art Pepper
Art Pepper
Art Pepper
1925 - 1982
sax, alto
, Frank Rosolino
Frank Rosolino
Frank Rosolino
1926 - 1978
trombone
, Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
, Charlie Mariano
Charlie Mariano
Charlie Mariano
1923 - 2009
reeds
, Conte Candoli
Conte Candoli
Conte Candoli
1927 - 2001
trumpet
, Bob Cooper
Bob Cooper
1925 - 1993
saxophone
, Bill Perkins
Bill Perkins
Bill Perkins
1924 - 2003
saxophone
, Carl Fontana
Carl Fontana
Carl Fontana
1928 - 2003
trombone
, Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca
Richie Kamuca
1930 - 1977
sax, tenor
, Sam Noto
Sam Noto
b.1930
, Bud Shank
Bud Shank
Bud Shank
1926 - 2009
saxophone
, Stu Williamson
Stu Williamson
1933 - 1991
trumpet
, Pepper Adams
Pepper Adams
Pepper Adams
1930 - 1986
sax, baritone
, Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
Jack Sheldon
b.1931
trumpet
, Milt Bernhart
Milt Bernhart
b.1926
, Buddy Childers
Buddy Childers
1926 - 2007
trumpet
, Jack Nimitz
Jack Nimitz
Jack Nimitz
1930 - 2009
sax, baritone
, Bill Trujillo
Bill Trujillo
b.1930
, Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
, Bobby Burgess
Bobby Burgess
1929 - 1997
and so many others. Shorty Rogers was on the band for a time, as were Russo, Holman, Barton, Maiden, Niehaus, Curnow and Roland (who kept leaving and coming back). Kenton also employed a number of superlative big-band drummers, from Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
1920 - 1984
drums
to Stan Levey
Stan Levey
Stan Levey
1925 - 2005
drums
, Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
1929 - 1990
drums
to Jimmy Campbelll, plus Frank Capp
Frank Capp
Frank Capp
b.1931
drums
, Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
, Ed Soph
Ed Soph
Ed Soph
b.1945
and John Von Ohlen—not to mention the McKenzies, Jerrys One and Two. Barton, a trombonist, also doubled on drums.

There were times, of course, when the Kenton orchestra did not swing, but that was always Kenton's choice. He had larger purposes in mind, and swinging sometimes got in the way. But when Kenton chose to swing, he did so as well as anyone. To be more specific, there aren't, in my opinion, many charts that swing more lustily than Holman's "Stompin' at the Savoy" (still the No. 1 big-band arrangement in my catalogue). Holman also contributed such powerhouses as "Kingfish," "Fearless Finlay," "Zoot," "Royal Blue" and "The Opener" to the Kenton library, along with high-energy arrangements of the standards "What's New," "Limehouse Blues," "There Will Never Be Another You," "Crazy Rhythm," "Tico Tico," "I Remember You," "Stella by Starlight" and others including a dynamic arrangement of the Spanish classic "Malaguena." Speaking of swingers, Paich wrote "The Big Chase," Mulligan "Swing House," "Young Blood," "Limelight" and "Walking Shoes," Rogers "Round Robin," Maiden "A Little Minor Booze," Richards the Cuban Fire suite, Levy "Hank's Opener" and "Chiapas," Barton "The Singing Oyster" and "Turtle Talk," Roland "Reuben's Blues," Ray Starling
Ray Starling
b.1933
"Mellophobia" and "Four of a Kind."

Like Holman, Russo's contributions were extensive, starting with his memorable salute to Cuba, "23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West," and including "Frank Speaking" and "Portrait of a Count." He also arranged lively versions of many standards: "Fascinating Rhythm," "Jeepers Creepers," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "You and the Night and the Music," "Crazy Rhythm," "How High the Moon," "There Will Never Be Another You" and so on. While the bulk of Niehaus' arrangements were written for Kenton's "dance library," many of them swing with abandon, as for example, "Lullaby of Broadway," "Younger Than Springtime," "Begin the Beguine," "Too Close for Comfort" and "On the Street Where You Live." Besides "Reuben's Blues," Roland wrote "Puck's Blues" and "Fitz" while arranging a number of Kenton staples including "Jump for Joe" and "Tuxedo Junction." Richards placed a swinging stamp on a number of standards including "Begin the Beguine" and "I Concentrate on You." I know I've left some (perhaps many) out, but the point is that Kenton's orchestra swung more often than not, and that anyone who holds a contrary opinion should certainly listen more closely.

The Commodores Drop Anchor

When it comes to luring big bands to Albuquerque, Manzano High School seems to be the only game in town, thanks to the school's director of Jazz Studies, Brad Dubbs, who keeps throwing his line in the water and reeling them in. Last year it was the Army Jazz Ambassadors who graced Manzano with their presence, and last month it was the Navy Commodores who made Albuquerque the first stop on an extended tour of the Southwest and Southeast with stops in New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and North Carolina. The Thursday evening concert (October 25) was held in the school gymnasium, which wasn't quite filled but hosted a fairly decent turnout for a service band that is pretty much an unknown quantity to most of those who live in this part of the country. The Commodores didn't let anyone down, displaying their genial temperament and incisive musical skills in a program that opened with Sammy Nestico
Sammy Nestico
Sammy Nestico
b.1924
composer/conductor
's "Dimensions in Blue" and ended about ninety minutes later with an "Armed Forces Salute" and an eloquent rendition of "America the Beautiful" by the band's vocalist, Casey Elliott. Earlier, she had sung "I Love Being Here with You," "I Just Found Out About Love" and Antonio Carlos Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim
1927 - 1994
piano
's "So Many Stars."

Also on the program (which, according to emcee / alto saxophonist William Mulligan, changes with every performance) were Frank Rosolino's "Blue Daniel" (featuring the Commodores' jazz trombonist, Jamie Way); a medley of big-band hits from the '30s and '40s; Frank Foster
Frank Foster
Frank Foster
1928 - 2011
saxophone
's "Blues in Hoss' Flat"; the standard "Just in Time" (featuring flugel Jonathan Barnes and alto Steve Williams
Steve Williams
Steve Williams
b.1956
drums
); Bob Curnow's arrangement of Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
's "The Gathering Sky" (with superb solos by pianist Dan LaMaestra and guitarist David Malvaso); a Latin charmer, "La Cosa Labria" (I hope I got that right) by the band's senior chief musician / unit leader / tenor saxophonist Phil Burlin (who also soloed with baritone saxophonist Rob Holmes); and last but not least, a spirited rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" with saxophonists Mulligan and Luis Hernandez doubling on piccolo. The Commodores are one of a number of topnotch service bands, all of whom are battle-tested and ready to deliver a pleasurable performance whenever and wherever they face an audience. Their concert at Manzano High School was no exception to the rule.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin' . . . !

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