Stanley Newcomb Kenton (December 15, 1911 - August 25, 1979) led a highly innovative, influential, and often controversial American jazz orchestra. In later years he was widely active as an educator.
Stan Kenton was born in Wichita, Kansas, and raised first in Colorado and then in California. He learned piano as a child, and while still a teenager toured with various bands. In June 1941 he formed his own band, which developed into one of the best-known West Coast ensembles of the Forties.
Kenton's musical aggregations were decidedly “orchestras.” Sometimes consisting of two dozen or more musicians at once, they produced an unmistakable Kenton sound--as recognizable as that of the bands of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, or Count Basie. So large an orchestra was able to produce a tremendous, at times overpowering, volume in the dance and concert halls of the land; among musical conservatives it developed a reputation for playing strange-sounding pieces much too loudly, and indeed one comical MC introduced Stan Kenton as “Cant Standit.”
A Kenton specialty was Afro-Cuban rhythm, as exported to North America by such bandleaders as Machito (whose brass and reed sound, in turn, began to show the influence of Kenton). Translated into the Kenton idiom, however, the Latin rhythms might be scored for a full panoply of percussion instruments: tympani, bongos, conga, timbales, claves, and maracas. This component of Kenton's work may be heard on the 1947 recording “Machito” and on the album Cuban Fire, still in print after more than fifty years of ceaseless change in popular music.
Many of Kenton's band arrangements were written by Kenton himself, as well as other composers and arrangers such as Gene Roland, Pete Rugolo, W. A. Mathieu, Johnny Richards, Lennie Niehaus, Gerry Mulligan, Hank Levy, Bill Russo, Dee Barton, Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers, Ken Hanna, and Bob Graettinger (ref. his formidable but fascinating “City of Glass”). The music, which could be intensely dissonant, made use of powerful brass sections and unconventional saxophone voicings that showed Kenton's love of experimenting, reflected in the names he gave his ensembles: “Innovations Orchestra,” “Neophonic Orchestra,” and “Mellophonium Orchestra.” Kenton's theme song from the early days to the last was called, significantly, “Artistry in Rhythm.” It was owing in part to Kenton's ambitious musical nomenclature that many critics dismissed his work as mannered and pretentious. But apart from recording a few dance-band albums (Kenton's men could play standards beautifully), he avoided compromising his idea of jazz to please either critics or public.