For younger readers: yes, there was a time long ago when large groups of talented jazz musicians traveled without respite from city to city and town to town, braving one-night stands or more night after night in (mostly) sold-out concert halls, dance halls, pavilions, nightclubs, schools and other venues. They were known as big bands, so enormously popular that they even had their own "era," and the world may never see their like again, at least not on the road. Fortunately for those of us who remain standing, some of their historic performances were recorded, and more than a few have become available on compact disc.
Foremost among the traveling bands of its time was the dynamic, forward-leaning ensemble led by the indefatigable Stan Kenton
who loved nothing better than riding the bus with his sidemen and entourage. From the advent of his orchestra in 1941 until his untimely passing in August 1979, Kenton was a devout "roadie," leading the orchestra through countless performances from coast to coast and even overseas. Kenton often had singers in the orchestra (June Christy
and Chris Connor
were among the best of them), and championed a vocal group, the Four Freshmen, whom he introduced to executives at Capitol Records in 1950. On this compilation, not to be confused with the "Road Show" recorded at Purdue University in 1959, at which Christy and the original Freshmen performed, the vocalist is Ann Richards
, while a more recent incarnation of the Freshmen was taped at a concert in January 1994 in Laren, Holland.
The Kenton concerts were held in May 1955 at Stanford University and January / March 1958 at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, CA. While it's hard to determine from the booklet which numbers were recorded when, Richards is present on both occasions, and sings on Tracks 15-18. Her vocal tracks are preceded by half a dozen instrumentals including Ray Wetzel
's venerable "Intermission Riff" and seven themes by the Freshmen (accompanied by pianist Rein De Graaff
's hand-picked trio), and followed by three closing numbers by the orchestra. Every Kenton band housed its share of standouts, and in these performances they include trumpeters Al Porcino
, Sam Noto
, Ed Leddy, Stu Williamson
and Billy Catalano; saxophonists Lennie Niehaus
, Charlie Mariano
, Bill Perkins Richie Kamuca
and Bill Robinson; trombonists Bob Fitzpatrick, Kent Larsen, Archie LeCoque, Kenny Shroyer and Jim Amlotte; guitarist Ralph Blaze, bassists Max Bennett
and Red Kelly
, and drummers Mel Lewis
and Jerry McKenzie, each of whom shines brightly on "Walking Shoes," "Stella by Starlight," "What's New," Fearless Finlay," "Love for Sale" and the other instrumentals.
The Freshmen (Bob Ferreira, Greg Stegeman, Kevin Stout, Mike Beisner) run smoothly through the group's customary repertoire including "In This Whole Wide World," "Angel Eyes," "Poinciana," "Route 66" and "It's a Blue World," ably backed by pianist Rob van Kreeveld
, bassist Koose Serierse and drummer Eric Ineke (after an "introduction" by Kenton via a clever tape splice). As for Richards, she is aided in no small measure by Bill Holman
's tasteful arrangements of "Lullaby of Birdland," "It Never Entered My Mind" and "Back in Your Own Backyard," and one by Niehaus ("You Don't Know What Love Is"). Recorded sound for the Kenton performances more than half a century on is, with a few exceptions (Tracks 3, 5, 19, 21), reasonably clean and balanced, although it leaves no doubt that these were indeed concert sessions. Needless to say, soloists are world-class, from Kamuca, Niehaus and Perkins to Noto, Williamson, Mariano and Larsen, with a brief but effective solo by tenor Dave Van Kreidt on "My Heart Stood Still." In sum, another conclusive winner from one of the Kenton orchestra's leading audio archivists, Bill Lichtenauer, and Tantara Productions.
Walking Shoes; Stella by Starlight; What’s New; They Didn’t Believe Me; My Heart Stood Still; In This Whole Wide World; Recipe for Making Love; Angel Eyes; Poinciana; Route 66; Unforgettable; It’s a Blue World; Intermission Riff; Stan Introduces 1955 Band; Lullaby of Birdland; It Never Entered My Mind; You Don’t Know What Love Is; Back in Your Own Backyard; Fearless Finlay; September Song; Love for Sale.
Stan Kenton Orchestra, May 13, 1955 — Al Porcino: trumpet; Ed Leddy: trumpet; Sam Noto: trumpet; Stu Williamson: trumpet; Bobby Clark: trumpet; Lennie Niehaus: alto sax; Charlie Mariano: alto sax; Bill Perkins: tenor sax; Dave Van Kriedt: tenor sax; Don Davidson: baritone sax; Bob Fitzpatrick: trombone; Kent Larsen: trombone; Gus Chappell: trombone; Ted Dechter: trombone; Don Kelly: bass trombone; Stan Kenton: piano; Ralph Blaze: guitar; Max Bennett: bass; Mel Lewis: drums; Ann Richards: vocals. January / March, 1958 — Sam Noto: trumpet; Jules Chaikin: trumpet; Billy Catalano: trumpet; Lee Katzman: trumpet; Phil Gilbert: trumpet; Lennie Niehaus: alto sax; Bill Perkins: tenor sax; Richie Kamuca: tenor sax; Bill Robinson: baritone sax; Steve Perlow: baritone sax; Bob Fitzpatrick: trombone; Kent Larsen: trombone; Archie LeCoque: trombone; Jim Amlotte: trombone; Kenny Shroyer: bass trombone; Stan Kenton: piano; Red Kelly: bass; Jerry McKenzie: drums; Ann Richards: vocals. The Four Freshmen, January 20, 1994 — Greg Stegeman, Mike Beisner, Kevin Stout, Bob Ferreira with Rob van Kreeveld: piano; Koos Serierse: bass; Eric Ineke: drums.