Kenton Plan Seeks Spots Exclusively For Modern Jazz

by Jack Egan
Down Beat, 15 December 1948

New York—“Popular music has been broken down into different categories—at least two—and until each is presented differently buy the promoters and bookers, real jazz is going to suffer.” And, so saying, Stan Kenton put his entire band on notice and announced his intentions of returning to California for a Christmas vacation after which he, personally, will attempt to put into operation a system which, he hopes, will give jazz the righteous spot it deserves.

The move is necessitated by neither failing health nor failing finances.

“It has to be done some day by somebody,” says Stan. “Perhaps if we let things go their natural ways, nothing will happen for two or three years. In the meantime, we suffer. So I’ve decided to make the move myself.”

Organize Class Spots

The Kenton plan, in brief, is the organization of a system of class spots where good jazz will be featured by top exponents in this brand of music for the exclusive enjoyment of persons interested in listening to it.

“To put good jazz bands in ballrooms and hotel grills to play for dancing is ridiculous today,” explains Kenton. “People who go out to dance don’t want to hear jazz. They want soft, slow tempo music.

“We don’t, and won’t, play that. There are other bands organized for this express purpose, and they do an excellent job pf catering to the desires of the dancers.”

These bands don’t, possibly can’t, play real jazz. Kenton doesn’t, and won’t, play the pop stuff that is dished out to swooning dancing couples.

Kenton points out that he will not be the only leader to profit, more through satisfaction than financial remuneration, with the establishment of his “musical dream world.”

Can’t Follow Through

Many leaders, well-qualified to play and conduct the various forms of better jazz, are prevented from doing so today because of the dancers’ demands and the hotel policies of featuring only soft, slow dance music.

“Unfortunately, all are not in the happy financial position in which I find myself,” says Stan. “I’d rather knock off for a few months, see about getting things straightened out and, if successful, present jazz as it should be given to the public, or the part of the public that appreciates this form of music.

“Jazz bands don’t belong in the ballrooms or hotel grills; not as long as they cater primarily to dancers. We get our fans gathered around the bandstand, hollering for their favorite numbers in our library. But beyond this huddle of Kenton-wise patrons are a few hundred other folks who came there to dance.

“As a result it’s impossible for us to even attempt to satisfy more than half the crowd. The fans up front are mad when we play for the dancers. The dancers are griped when we play the style for which we’ve been fortunate enough to gain some fame.”

‘No More Ballrooms’

“I’ll not play any more ballrooms,” Stan emphasized, “nor will I play any more college dances or proms.”

Following his vacation at home with his family, Stan will take off on a solo trip around the key cities of the country, explaining his plan, outlining the operation and attempting to sell same to the operators of big hotels and chains.

His main objectives will be those favoring popular name bands as regular policy, on a par with the Pennsylvania in New York, the Sherman in Chicago, the Palace in San Francisco, etc.

Under the Kenton system, there would be no dancing whatever, the floor being used for extra tables. There would be a music charge and, of course, regular prices for any food or liquor consumed.

But the room would cater to jazz addicts who are interested in listening to the latest developments in this form of popular music, not only by Kenton but also by other exponents such as, say, Herman, Gillespie, Ellington, etc.

The success of the Royal Roost in NYC indicates that there is a great interest in such presentations, but Stan believes they should be presented on a larger scale and in such spots as the younger set and collegians have become accustomed to patronizing.

Kenton has discussed his ideas with prominent tradesmen and has received much encouragement. From many of his own sidemen, when told about the plan by way of explanation of their notices, gave Stan their enthusiastic support.

It is on the basis of his talks with the trade and the spirit of his musicians that he was prompted to take the matter into his own hands and see it through.

If the hotel men interviewed by Kenton turn thumbs down on something Stan feels some eventually must adopt anyway, he may underwrite the venture himself and open his own spot with his own band as the attraction, to be follow3d by others, possibly those mentioned a few paragraphs back.

Must Find Right Place

Of course, he’d have to find the ideal spot, at present writing, this would be in a hotel grill currently favored by the younger element.

In addition to selling the hotel biggies on the proper presentation of jazz, he’ll also have to put the same idea across with the booking offices.

If Stan’s proposals are to take successful form, jazz bands will have to be sold in an entirely different manner and to a different clientele than the pop name dance bands.

Stan would not desert the concert halls. He wants to tour the current stages for four months of the year, in season, then, for the remainder, play the hotel spots, perhaps four weeks each in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, one or two each in such cities as Washington, Boston, San Francisco, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, etc.

Kenton definitely plans to reorganize his band as soon as he attends to the business at hand.

Eyes Legit Theater

Future Kenton plans also include a possible musical presentation in a Broadway legitimate theater, but more on that at a later date.

For the immediate future Kenton has his hands full. The present band situation is not ideal. Stan aims to remedy that’s setup.

While everybody has been moaning about the present situation but doing nothing about it, Kenton is setting out, single handed, to tackle what appears to be one of the biggest, and most critical problems to confront modern jazz.