Bob Graettinger

Born 31 October 1923, Ontario, California
Died 12 March 1957, Los Angeles, California
Principle instrument sax
Kenton sideman no

Incident in Jazz
You Go To My Head

My music “is primarily abstract and non-objective, but it has vivid visual associations for me.”
— Bob Graettinger

BOB GRAETTINGER was clearly the most avant-garde composer on the Stan Kenton composition and arranging staff.

Born in Ontario, California in 1923, he had an unimpressive background until he emerged in 1947 as one of the most futuristic composers in jazz. He was a graduate of Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga. He spent his early years on the road and in Hollywood with Benny Carter and other bands, arranging and playing sax.

His father, R. F. “Phat” Graettinger, editor of the Palm Springs Desert Sun, reported in November 1947 that his son was joining the Kenton band and would write exclusively for them. His trip east to join the band at New York’s Hotel Commodore was also Graettinger’s honeymoon with his new bride, “the former Gail McNulty of Portland.”

His filling-jarring compositions This Modern World and City of Glass left even Kenton’s most devoted followers wondering what the old man was up to. Graettinger died in obscurity at the age of 33 from cancer. Kenton and fellow arranger Pete Rugolo were the only musicians at his funeral, held in his birth town of Ontario.

Featuring series of pitches, numbers, and colors, Graettinger utilized multi-colored charts in pre-compositional computations that he would transfer to traditional score paper. Some sheets contain notes, reminders to himself about musical moments or ideas. There are very few clues concerning how he utilized these meticulously annotated, graphs in his compositional process.

I spent four weeks in August 2016 on the fourth floor of the University of North Texas Library, scanning these documents. In a room that had first editions of Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun on display, I turned over page after page of multi-colored charts. 

The items I scanned ranged from tiny scraps of paper the size of a match book to large folded pages (some were 20”x20”) and long taped together strips (several were 60”x”16”). These large sizes necessitated scanning in sections and digitally stitching the components together. In all I made nearly 4000 scans. 

When all is said and done, I have 1046 individual files of Graettinger’s materials, high-res and beautifully colored documents.

Scholars interested in trying to decipher Graettinger’s codes are encouraged to contact me.

“Above the Timberline” for strings

Rugolo, Kenton and Graettinger, 1948

Arrangements & compositions created for Kenton

* indicates original composition

Afternoon * (1948)
April in Paris (1948)
April in Paris (1949) woodwinds, brass and strings
Autumn in New York (1947)
The Beachcomber (1948)
A Cello (1952)
Cello Solo (1951)
City of Glass (1947)
City of Glass (1951)
Condolence * (1948)
Cuban Pastorale * (1948) [see below]
Everything Happens to Me (1948) vocal
Fine and Dandy (1948) vocal
Graettinger No. 2 * (1950)
A Horn * (1951)
House of Strings * (1950)
I Only Have Eyes for You (1948)
I'm in the Mood for Love (1947)
Incident in Jazz * (1949)
Irresistible You (1948)
Laura (1948)
Lover Man June Christy vocal
Modern Opus * (1952)
Molshoaro * (1947)
An Orchestra * (1953)
Some Saxophones * (1953)
Thermopylae * (1947)
A Thought * (1947)
A Thought * (1953)
Too Marvelous for Words (1948)
Transparency (1952)
A Trumpet * (1952) Maynard Ferguson feature
Untitled [3] * (1950)
Untitled [In Three Tempi] * (1948)
Untitled Piece for Innovations Orchestra * (1950)
Untitled Piece for Jazz Band *
Untitled Piece for Jazz Band * (1948)
Untitled Piece for Jazz Band * (1952)
Untitled Piece for Jazz Band * (1952) Conte Candoli feature
Untitled Piece for Jazz Band * (1952) Frank Rosolino feature
Untitled Piece for Jazz Band * [Two In One, parts 1 & 2] (1952)
Untitled Piece For Jazz Band * (1948) [Unfinished]
Untitled Piece for Strings * (1950)
Walkin' By The River
Yenta *
You Go to My Head

Cuban Pastoral

Bob Graettinger composed this work in 1948 for the Progressive Jazz Orchestra. It was never recorded by Kenton; his band broke up just two months later. Below is a recording from the CD "Progressive Jazz 2009" by Terry Vosbein and the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and a few sample score pages. Click on a page for an enlarged view.

This is the first known instance of a writer utilizing a flute in a score for the Kenton band. It would be many more years before the flute became a staple of the wind section in a Kenton band.