Gene Roland

Born 15 September 1921, Dallas, Texas
Died 11 August 1982, New York, New York
Principle instrument trumpet, trombone, mellophonium, soprano sax
Kenton sideman yes

Ain’t No Misery In Me
Exit Stage Left
Gene Roland

Listen to this rare recording of Roland vocalizing with the Kenton band in 1973. First up is an unusual take on the standard, Laura. He follows it with his own arrangement of Lonesome Road.

  • "Gene Roland: The Untold Story" from a 1963 Down Beat artcile.

    Gene Roland: The Untold Story


    GENE ROLAND made one of the most important innovation in big-band jazz, the Four Brother sound. But until recently (DB, April 25), this had never been mentioned in print, and few musicians knew it.

    Gene Roland may have written more arrangement in his life than anyone else, but practically no one knows that either.

    Gene Roland is responsible for change in the Stan Kenton Band that are almost beyond belief, but nobody know that—as a matter of fact, he isn’t even credited for Kenton’s Capitol album Viva Kenton that was arranged, in its entirety, by him.

    Gene Roland can play, and play well, almost every instrument, but practically no one has ever been informed of this.

    Gene Roland is one of those persons only a few other know exist. Musician, arranger, composer, he is hardly ever given the curious privilege of being criticized.

    Fortunately for Roland, he is con­cerned only with the music he writes and the band for which it is written. Even more fortunately, he has only rarely been without work.

    The chasm between what he has done and the degree to which his accomplishments are recognized is a fascinating one, made only a bit clearer by the rambling biography that is his life.

    He was born in Dallas, Texas, on Sept. 15, I 921. No one in his family was musical. His father was a fine and successful commercial artist. But Gene early found a fondness for jazz. He remember that “at 11 or 12 I had piano lessons. I never took them seriously. I was a typical …American boy. But I began to pick up an interest in jazz after I topped piano lessons, along about 1937. A cartoonist for the school paper introduced me to record by Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Jimmie Lunceford.

    “I think now, looking back at it, that my early influences were Loui Armstrong, Trummy Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Goodman. I always liked Basie, but hi band was always too raucous for me. I looked to Jimmie Lunceford for progress.”

    In 1939, he began playing trumpet, “very badly,” he said, and with no lessons from anyone but apparently well enough so that local musicians urged him to study. So in 1941, when he was to make a choice of colleges to attend, musician friends convinced him to go to North Texas State (wherefrom fine musicians have been graduated in large numbers).

    Roland said he feels himself especially lucky. “Within a short time,” he said, “I landed in an off-campus cottage with Jimmy Giuffre, Herb Ellis, Harry Babasin, and some other guys [the ‘other guys’ all died in World War II].

    “We had a group you couldn’t believe. We would play for hours, some­time until we fell asleep. Then we could get up again and plays some more. We lived mostly on home brew that was usually overfermented and cheese sandwiches. But the thing we did most was play.

    “There’s a little piece of jazz history in that house. We were followers of Sam Donahue and Jimmie Lunceford. Jimmy Giuffre was our unnamed leader—he should have been. Sometimes he was the only one who would go to classes. The rest of us would just sit around all day playing and miss all of school. Anyway, due to being in such fast company, I progressed very much faster than I ordinarily would have. I was concentrating then on trumpet and arranging.”

    Fast company or demands have al­ways watched over Roland. In 1942, the war broke up the group. Giuffre went into the Air Force, and so did Roland, to the Eighth Army Air Force Band, a 60-piece orchestra, in which he stayed for two years, and in which his primary job was to write dance-band libraries. He wrote six different ones.

    Out of the service in the summer of 1944, he immediately joined Stan Kenton, almost exclusively writing arrangements for the band’s girl singers, Anita O’Day and later June Christy, and, incidentally, adding a fifth trumpet-and a fifth-trumpet book-to the Kenton band during that year (the five-man trumpet section continue in that band).

    Then Roland joined Lionel Hampton as an arranger. “Arnett Cobb got me in,” he said, “but I spent six frustrating weeks trying to get the band together for one rehearsal.”

    It was then summer, 1945, and Roland joined Lucky Millinder for a short time, playing third trumpet and arranging, before again returning to Kenton, this time arranging for Miss Christy and playing fifth trombone chair, adding part for that chair to the band’s book. (Five trombones also remain a feature of Kenton’s band.)

    “In early 1946,” he said—and Giuffre and Stan Getz have corroborated this—”I came back to New York and organized the first four-tenor saxophone band I know of. It had Al Cohn, Joe Magro, Stan Getz, and Louis Ott. Nothing much happened with it, but it was an exciting sound.

    “So, anyway, I got back out to the West Coast, and I was writing for Vido Musso’s big band. The tenor saxophones there were Getz, Giuffre, Herbie Stew­ard, and Zoot Sims. We worked week­ends as an eight-piece group—I played piano for $10 a night, and trumpeter Tommy DeCarlo was the leader-at a place called Pontrelli’s Ballroom in Los Angeles. That was where a lot of people heard that four-tenor sound.”

    It worked for several months, but then Roland went back to Kenton. In that summer of 1947 he worked in a Kenton all-star group, led by Musso, at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Pete Rugolo was on piano with trumpeter Buddy Childers and the late Ray Wetzel, saxophonist Boot Mussulli and Bob Gioga in addition to Musso, and drummer Roy Harte.

    That was just before returning to New York to work with Georgie Auld, playing valve trombone with a nine­piece band that included bassist Curly Russell, trumpeter Red Rodney, and the late drummer Tiny Kahn. Then he played bass trumpet for Count Basie, and arranged for the band, and played the late Al Killian’s chair in Charlie Barnet’s Orchestra.

    Most of 1948 was taken up with arranging for Claude Thornhill and Artie Shaw. Theo followed another tour with Lucky Millinder, playing jazz trum­pet in a band that also included Art Blakey.

    Finally, in 1950, there came what Roland calls “nine hot weeks.” The consisted of an experimental band play­ing his arrangements and rehearsing at New York’s Nola studios. It was a huge band, few people remember it, only a few pictures exist of it, and only rumors attest to the assertion that some record­ings were made of it.

    But in the band were eight trumpets, six trombones, eight reeds, and seven rhythm. And among its personnel it numbered Dizzy Gillespie, Red Rodney, Miles Davis, Al Porcino, trumpets; Jimmy Knepper, Eddie Bert, trombones; Charlie Parker (playing lead alto), Joe Maini, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Charlie Kennedy, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Miles, saxophones; Sam Herman, guitar Buddy Jones, bass; and Phil Arabia, Charlie Perry, drums.

    Part of the 1950
    band that
    included Charlie
    Parker, among

    My Image

    This remarkable aggregation came to nothing, and, in 1951, Roland returned to Kenton for two years, writing a host of arrangements.

    In 1953 he met Dan Terry (formerly known as Kostraba) and wrote 20 arrangements for that band, some of which were later released on Harmony as Teen Age Dance Party. Roland said, ‘‘I’m still getting royalty checks from that album. I’ve earned over $10,000 from that album one way or the other; more than I ever have.”

    He returned again: in 1955, to Kenton but after a year left for Chicago and Ralph Marterie (“Ralph sure tried hard for me in Chicago”). And in 1957-58 he was a salaried arranger for Woody Herman and has played trombone for him, too, at times since.

    All during those years, from 1956 until 1962, he was writing and planning for Kenton. He introduced the mellophonium section in the band, or, as Roland puts it, “It was the third different born I played for him.”

    So now he is with the new Dan Terry Band. In Roland’s words, “I wanted something important to do.”

    Because there is no doubt about what Roland has done and the influence he has wielded, a few of his observations on past associates are in order:

    Stan Kenton: ‘‘My father in the music business. He taught me how to organize my thinking. He was a counselor and adviser, for which I will be forever grateful.”

    Vido Musso: “Very talented, very high-strung but likeable. He should have made it, but he was too honest and naive.”

    Count Basie: “He’s only used one arrangement of the 20 I’ve written for him and been paid for. He wastes so much, but God bless him. I love him.”

    Claude Thornhill: “The original pixie of this business. He’s very hard to analyze, very complex. He’s a controversial guy, but we got along well.”

    Charlie Barnet: “He’s lot of fun.”

    Woody Herman: “He’s the strongest influence of the old, tried, and true bandleader next to Kenton. Woody’s still blowing strong; God bless him.”

    Sam Donahue: “I think he’s the greatest of the big-name rebels. He’s still got the bit in his teeth.”

    “My strongest personal influence was Lester Young. Among the arrangers I most appreciate are Al Cohn, Bill Holman, Neal Hefti, Nat Pierce, and Gil Evans. Gil got me with Claude. I’m grateful for that and just knowing Gil.”

    Those brief quote should give a con­cept of the lean, balding Roland. He is normally off-beat, gentle, and quixotic, and in this may lie the problem, for apparently very few have known what he has done and fewer have thought about what he might be able to do. It only can be said now that some indication of the accomplishments and poten­tial have finally been put in print.

Arrangements & compositions created for Kenton

* indicates original composition

102 * mellophoniums
103 * mellophoniums
104 * mellophoniums
111 * mellophoniums
Adios (1959) Viva Kenton!
Ain’t No Misery in Me (1946) June Christy vocal
Alone Together mellophoniums
Angel Eyes (1961) mellophoniums
Aphrodesia * (1961) Adventures in Blues
Aqua Marine (Aqua Marine Blue) * (1959) Viva Kenton!
Are You Livin’ Old Man (1944) Anita O’Day vocal
Around the Town (One Twenty) (1945)
Artistry in Harlem Swing* (1947)
Baby Won’t You Please Come Home (1945)
Beehive (Hopalong’s Cavity) * (1952)
Bernie’s Tune (1959)
Big Daddy * (1972)
Blue Boy * mellophoniums
Blue Gene (The New Blues) * (1973)
The Blue Ghost * (1961) Adventures in Blues
Blue Ointment * (1961)
Blue Skies (1945)
Blue Stroll * mellophoniums
Blues Annex * mellophoniums
The Blues in the Night (1959) Kent Larsen vocal
Blues Leap * mellophoniums
The Blues Story * (1961) Adventures in Blues
The Blues Scene * Sam Donahue feature
Body and Soul
Bone Head *
C-Jam Blues
Carnival (Carnival Square) * (1960) Sam Donahue feature
Cha Cha Chee Boom * (1959) Viva Kenton!
Cha Cha Sombrero * (1959) Viva Kenton!
Chicano *
Chocolate Caliente
(1959) Viva Kenton!
Cool Eyes * (1952)
Country Cousin (1973)
Day In, Day Out (1959)
Day Isn’t Long Enough (1950) Jay Johnson vocal
Dearly Beloved (1960) 4 E-flat alto trumpets
Design for Blue * (1959)
Dragonwyck * (1961) Adventures in Blues
Dreaming Star *
East Gate * mellophoniums
Easy Street (1945) June Christy vocal
Ecuador * (1946)
End of The World * (1946)
Everybody Swing * (1946)
Exit Stage Left * (1961) Adventures in Blues
The Falcon’s Laire *
(Trombonitus) * (1961) Adventures in Blues
For Heaven’s Sake (1960) 4 alto horns
Formula SK-32 * (1961) Adventures in Blues
Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, One Hour Blues June Christy vocal
Fruitcake *
The G String *
Got a Penny, Jenny
June Christy vocal
Gotta Be Gettin’ (1944) Anita O’Day vocal
Green Dolphin Street mellophoniums
Home Journey *
Horn Festival *
5 mellophoniums
Hot Valves * (1972)
I Been Down in Texas (1945) June Christy, Gene Howard, Ray Wetzel & Stan Kenton vocal
I Can’t Get Enough of You (1946) Ray Wetzel vocal
I Can’t Get Started (1960)
I Got Rhythm (1961)
I Never Had a Dream Come True (1945)
I Shoulda Been Twins (I Guess) (1948) Ray Wetzel vocal
I Understand (1961)
I Want a Grown Up Man (1945) Anita O’Day vocal
I’m Not Your Baby vocal
It’s All Right with Me (1959)
It’s Been So Long (1958) vocal
It’s All Right with Me (1959)
It’s Only a Paper Moon Gene Howard vocal
Jersey Bounce (1959)
Jersey Bounces Again * (1958)
Jump Corner *
Jump for Joe
(aka Shed House Mouse) * (1951)
Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’ (1945) June Christy vocal
The Kook *
Lady Blue *
Like the Blues I Got Now (1961) Jean Turner vocal

Lonesome Road (1960) mellophoniums
Lonesome Road (1973) Gene Roland vocal
Lonesome Train *
Lord Beatnik *
Lover Man
Willie Maiden feature
Lullaby of Birdland
Makin’ Whoopee
Mexican Jumping Bean *
Mission Trail *
(1959) Viva Kenton!
Misty (1961) Adventures in Jazz
Mom’s Apple Pie * (1973)
Natural Wood * (1947)
Near East mellophoniums
Night at the Gold Nugget (Sunday Punch) * (1961) Adventures in Jazz
No Baby, Nobody but You (1945) June Christy vocal
No Moon at All (1960) Ann Richards vocal
Nobody Loves a Fat Man Until He Starts to Blow * (1948) Ray Wetzel vocal
Nostalgia Street *
On the Sunny Side Of The Street (1945) June Christy vocal
Once Upon a Riff * mellophoniums
One O’Clock Jump
One Twenty
The Opener *
Opus in Beige *
Opus in Chartreuse * (1955)
Opus in Chartreuse Cha Cha Cha * (1959) Viva Kenton!
Opus in Orange *
Opus in Turquoise *
Out of Nowhere mellophoniums
Poor Butterfly
Project X1 * mellophoniums
Puck’s Blues * (1959)
Rambunctious *
Random Riff *
Reuben’s Blues * (1961) Adventures in Jazz
Riff Raff * (1952)
Riff Rhapsody * (1951)
Riff-Raff *
Robbin’s Nest
Rock for Papa *
Round Midnight
Safari So Good *
The Saga of the Blues *
Scotch and Water * (1946)
Scotch on the Rocks * (1960)
Sentimental Riff (Twilight Riff) * (1959)
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy (1945) June Christy vocal
Sid’s Corner
Siesta *
(1959) band vocal
Snap My Fingers (1963) Jean Turner vocal
Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise mellophoniums
St. Louis Blues (1960)
Stompin’ at the Savoy (1959)
Stray Wind * (1959)
Street Scene (1959)
A String of Pearls (1959)
Sugar Beat *
Tabby the Cat
(1945) Anita O’Day vocal
Take the “A” Train mellophoniums
Tamer-Lane * (1959) band vocal
Tampico (1945) June Christy vocal
Tea for Two
Ten Bars Ago * (1960) mellophoniums
That’s the Stuff You Gotta Watch (1945) June Christy vocal
Time on My Hands mellophoniums
Tortillas and Beans
Travelin’ Man
(1945) Anita O’Day vocal
Tuxedo Junction (1959)
Twelve Bars Ago *
Twilight Riff
(Sentimental Riff) *
Two Moose in A Caboose * (1945)
Uncle John * (1973)
Undecided mellophoniums
Unforgettable mellophoniums
The Vodka Boatman *
Where or When
(1960) 4 alto horns
Whistle Walk * (1959)
Yeah, Tell Me Somethin’ Good Now * (1973)
Yesterdays mellophoniums
You’re Blasé (1959)