Willie Maiden and the New Old School

by Terry Vosbein

Presented at the IAJE International Conference, New York, January 2004

Avant-garde is not my thing. I’m a super, incorrigible romantic.
Willie Maiden

The Stan Kenton Years

Willie Maiden came to the Stan Kenton band in 1969. At the age of 41 he was a veteran among the youngsters of the Kenton band. Over the next four years he composed or arranged over twenty-five titles. He wrote arrangements of several pop songs including Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, Jimmy Webb’s Didn’t We, Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair and Theme from Love Story. There were a handful of original ballads, such as April Fool and Hymn To Her. And he wrote several original swingers including Kaleidoscope, Boilermaker, No Harmful Slide Effects, For Better and For Worster and his most popular, A Little Minor Booze.

While a student at UCLA in 1952 Willie Maiden met former Kenton star, Maynard Ferguson. Maiden was a valet parking lot attendant who recognized Ferguson one day and asked about bringing some arrangements to a rehearsal. This began more than a decade of collaboration. When Ferguson took his dream band into Birdland in 1956 Maiden was amongst the all-star arranging staff, that also included Johnny Mandel, Bill Holman, Quincy Jones and Ernie Wilkins. He played tenor and arranged for the Ferguson band in performance and recordings until the mid 1960s. After a stint with Charlie Barnet, he retired from the music business, only to be lured back by Kenton in 1969. He played baritone saxophone and wrote for the band for the next four years.

Maiden brought a swinging sound to the Kenton band, an ensemble that was frequently criticized for its lack of swing. In an era when the two other principal contributors to the library, Hank Levy and Ken Hanna, were exploring uncommon time signatures and romantic ballads, Maiden had this unwieldy ensemble swinging. But his works were not flag wavers in the traditional sense. They were forward looking in their rhythmic and melodic surprises, never falling back on cliché. They were full of contrapuntal lines and textures, unusual syncopations and dissonant crunches. And when called for they swung hard.

Maiden’s original works were primarily medium to fast swing compositions that in one sense were quite typical: an introduction, melody, improvisations and a varied return to the main theme. His harmonic progressions seem reasonably typical of a post-bopper. But this is where the similarities end. His bop influenced melodies were more angular, his climaxes juicier. And there was a constant sense of surprise, with accents falling in unexpected yet satisfying places.

The few ballads that he wrote (April Fool, Didn’t We, Walk Softly, Hymn To Her) feature lush trombones, no extended improvisations and screeching climaxes. And yet they never sound formulaic. Nor do they sound like any of the other dozen or so writers who followed this ballad formula in writing for the Kenton band. Maiden’s progressive voicings, creative use of timbre and romantic pacing infused these ballads with a quality that sets them apart.

Willie’s music spoke for itself. It’s hard to sit on a bumpy bus every day of your life and not get nauseous. But he could do it and at the same time write a completely transposed score. All it needed was to be copied. I saw masterpieces cranked out by Willie in less than two hours.
Richard Torres (qtd. in Harris 278)

The harmonic progressions in Maiden’s original compositions are typical of bop practices. Circles of fifths, diatonic seventh chords progressing by step, and the blues are some of his most used harmonic devices. Two of his swingers are based on the chords of 1930’s standards. Keep on Truckin’ is based on Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love? The form is retained, although Maiden added eight bar interludes between each chorus. According to Richard Torres, for whom this piece was written, “Stan didn’t like it – probably because it swung too much” (qtd. in Harris 277). In Boilermaker Maiden reworked the chords from Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are, adding two to six bar extensions to virtually every eight bar phrase, and thereby obscuring obvious references to the original song.

Maiden had an interesting way of manipulating common formal structures, creating interesting harmonic and rhythmic movement along the way. In the swinging No Harmful Slide Effects he offers an interesting twist on the blues. Each chorus is comprised of three sections of twelve bars each. The first two are identical in form, an altered G minor blues that cadences in B-flat major. The third section is totally unlike the blues, except in its twelve-bar length. It alternates Dmaj9 and Gmaj9 chords for eight bars, followed by four bars of a dominant implication in the original key of G minor. This 36-bar AAB format mimics the AAB format of the twelve-bar blues itself. As the form is open ended, Maiden concludes the piece with a final twelve bar statement of the altered blues theme.

He frequently utilized running scale passages moving rapidly from instrument to instrument. Often these scales ran several octaves from the bottom of the band up to the stratosphere, creating a whirling crescendo. Boilermaker begins with an eighth-note scale of over two octaves which passes through the trumpet section. Keep On Truckin’ ends in this same manner, with an ascending eighth-note scale passage of over two octaves in the trumpets. The final cadence of Kaleidoscope is preceded by a four octave scale starting at the bottom of the bari saxes and ending at the top of the trumpets.

One thing that is frequently cited in describing Maiden’s sound is his creative use of color. He frequently employed flute doubles on all sax parts but his own and regularly employed a variety of mutes in the trumpets and trombones. In the introduction to Walk Softly there are four flutes trilling as trumpets interject lines combining 2 Harmon mutes, 2 cup mutes and a straight mute. In Windmills of My Mind he has three types of mutes in the trumpets and three types in the trombones, creating a swirling pad with two flutes, a clarinet and two baritone saxes.

He most frequently voiced the saxes, trumpets and trombones as independent sections, often in block chords. Yet for melodic purposes he often combined different instruments in colorful and interesting manners. His favorite combination was the alto sax and trumpet unison line, which he used in Boilermaker, Didn’t We, Windmills of Your Mind and Kaleidoscope. In Didn’t We he also harmonizes the bari sax and tuba together on the melody. And in Both Sides Now the melody is played in octaves by flute, trumpet, trombone and piano.

Maiden had a wonderfully unique sound on the baritone sax and he used it frequently as a solo voice in his arrangements. In April Fool, Didn’t We and Walk Softly his forlorn sounding sax is used as a contrapuntal voice, playing both written lines and short improvised fills generally lasting a bar or less.

When it came to writing, Willie would get on the bus, pull out the score paper and finish each page as the notes passed in his head…fast. He never used a piano and I asked him once how he did it. Willie answered, ‘The chart’s already in my head. When I put it down on paper, it’s finished.’
Mike Vax (qtd. in Harris 265)

There is frequently a sense of many things happening at once in Maiden’s music. Soloists are occasionally asked to improvise simultaneously, creating spontaneous counterpoint. This happens in Didn’t We, Keep on Truckin’ and Kaleidoscope. There is also brilliant counterpoint throughout April Fool. Maiden sets his own bari against the solo trombone in two-part writing that begins only a step apart and soon covers a span of almost two and a half octaves. Later in the same piece Maiden sets up a three-part contrapuntal texture by adding a Harmon muted trumpet improvising above the bari/bone combination.

A Little Minor Booze demonstrates a developmental technique that Maiden used frequently. After stating the melody in the first twelve bars, he repeats it, adding a bop inspired eighth-note counterpoint played by the unison saxes. He also used this technique in Watch What Happens, Kaleidoscope, No Harmful Slide Effects and Love Story.

Often his genius was in his simplicity. A Little Minor Booze was his most popular composition for the Kenton band. It is still played by high school, college and pro bands all over the world. And yet the score contains only a twelve-bar blues head played twice, a couple of solos, and two ensemble out choruses. There isn’t even an extension at the end. The last chorus has twelve bars just like each of the others. And no one feels shortchanged.

In the Theme from Love Story Maiden arranged just one and a half choruses of the popular melody for the band. The wonderful alto/baritone duet on the live recording, in which each rhythm section member enters one at a time, is not in the score. Instead, it is notated simply as an improvised chorus for rhythm section and solo alto. In Watch What Happens there is also one and a half choruses notated on the score, with the rest turned over to rhythm and soloist.

Examining two original compositions more closely will demonstrate the brilliance that poured from Willie Maiden’s trusted mechanical pencil. Kaleidoscope is a medium swinger, full of joy and humor. The Height of Ecstasy shows Maiden’s more serious side, but also with his brand of humor peeking through.


Composed and arranged by Willie Maiden
Recorded by the Stan Kenton Orchestra 13 August 1971

Play track

In Maiden’s original composition Kaleidoscope, many of the techniques that marked his distinct sound are present. From the descending scale of the introduction to the final ascending scale and last note trills, this is all Maiden.

Kaleidoscope consists of an introduction [Figure 1] followed by five choruses. Each chorus is an eighteen bar AABA structure, having four distinct sections of four bars each with a two bar extension. A four bar transition follows each the first three choruses. During the first two choruses the melody is presented. In the third and fourth choruses the alto and trumpet trade solo passages. The final chorus has a return of the melody as it modulates up a whole step to the key of E-flat major. There is no transition leading into this section, although the preceding chorus is extended an additional two bars to accommodate the modulation.

Kaleidoscope opens with Maiden’s familiar scale passage. Starting with a high C in the first trumpet, each note of a descending D-flat major scale appears and is sustained in a different instrument. Instruments enter and exit, creating a pan-tonal wash as the notes are layered in a bell-tone effect. By the second bar five of the seven scale tones are sustained simultaneously. The layering begins anew in bar three as the scale continues to descend and by the sixth bar six of the seven pitches occur together (see Figure 2). This scale descends almost three octaves over ten bars before landing on the first non-diatonic sound, a lowered II chord (D9b5), which quickly resolves to the tonic.

In the first chorus the melody is divided between the saxophones, trombones and Harmon muted trumpets, each playing 5-part block chords [Figure 2]. Unlike the introduction, in which the syncopated entrances overlapped one another, there is a pointillistic effect created by using primarily short notes with little overlapping. His use here of klangfarbenmelodie, a term coined by Arnold Schoenberg, is exciting. Sax, trumpet and trombone sections are pitted against one another as they pass the melody around, note by note.

The second chorus adds an eighth-note melody to the pointillistic line of the previous chorus. This melody is played by alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet and trombone. The color of this melody changes constantly, as only two of these instruments play at a time, swapping the melody back and forth every three or four notes [Figure 3].

In the final four bars of each of the first three choruses there is a series of pointillistic descending diatonic seventh chords (Dbmaj7 – C half dim – Bbmin9 – Ab9 – Gbmaj7 – Fmin7 – Ebmin9) which ends on the lowered II. The transitions also utilize descending seventh chords in a pointillistic manner, but the descent is chromatic, rather than diatonic. However, the final chord of these transitions is also the lowered II chord.

Virtually the entire composition is diatonic, with only a few exceptions. The bridge of each chorus contains secondary dominants and altered chords. And the transitions feature chromatic harmonic motion. But the introduction and the A sections are entirely diatonic within the key of D-flat (or E-flat in the last chorus).

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a kaleidoscope as a “tube-shaped optical instrument.” But it goes on to offer a second definition: “a constantly changing set of colors.” No title could more aptly describes this composition. The whirling timbres and melodies spin like the bits of colored glass. The colors shift with unexpected surprises. And it swings.

The Height of Ecstasy

Composed and arranged by Willie Maiden
Recorded by the Stan Kenton Orchestra 22 August 1972

Play track

The Height of Ecstasy, or Orgasm as Maiden originally titled it, is clearly his most experimental work. The entire composition is based on the opening seven-note motive [Figure 4]. This simple motive undergoes dozens of restatements, sped up and slowed down, but never transposed. Throughout the piece the trombones are asked to play almost continuous glissandi, creating an undulating background.

After a climax is reached about half way through the piece, another crescendo begins, during which the opening motive is absent. Three overlapping major triads, E-flat in the trumpets, D-flat in the trombones and C in the saxes, repeat over and over, each section accenting a different beat. While these dissonant chord combinations continue, and the tempo increases, the solo trumpet is asked to “blow on this scale,” the scale being a C Phrygian mode. The motive finally returns played by the full band for a climatic statement that resolves to a chord containing all twelve pitches [Figure 5].

Although the “key” is ambiguous in this work, there is no doubt that C is the tonal center. It is present as an almost constant pedal in the bass voices. And the final 12-note chord is firmly rooted on an open fifth, C and G, in the bass.

The final bar contains the instruction “vocalize sub tone” for the entire band, which seems to be Maiden winking at the listener. It never failed to leave smiles, rather than bewilderment, on the faces of the audience, after such a dissonant, unsettling composition.

Maiden left the band in mid-1973. Kenton never officially recorded another Maiden piece after his departure. The only mainstay in the library was A Little Minor Booze, which Kenton continued to perform until the end. After his departure Maiden was head of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Maine. He died of spinal meningitis in 1976 at the young age of 48.


Harris, Steven D. The Kenton Kronicles. Pasadena, California : Dynaflow Publications, 2000.

Lee, William F. MF Horn: Maynard Ferguson’s Life in Music. Ojai, California : MF Music, 1997.

Lee, William F. Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm. Los Angeles : Creative Press, 1980.

Sparke, Michael, and Pete Venudor. Stan Kenton: The Studio Sessions. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin : Balboa Books, 1998.


Selected compositions and arrangements by Willie Maiden recorded by Kenton
* arranged, but not composed, by Willie Maiden

Stacks Image 387

Terry Talk
A Little Minor Booze
Didn’t We *

Album: Live at Redlands, 3-5 August 1970
Stacks Image 396

April Fool
Theme from “Love Story” *

Album: Live at Brigham Young, 13 August 1971
Stacks Image 402

Walk Softly *

Album: Stan Kenton Today, 10 February 1972
Stacks Image 408

There Will Never Be Another You *
After You *
Hymn To Her
Come Back To Me *
She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain *

Album: Four Freshmen, 22 June 1972
Stacks Image 414

Height of Ecstasy
Tenderly *
Walk Softly *

Album: Live at Butler, 22 June 1972
Stacks Image 420

For Better and For Worster
No Harmful Slide Effects

Album: Birthday In Britain, 23 February 1973

Additional Compositions and Arrangements written for Kenton

Both Sides Now *
Bygones (composed for Neophonic Orchestra)
Harold's Club or Bust
I Have Dreamed *
Keep on Truckin'
'N All That Jazz
Scarborough Fair *
Watch What Happens *
We’ve Only Just Begun *
Willow Weep For Me *
Windmills of Your Mind *