Progressive Jazz 2009

by Terry Vosbein

from the Max Frank Music CD
Progressive Jazz 2009

Of the seven selections from the Stan Kenton library on this disc, none have been commercially recorded until now. Only one has ever surfaced on an unofficial recording of an air check. All or most are unknown to even diehard Kenton fans. I discovered the scores in the Stan Kenton Archives at the University of North Texas. Kenton bequeathed his entire library of scores and parts to the music program at North Texas and in late 2008 I spent three months going through the entire collection, item by item, documenting everything. This disc contains a small sampling of unknown Progressive Jazz gems that I uncovered.

Sixty years after Kenton’s explorations in Progressive Jazz, and shortly after completing my research in the archives, I lived and composed big band music in Europe. I split my time between Ile Saint Louis in Paris and the island of Christianshavn in Copenhagen. And I wrote almost non-stop.

With this innovative Kenton music bubbling in my veins, I set out to create a library of original material. I retained the original instrumentation of 5 saxes, 5 trumpets, 5 trombones, and a 5-piece rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, drums and bongos. And I let my imagination flow freely. The library continues to grow. The music on this disc is a small taste.

I am happy to be able to make these historic Stan Kenton discoveries available alongside my brand new creations. My special thanks to the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra for making this music come alive. Without performers the music remains black dots on white paper.

I hope that you enjoy the music.

Stan Kenton’s Progressive Jazz
After several years of chasing fame, band leader Stan Kenton had achieved it by 1947. His ideals of creative arrangements and compositions had proven to be commercially, as well as artistically, successful. But in April of that year, exhausted from the journey, and disgusted by the commercial music industry, he broke up his band and sent them home. Rumors of Kenton’s future plans floated around the music industry until it was finally announced that he would return in September, presenting what he termed A Concert In Progressive Jazz.

Most of the music was written by Kenton’s chief arranger Pete Rugolo who brought to jazz the influences of such contemporary classical innovators as Stravinsky, Milhaud and Debussy. In his writing he was able to fuse his natural jazz tendencies with the experimental harmonic, melodic and rhythmic language of the classical avant garde. Even the standards he arranged for the dance book contain this influence. And unlike many others, the fusion sounds natural, not at all forced. It is not completely jazz, yet certainly never classical. He was the true pioneer of Progressive Jazz music, (I prefer Kenton’s label of Progressive Jazz over Gunther Schuller’s Third Stream).

Whereas Kenton’s writing was very Wagnerian, very German, Rugolo was more influenced by the French. Kenton preferred pure sounds, and drama was always his main concern. Rugolo’s music is full of colorful orchestrations, subtle timbre changes and lots of nuance. Kenton was rarely adventurous, Rugolo always was. Kenton must have been acutely aware that his chief arranger’s creative abilities surpassed his own, and Rugolo was given a free hand to experiment.

There was also Bob Graettinger, who appeared from nowhere and contributed some of the most controversial scores of the era before fading into obscurity a few years later.

An eighteen year old Graettinger first approached Kenton in 1941 with some rather amateurish arrangements. Kenton was encouraging, but their paths were not destined to cross again until 1947 when Kenton hired him as a staff arranger. During the intervening years he played nondescript saxophone and wrote forgettable arrangements for a variety of bands, as he gained experience. But once with Kenton he wrote bold daring scores, full of wild colors and harsh dissonances.

He is most associated with City of Glass, that four movement bewilderment of gorgeous sound painting. But he also wrote quite a large number of short pieces, including many arrangements of standards. But standard is a word one uses sparingly when thinking of Graettinger. Nothing about him is standard. He took the music beyond Rugolo. Whereas Rugolo often hinted at chaos, Graettinger sometimes rubs our faces in it.

Of course, it is anything but chaos. I have pored over hundreds of multi-colored graphs with tiny notations, all in Graettinger’s meticulous hand. Every note in every score has a purpose and a reason, although this may frequently elude even heavy analysis.

As experimental as Kenton’s band was at this time, it was also tremendously popular. In early 1948 fans voted them ‘Best Band’ in both Downbeat and Metronome magazines. In February they had their first of fifteen appearances at Carnegie Hall, setting a house record for the box office. Their June show at the Hollywood Bowl was the first live televised jazz concert. Unfortunately, a strike by the musicians union kept the band out of the studio throughout 1948 and their output was enjoyed only by those lucky enough to catch a live performance or air check.

In December, at the height of his fame, Kenton once again disbanded. This break up would mark the end of the Progressive Jazz era. Ironically, the recording ban ended on 15 December 1948: the day after Kenton broke up his Progressive Jazz band. When the band next entered the recording studio the year was 1950 and it was with the mammoth Innovations In Modern Music orchestra. Much of the 1948 library was lost to history.

And a new Kenton Era had begun.

At the same time Kenton’s California-based Progressive Jazz was reaching its prime, bebop was exploding in New York and elsewhere. The young writers and soloists of Kenton’s brood were all avid students of this music. Players such as Art Pepper, Bob Cooper and Conte Candoli absorbed these sounds and were hungry to play it. But Kenton would have none of it, leaving that to leaders like Woody Herman. However, during these years it was not uncommon for Kenton to turn over the piano and leadership to Rugolo for the last set of the night. It was then that Rugolo was able to call his more boppish arrangements, including Three Bop, Yardbird Suite and ARTISTRY IN GILLESPIE. This tribute to bop great Dizzy Gillespie was first performed on 8 March 1948 at RKO Theatre in Boston but was played rarely and then forgotten.

AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, or L'après-midi d'un faune, as it was titled by composer Claude Debussy, was already a standard of the orchestral repertoire, barely half a century old at the time of this Rugolo arrangement. It was premiered on 12 February 1946 during a three week stand at Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Faun is the oldest arrangement on this disc. Originally written to feature alto saxophonist Al Anthony, it is a masterpiece of recomposition. Rugolo clearly knew the original work. He ingeniously retains the dramatic depth of the original while transforming it into something completely new and perfectly proportioned.

CUBAN PASTORALE demonstrates Graettinger’s take on the Afro-Cuban rhythms that absorbed the Progressive Jazz era, his only experiment with the genre. And it is the first of the Kenton oeuvre that utilizes a flute double on the lead alto sax part. The original pencil score is marked “Hollywood, CA, October 1948.” By the time the music was copied and delivered to the musicians it could have only been in the book for a month or so before Kenton disbanded. There have been stories of the existence of this composition, but no recordings have ever surfaced.

My composition CROWS IN TUXEDOS is a finger popping swinger featuring interwoven contrapuntal lines and trombone section work. Like many jazz standards, the harmonies of this work are based on the chords to Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm (though with an interesting twist). The title refers to the magpies I saw as I strolled the paths near Christiania in Denmark. I’m not sure, but I think they were laughing at me. And if you listen closely you may hear them laughing at you.

WALKIN’ BY THE RIVER was a minor hit by Una Mae Carlisle, composed by her with Robert Sour in 1940. This unknown Graettinger arrangement comes from 1948, although a single recorded performance by Kenton surfaced on an obscure LP of a 1951 Hollywood Palladium performance. On that recording Kenton says “we’ve played it for some time…it’s one of the beautiful melodies that lends itself well to most any kind of treatment.” When he finally did record this song in 1957, it was with a new arrangement by Joe Coccia.

The LP incorrectly identified Walkin’ By The River as being by Shorty Rogers. It wasn’t even listed in the Kenton collection at the University of North Texas. But as I carefully opened every envelope in the archive I found a copy of this score folded up in the back of another envelope (one of many Eureka moments that I had while working on the collection). It was clearly in Graettinger’s handwriting and had many of his compositional trademarks, even though there was no name on the score. When I discovered this score, I was not yet aware of the LP. But I was soon able to put all the pieces together and properly credit Graettinger as the arranger.

RHYTHMS AT WORK, besides being composed by Pete Rugolo, is a complete mystery. It was first played at Eastwood Gardens in Detroit on 31 August 1948, according to the inscription on Buddy Childers’s trumpet part. And the band broke up just three and a half months later. There are no records of just what made up the repertoire during these final months, nor have live recordings shed much light on the subject. What is known is that Kenton and Rugolo had become enamored by Afro-Cuban rhythms in 1946 when they heard Machito’s band in New York and began experimenting profusely with this highly charged genre.

DON’T BLAME ME was one of several hits penned by composer Jimmy McHugh and lyricist Dorothy Fields, including I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, The Sunny Side of the Street and I’m In the Mood For Love. “A standard if there ever was one,” according to composer Alec Wilder. This unusually subdued Rugolo creation was clearly written for dinner and dancing, curtailing the screaming trumpets so as to not disturb the clientele. This arrangement was first played at the Marine Room on Pleasure Pier on 30 May 1948, in Galveston, Texas.

JUMPING MONKEY is another swinger of mine, this time with a more bluesy element. The riff-based melody is presented by the saxes, before giving way to a series of solos. The saxes try to reclaim the riff, but it eludes them despite their searching and prodding from the brass. Finally a drum solo sets the riff back on track for the shouting conclusion.

I saw the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd on Broadway shortly after it opened in 1979. It was the most amazing piece of theatre I had ever seen. For that matter, nothing I have witnessed since that performance has matched it for sheer compositional and dramatic artistry. The melody of JOHANNA is romantic and yearning, and these traits drive my arrangement.

“The title HAMBETH was supposed to be a joke, indicating that I’m a ham, and the Shakespeare connection with Hamlet and Macbeth was supposed to be the general idea. But I don’t think Stan liked it very much, and we didn’t play it very often.”

Those words come from trombonist Milt Bernhart, for whom Rugolo wrote this work. Bernhart’s career spanned four decades including memorable stints with Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and Frank Sinatra. He joined Kenton in 1946 and his first solo proved to be an important one: the famous trombone melody on The Peanut Vendor. Perhaps his most famous solo comes from the 1956 Sinatra recording of I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

Just as the Hollywood Palladium had become the band’s west coast home, New York’s Paramount Theatre was their home in the east. They played many extended engagements at both venues during these years. Rugolo’s composition Hambeth was first played at the Paramount on 14 January 1948. Eleven months later to the day the band played their final engagement at the Paramount before disbanding for over a year. (An interesting anecdote is that bop bassist Oscar Pettiford played the final three week engagement at the Paramount in 1948, substituting for ailing Eddie Safranski.)

Having experienced first-hand the fiery music of Cuba during a visit to Havana, I tried to imbue AHORA ES EL TIEMPO with that same exciting spirit. The riff-like melody is cast in a minor key, first presented by the saxes. But there is also a buoyant major-keyed theme that returns a few times, a reference to a later trip to Brasil. The trombones’ interlocking lines set the tone from the start. And once the fiery dance begins, it doesn’t cease until the final bar.

I composed ODIN’S DREAM in the cold Parisian winter. It is a slow and introspective vehicle for the trombone, long a favorite solo instrument of mine. The Odin I imagine is the title character in Janne Teller’s novel, Odin’s Island, a lost innocent trying to go home. A gentle soul, wise beyond his own knowing. It was written to feature my long time friend and musical partner, also wise beyond his own knowing, Tom Lundberg.

THE REAL PRINCESS is a nostalgic look back at my youth in the 1970s. I was introduced to Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Chase all around the same time. Not only did I hear these bands live and on records, but I played music from these artists with my own bands. They influenced both my music and my memories.

The title comes from the famous 1830s H.C. Andersen tale of the prince who plants a pea under the bedding in search of his real princess. The form and harmonies are derived from a light classical composition from 1890s America that I have long admired, Edward MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose. And all together they become a slow rocking journey, with slow builds, a couple of climaxes and a whacky ending.

— Terry Vosbein
Lexington, Virginia

BOB GRAETTINGER was clearly the most avant-garde composer on the Kenton staff. Born in California in 1923, he had an unimpressive background until he emerged in 1947 as one of the most futuristic composers in jazz. He left behind hundreds of colorful graphs and charts that he utilized in indecipherable pre-compositional manners. 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. He died in obscurity at the age of 33 from cancer. Kenton and Rugolo were the only musicians at his funeral.

PETE RUGOLO was born in Patti, Sicily in 1915 and moved with his family to southern California when he was five. He studied composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills College and spent the war years leading and writing for an army jazz band. Immediately upon discharge he went to work as chief arranger for Kenton. He shaped the Progressive Jazz period of the Kenton band, setting a standard of experimental composition that was to be one of the hallmarks of the Kenton sound. He left for Hollywood and the studios when the band broke up in 1948, but continued to contribute to the Kenton library for more than a decade.

TERRY VOSBEIN was born into a musical family in the musical city of New Orleans. He spent his first decades immersed in the world of jazz composition and performance, playing and writing and learning. Somewhere along the way he got a few degrees, wrote some symphonies and string quartets and began teaching music composition at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where he has been a professor of music since 1996. In recent years he has returned fully to his jazz roots.