Caught in the Act
(Reviewed at the Sherman Hotel, Chicago)
The buildup when this band came out of the west was terrific. So was and so is the band. Stanley has combined his enviable personality with real musicianship and a lot of very excellent new dance ideas.
The most amazing feature of the Stan Kenton band is the production that goes into his widely voiced, full chording. The arrangements, mostly done by Stan him self, never die. They seem to anticipate that something that’s just around the next bar, prepare you for it, and then knock you out when they give it to you.
That’s probably confusing, but Stan’s odd timings and chord progressions keep you on the edge of your chair awaiting one of those spine tingling Kenton chords or a swell Red Dorris tenor solo. The arrangements are always building for something and when that’s satisfied, building for something again.
Ballads are the weak part of the band because they just don’t want to cut down. I don’t mean that the arrangements on the sweets are weak, they’re good, but the band just doesn’t get the feel of ballad stuff like they should. Yet they still play better ballads than half of the bands playing top spots today. It’s just that they aren’t excellent there. They are on their other work.
I have always said that Stan gets more out of his band than could any other leader. By sheer leading he makes the band feel his own enthusiasm and his own ideas. The results are superb.
Time tricks and voicing make up for most of the band’s musical tricks, but soloists are extremely capable in all departments. Alto, tenor, trombone, and trumpets shine on ad lib. There are shades of the old Lunceford band here with an a la mode helping of enthusiasm.
The band is doing exceptional business for an absolutely new band to this area. That should vouch for the customers. We’ll vouch personally for all who have been there the nights we were. It’s no wonder this band’s praises are being shouted from housetops wherever they’ve played. They’re something fine. As for Stan, you’ll never meet another.
BY DAVE DEXTER, Jr.
New York—“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” That’s just about the way Stan Kenton has always felt since his hard-hitting “artistry in rhythm” band ascended into big time music circles a couple of years back. Peculiarly enough, Stan and his men in their long four-year struggle to make the grade never once played a New York hotel engagement.
“And now,” says Stan “it’s different.”
The reason, of course, is the Kenton krew’s current run at the Hotel Pennsylvania Cafe Rouge. Kenton took up where Woody Herman left off last Monday (10) night and judging from the excitement effected when Tampico, Eager Beaver and other S. K. faves are tapped off by the tall Kansas-born maestro, there won’t be any slump in receipts when the Penn’s Jimmy McCabe audits his books at the close of Stan’s engagement.
With blonde June Christy stopping the dancers cold, and Gene Howard’s balladering providing an unanticipated contrast to the band’s loud and rhythmic jump style, Kenton is surprising even his most fanatic followers here. A prize example of this startling metamorphosis is his version of It’s Been a Long, Long Time which La Christy chirps at slow tempo. It’s due out on a disc Sept. 2S and should prove as socko as Stan’s current Tampico clicker.
Eddie Safranski is new in the band on bass and in teaming with Bob Ahern’s guitar, Bob Varney’s tubs and the Kenton piano has rounded out what now stands as the finest rhythm section Stan’s ever assembled. The addition of former Woody Hermanite Ray Wetzel on trumpet likewise helps. Stan’s current set-up is five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds and four rhythm, although the leader still is stingy with his own Steinway-stylings and could easily feature himself more often to the over-all advantage of the band.
Kenton will follow his Pennsy run with an eight-week stand at the Hollywood Palladium starting Oct. 30.
At his opening Kenton revealed big plans for a 1946 tour of foreign countries. “Louis Armstrong already is being booked for engagements abroad,” said Stan, “and it’s none too soon for others to eye similar treks out of the U. S. The war caused American dance music, and hot jazz, to win millions of new devotees in all parts of the world. We can thank our G. I. music fans and our government-sponsored agencies, with their short wave programs, for opening up a vast new market.”
Meanwhile Stan’s manager Carlos Gastel, in Hollywood, and GAC are scratching the surface in setting up negotiations with hotel and ballroom men in Mexico and South America, assuming that it will be some time yet before restrictions are lifted in certain areas still striving to sur- vive the ravages of war.
STAN KENTON AND LOUIS JORDAN
(Reviewed at the Paramount Theater, New York)
This date marked Stan Kenton’s return to the Broadway scene after an absence of several years. When he first came east with his newly-organized crew in February, 1942, Kenton had great hopes for whirlwind success. He flopped badly at Roseland and hasn’t been heard on the Main Stem for some time.
Reports on box-office receipts for Kenton’s first two weeks show that he’s far from being a flop this time. The kids in the crowd on the night I caught the band seemed knocked-out for fair, especially by the powerful, fast-moving Artistry in Rhythm (one of Kenton’s best originals).
Despite this, though, Kenton’s showing was somewhat disappointing. There’s no point in railing again here against the general policy of theaters to demand showmanship instead of good music from name bands. Even Kenton wasn’t immune, though his own startling manner of leading a band, with his arms working like pistons and hair flying around like mad, would seem to fulfill the need for theatrics. The band, with Stan singing St. James Infirmary Blues, got up and made effeminate gestures, shouted not-too- funny responses to the tune’s lyric and, in general, tried to act like inspired cut-ups. They didn’t strike me as being funny at all, though, I must confess, a lot of other people laughed.
Vocalist Gene Howard sang There’s No You and Dream very well indeed. June Christy, Chicago chick who replaced Anita O’Day, sounds amazingly like Anita.
Louis Jordan’s little band had a long stay on stage and made the most of it. The music of this clever group is really delightful, though with its extra emphasis on cuteness, it doesn’t play as much jazz as it once did on records. It’s Jordan himself who’s the whole show with his irrepressible wit and good jazz singing. He sang numbers like Duration Blues, Deacon Jones and Caldonia and brought down the house.
Let me preface this review by saying that the band Kenton now has will be extremely successful, both on its spring concert tour of Europe (especially England) and on the concerts and dances it will play in February and March across the country.
Kenton is one of the great showmen of music, and he never fails to put on an impressive performance. This time was no exception.
THE BAND ARRIVED in San Francisco after only a short rehearsal period and a couple of dates to break in. The concert at the Opera House, which is ideal for serious presentation, was a sell-out, and the audience, which like any Kenton audience is not a general jazz audience at all, but a Kenton jazz audience, was enthusiastic.
The band displayed less of the new arrangements which were expected than you might think and concentrated on several familiar numbers from the Kenton past including Theme of Four Values and September Song. The soloists—Bill Perkins, Carl Fontana, Jack Nimitz, Lennie Niehaus, Bob Fitzpatrick, and Don Kelly were given ample time to work, and in the cases of Perkins, Niehaus, and Fontana, they used it well.
There is lack of a standout trumpet soloist, although Vinnie Tano might develop into one in time, and Sam Noto does some nice things. The trumpet section at the concert seemed uncertain on occasion and so did the saxophones, as a section. The trombones dominated the proceedings.
CURTIS COUNCE, a surprise starter on bass, gives the rhythm section more of a lift than anything has since the reign of Mel Lewis. He is the first Kenton bassist to be heard through the ensembles.
The three new brass men—tuba and two French horns—might as well have stayed home as far as this concert was concerned, but I imagine they will have more to do as time goes on. Right now they add nothing to the band’s performance.
June Christy, who was presented with Kenton at the concert, was a tremendous hit with the audience despite the fact that her solo stints of recent years have made her into more of a cafe entertainer than a jazz singer and her only concession to nostalgia was How High the Moon.
AT THE DANCE at Sweet’s, the band seemed much more relaxed and at ease and, particularly on Youngblood, created a storm that was quite exciting.
More new things were played that night, and Niehaus, Perkins, and Fontana continued to be the most interesting soloists. However, Spencer Sinatra, the new tenor, took a fine bit on Youngblood and may turn out to be the surprise of the band. Counce was featured more at the dance, too, and is very impressive.
Kent Larsen, the valve and slide trombonist, seemed more relaxed at the dance when he blew You Never Entered My Mind than on his solo bits at the concert. The biggest disappointment was in Nimitz, who failed to live up to his previous work at either the concert or the dance.
IF YOU EXPECT this to be the band that finally crosses over and swings for Kenton in the sense of Basie, Herman, et al, you will be disappointed. This band does not, and probably never will, swing that way.
It does have impressive showmanship, excellent soloists and arrangements that allow the good musicians, section by section to extend themselves. It’s strength, however, lies in these factors and not in any rhythmic propulsion. In addition, the weight of brass is greater than usual, and the reeds have not up to now at any rate, developed a section sound to hold their own. At times the saxophone soloists, taking brief bits during a number, were almost obliterated by the crashing brass.
What subtlety there is in this band, as yet, is in the lines in the arrangements, the soloists’ ideas and occasionally in the harmonic progressions. It is never in the dynamics or the rhythm.
—ralph j. gleason
Valley Music Theater, Woodland HIlls, Calif.
Personnel: Dalton Smith, Ronnie Ossa, Gary Barone, Terry Jones, Rich Cooper, trumpets; Dick Shearer, Jim Amlotte, Bob Payne, Dave Roberts, Graham Ellis (doubling tuba), trombones; Ray Reed. Bob Dahl, Alan Rowe, Gene Siegel, Bill Fritz, reeds: Kenton, piano; John Worster, boss; Ray Price, drums; Chino Valdes, conga drums.
Class is a Kenton concert. Class is also a slowly revolving stage that allows an audience to see a big band from all angles. Adding warmth to the class, receipts from this concert “will help further the careers of aspiring young musicians.”
This was a benefit to swell the coffers of the Ross Pollock Memorial Fund, administered by the San Fernando Valley Symphony Association. (Pollock, a drummer of much promise, was a member of that symphony orchestra. He also had played with Don Ellis’ band and with Kenton’s Junior Neophonic Orchestra. Pollock, 19, was accidentally killed last summer while on a European tour with Johnny Mathis.)
Kenton later claimed his band hadn’t sufficient time in which to rehearse. Without that revelation, no one would have known. The band was cohesive, loosely swinging (yes, Virginia, it is possible to be both), and at the peak of responsiveness. The collective discipline was particularly noticeable. Kenton underplayed his role of leader, often remaining at the keyboard, watching more than camping, smiling benignly, fully aware that his sidemen could follow the dynamics of the arrangements.
In programing, Kenton is far from obvious. With more than 2,000 persons waiting expectantly, Kenton hustled on stage and quietly, almost secretly, indicated the tempo for a deliberately slow, nearly dirge-paced Here Comes [sic] That Rainy Day [sic]. A somber trombone choir intoned the ascending melody, each instrument fixed on its respective note, creating a rich pyramid.
Contrast followed with an exciting, bolero-punctuated arrangement of Sound of Music—from slow to fast to medium as Kenton introduced a funky blues (a facet of his piano playing he too seldom exposes) highlighted by Shearer’s fine trombone solo and pushed, in a low-down fashion, by the drumming of Price.
Returning to the frantic tempo for a sparkling, brassy treatment of Limehouse Blues, Reed’s alto and Barone’s trumpet shared solo honors. One of Kenton’s trademarks—the introspective cadenza, this one given considerable depth by Worster’s firm bowing—led to the familiar Artistry in Rhythm, the first of many scores calling for an expanded rhythm section (each of the trumpeters played a different Latin percussion device). The reeds spun the familiar theme in unison, and the trombones passed their familiar comments, yet the whole thing sounded fresh. Five Against Four—a medium swinger in which three bars of 5/4 are alternated with two bars of 4/4—got off to a shaky start in the byplay Kenton and Worster. They gradually worked out the rhythmic kink and cooked happily ever after.
Barone shone, with Worster’s tasteful backing, in What’s New? It began and ended with haunting lyricism and swung in between from double to triple time.
One of the more memorable showcases was Kenton’s arrangement of Tabu. Episodic brass outbursts (urged on by Smith’s screech work and the pulsations of VaIdes) made the arrangement blaze in high fashion. On the other hand, Johnny Richards’ Aretmis and Apollo, boasting a beautiful theme, was weighted down by some pretentious orchestrations. It was saved by an outstanding trombone solo by Roberts.
The most theatrical offering was Granada, but its forced musical heroics were offset by the expanded rhythm section, the cross-rhythmic statements of Valdes, and, above all, by Barone’s inspired montuna over the persistent figure of two eighth-note triplets followed by a quarter-note triplet.
Section work was featured in the next pair: A Very Good Year had a saxophone soli (bolstered by Fritz’ bass sax) reminiscent of the sax soli in the early Concerto to End All Concertos, and there was tight trumpet playing on a Latin-flavored Michelle that not only lent an original sound to that newest of standards, but also underscored Kenton’s current approach—just brass over hyperactive rhythm.
Such rhythm could be heard on Tico–Tico, a hard-driving, flashy number. And for good balance, The Shadow of Your Smile was sheer beauty, made even Shearer, thanks to his sensitive trombone chorus.
Intermission Riff provided a good vehicle for Siegel’s baritone.
The astonishing Reed dominated Stairway to the Stars with his alto. (“Astonishing” because he looks so detached on the stand and plays with such warmth and virtuosity.) It began at a slow, provocative pace, often dissolving to funk. When the tempo quickened, ideas cascaded from his horn, yet with a clarity reminiscent of the hard-bop school.
A double closing was provided by Pea nut Vendor and Malaguena. Vendor was as hypnotic as ever with a mounting intensity brought to fever pitch by the dissonant trumpet chord clusters. The number was Valdes’ finest outlet. A standing ovation brought Kenton back for the best arrangement in his own library—and in terms of massive sound, if not rhythmic excitement, Malaguena outweighed Vendor.
The concept of a revolving stage had only one drawback: depending on the position of the band at given times, balance was less than ideal as certain sections and Worster’s bass would fade slightly. But for theater-in-the-round, ideal acoustics had to be sacrificed for 360 degrees worth of fairness. Besides, the wrap-around audience enjoyed it. The crowd inspired the band, and the band played as if it were fired up, obviously enjoying the best of all possible whirls.
Gold Nugget Club, Oakland Calif.
Personnel: Dalton Smith, Jay Daversa, Carl Leach, Mike Price, Bob Scillato, trumpets; Dick Shearer, Dave Roberts, Tom Whittaker, Jim Amlotte, Graham Ellis (doubling tuba), trombones; Ray Reed, Allan Rowe, Bob Dahl, Bill Fritz, John Mitchell, reeds; Kenton, piano; John Mosher [sic], bass; Dee Barton, drums.
Perhaps the surroundings were conducive to the band’s excellent performance. Sometimes known as the Kenton Shrine, the Nugget’s walls are adorned with etchings of Stan and photos of the orchestra in action. Worshipers were there in abundance on opening night, which also inaugurated the club’s new home.
Each of the four sets played opened unobtrusively with a ballad. Here’s That Rainy Day, molded by Barton; I’m Glad
There ls You, All the Things You Are and Somewhere were a facet of Kenton as listenable as the accustomed thunderous sonorities. Featuring the sections of the full ensemble, with occasional obbligato trumpet, the ballads were tenderly handled.
Altoist Reed, on My Ship, the evening’s second number, gave a superb oration. A waterfall of notes, all well channeled, tumbled out. Reed is a youthful master with the same suavity on up tempos. His invention never dried.
Kenton, aside from his introductory remarks, stayed close to the piano. The band needed no prompting. Material by Bill Holman, Gene Roland, and Johnny Richards received exuberant airings. The quasi-rock treatment of Roland’s The Blues Story came off surprisingly well.
Only a few of the old totems were raised. Intermission Riff was freshened up by Reed’s alto, Daversa’s trumpet, and Rowe’s tenor. The Peanut Vendor still sells; at one point, the reed and trumpet sections had a variety of percussion instruments going, while the hypnotic trombones played on. The brass· battlements reared high, but lead trumpeter Smith scaled them in no nonchalant fashion.
Even Vendor was outvolumed by Malaguena, less Latin-spiced but with even more brass. Trombonist Shearer performed strongly on both numbers. He pulled on the velvet glove for his featured spot on Don’t Worry About Me. It was a highlight of the evening.
Bassist Mosher [sic] and drummer Barton came across clearly. Barton, an ex-trombonist, is rapidly gaining stature on his late love, the drums, and carving a niche for himself as a composer-arranger. His three originals made for provocative listening.
Singing Oyster was a delight in 3/4 time. Polyphonic, the sections moving in close order with Rowe and Daversa making salaams; it probably will be in the book until it’s dog-eared. Three Thoughts contrasted sepulchral brass with alto and trumpet in a subdued mood, the gradually slowing rhythm reflecting the languor of the piece. Barton’s New Day started slowly, Daversa’s serene trumpet over an elegiac background, and then accelerated into a steady 4/4 whipped to a breakneck pace, while Daversa remained unruffled at all tempos.
An accolade for Duke Ellington was a straight-ahead Take the A Train. It is a rare thing for Kenton to dip into another repertoire. Rowe played genial tenor here and was downright brilliant on Summertime.
Auxiliary percussion was used again for the Latin American aid that bridged and peppered a medley of familiars: Eager Beaver, Opus in Chartreuse, and Artistry in Rhythm. The trombones’ slow intonation of Kenton’s leit-motif on Artistry climaxed the evening.
Forger and sometime prisoner of fortissimo chains, Kenton can deal in finesse as expertly as in shout. His current orchestra is eloquent on all musical levels.
Kenton took it fairly well, all things considered, for apparently his new charts had gone astray and he had no option but to rely on old standbys. To cries of “Get back to Disneyland”, he grabbed the microphone and announced: “Well, it sure is nice to be back here in Berlin—can't think what kept me away so long.” He then said that he was going to play his own Ellington tribute, To Duke, and strode purposefully to the piano where he proceeded to do his thing and to hell with the rest of you.