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
“I must say that I think Kenton’s mistakes were better than a lot of other people’s successes.” As an afterthought he added, “I think it’s very sad that his music has gone in and out of fashion so quickly.”
To which Kenton, white-haired, dynamic, a bundle of nervous energy at 52, today might well retort, “Thanks for the compliment, but sing no sad songs for me.”
The imagination boggles at the very notion of any sad songs ever being sung for Stanley Newcomb Kenton. Mad songs, bad songs, glad songs, but never the dolorous variety. He has been pilloried by jazz critics—and praised by them too. He has, time and again, rallied a fan following of almost frightening dedication. He has even bad a shrine of sorts established in his honor; true, it is but a saloon near San Francisco, but a shrine nonetheless and a mecca to any Kenton fan who chances by.
But Stan Kenton has never taken time even to consider listening to a sad song keened for him or his music. He’s always been too busy with that music or with any of the variety of orchestras he has led since 1941. Although 1949 became virtually a year of retirement for him, the extent to which he “retired” from music or musical thinking was dramatically debunked in January of the following year when he returned leading the most ambitious—and controversial—musical undertaking of his career, a 40-piece orchestra with full string section marching under the banner Innovations in Modem Music. As to his music going “in and out of fashion so quickly,” one is tempted to inquire, which music? There has been a variety of it.
Kenton’s career has been and is, in fact, many careers (not counting his intensive study of psychiatry and psychoanalysis during that year of “retirement”). Depending on one’s point of view, a new career has just begun for Kenton or a new phase of the same old career has opened up.
The news broke in late November, a bit prematurely, to be sure, but inevitably intriguing, as are all phases of Kentonia. A press conference was called at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel to announce the organization of “the first permanently established orchestra in the world devoted to contemporary music” and the International Academy of Contemporary Music. The announcement was a mite premature because the new orchestra was not scheduled to perform in public until Jan. 4, had not even been called to rehearsal yet, and had not even a complete personnel.
Still, nobody minded much because the whole undertaking, especially the name bestowed on the new orchestra, held a sort of magic, even cabalistic spirit: The Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra. The music it would perform would be “neophonic.” It would give four concerts, it was announced: Jan. 4, Feb. 1, March 1 and 29, with Kenton conducting. The orchestra would be resident at the gleaming, multi-pillared, expansive new Music Center for the Performing Arts located in the heart of Los Angeles’ exploding Civic Center.
While the Neophonic Orchestra would lack strings—the first season, anyway—there is no lack of old Kenton hands in the personnel for the opening concert: the reeds include Bud Shank, Bill Perkins, Jack Nimitz, and Chuck Gentry; the trumpet section has Conte and Pete Candoli, as well as Ray Triscari and Dalton Smith; the trombones reunited veterans Milt Bernhardt and Bob Fitzpatrick and also include Tommy Shepard and Jim Amlotte (who also shoulders the task of orchestra manager); Vince DeRosa leads a section of four French horns; Red Callender is the tubaist; Laurindo Almeida, featured 15 years earlier with the Innovations orchestra, is on guitar; John Worster is the bassist; mallet-man and all-around percussionist is Frank Carlson; and Shelly Manne is behind the standard drum outfit which should set many an old Kenton listener to reminiscing.
Flown from Vienna for the opening concert will be pianist Friedrich Guida, who will be the featured soloist in a performance of his Concerto for Piano and Jazz Orchestra. Also on the program are “neophonic” compositions by Bill Holman, Marty Paich, Johnny Richards, Pete Rugolo, Lalo Schifrin, Hugo Montenegro, and Kenton himself.
“Behind the orchestra,” wrote Kenton in a brochure issued in advance of the first concert, “is a body—the International Academy of Contemporary Music,” with himself as president, George Greif as vice president, and Sid Garris as secretary-treasurer. (Greif and Garris are Kenton’s business managers.) The academy had been established, he wrote, “1. To encourage the composition and performance of contemporary music, and to help develop musicians capable of playing it. 2. To serve as a clearing house for contemporary music, contemporary musicians, information concerning contemporary music, and to serve in the dissemination of such music to universities. other cities and countries, etc. 3. To sponsor and present the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra, to extend its influence and performance, and to encourage the establishment of similar neophonic orchestras.”
In an interview, Kenton was asked how he came upon the word “neophonic.”
“We felt,” he answered, “that the orchestra should have some kind of identifying name just as the [Los Angeles] Philharmonic does. We investigated. And we found out that the word “philharmonic” was a coined word too. So, in searching for a name for the neophonic orchestra, we came across the word “neo” and, of course, “phonic,” which explains the thing best of all.”
Then he added, “I’d like to see all of modern music, contemporary music, known as as kind of neophonic music. You already have symphonic music. They are certainly two different fields of expression.”
While a chord by any other name might sound as sweet (or sour, as the case may be), it is evident from the coined word, neophonic, and the exotic overtone within it, that it makes for a most practical device to help put across Kenton’s stated musical aim in tried and true show-business fashion. In an era when many assert that too much color has faded from the music-business canvas, neophonicism is rather reassuring.
Kenton was most eager that the true nature of the orchestra and its function be made clear. Those composers who contribute works or from whom works are commissioned, he said, must be “dedicated in the direction that we are, musically speaking.” But, he added. “that doesn’t mean there cannot be differences of opinion. [Then] there are men who are writing modern classical music too, but I don’t think we would be their outlet because they had possibly best stay with their symphonic orchestras.”
What of Third Stream and the ‘“new thing”? So far as the latter is concerned, Kenton affirmed it has a definite place under the neophonic sun. Also, to be specific, will experimenters Don Ellis and Ornette Coleman, he said.
“We are trying,” Kenton stressed, “to limit the music to new music, and most all new music is experimental until it is proven.”
Thus, in this one, giant leap, Stan Kenton has aimed at and landed squarely in the main stream of jazz’ avant garde, extending a helping hand to all who hopefully will not bite it and providing a prestigious platform far indeed from dank cellar and draughty loft for the farthest-out expressionist.
So far as Third Stream music is concerned, Kenton conceded there “could be a connection” between the Neophonic Orchestra’s program and the compositional approaches of Gunther Schuller, John Lewis, et a!.
“Possibly some of the music we play,” he ventured, “would be termed Third Stream.” Then he quickly added, “But I like to think that our music is not Third Stream music, that it has nothing to do with the classical world of music. 1his is entirely something based on the jazz tradition.”
“My personal opinion,” he declared of attempts to fuse jazz and classical techniques, “is that I don’t think that you could ever blend the two. It’s true that in the creation of music the same theory in the writing, the conceiving, applies to both schools of music. But then they become separated. I’ve never really believed too much in trying to create a Third Stream music. I think that you either have to take one stand or another stand.”
(One might wonder what Kenton had in mind 14 and 15 years ago when his Innovations orchestra performed concert works such as City of Glass by the late composer Bob Graettinger.)
Kenton went on to speak of Schuller, Lewis, and others involved in Third Stream composition and to say he had a feeling that they were “a little inhibited.” This was because they were still relying and leaning too much upon the classical approach to music, he explained.
“After all,” he said, “it is a very difficult thing to merchandise anything new in music, and I think the Third Stream movement has done a great deal toward new, fresh music. I think the guys in New York should be complimented on their efforts because, goodness knows, it’s so difficult to get people interested in new things…I think they’ve done a magnificent job, but I do think they lean too much toward the modern contemporary-classical approach. I think I would be happier to see them pull away completely and get into our own idiom of music—music in the American tradition. They are still using a lot of the European techniques and the European approach which, of course, is the classical school.
“At the clinics, when we were working with young musicians, we were trying to describe what is the American approach to music. Finally I conceived the idea of explaining it in terms of that show Don Ameche has on television where he tours around various sections of Europe presenting circuses and different extravaganzas. I’d say, ‘Do you hear the music being played in the background?’ In an American circus the music sounds entirely different; so I’d say, ‘That is the American approach to music.’
“You turn on your TV set and you listen to any big television orchestra or any big theater orchestra, and you can hear the American approach to music. They are two entirely different things. And I’d look at the faces of these young musicians and somehow they’d seem to be a little more enlightened. They’d say, ‘Yes, I see what you mean.’
“There is an American way of playing music. There’s no doubt about it. You can tell. And now all over the world. Other people have picked up the American approach to music. As to trying to clear up this confusion as to what is the new music, I sometimes feel that you almost have to hear the difference in the performance. It’s a way of performing music. 1 here’s a whole different dimension to American music than there is to European music.”
A little more than 20 years ago it was Eager Beaver, Artistry in Rhythm, and a startlingly new approach to swing-dance music; 15 years ago it was Innovations and a radically different frame for jazz in concert; today it is neophonic, and the accent is still on the new and the experimental. How does Kenton feel today about his place in American serious music—does he think he would ever be in a position to communicate directly to the mass market? He replied firmly in the negative and, it seemed, with inner regret.
“It’s impossible,” he said. “Any form of art has never been mass-accepted; it’s always been supported by a minority group of people, created by a minority…The masses are one thing and, of course, a minority is another thing. No, I don’t think anybody in jazz music will ever get mass-acceptance.’’
Conversely, he conceded that some of his popular-oriented recordings had “pretty good” appeal to a broader market although, he noted, to this day he has never had a million-seller. But even in recording more popular-oriented material there was always the eye cocked to the music’s serious implications.
“Oftentimes,” Kenton recalled, “in taking a piece of music and directing it toward popular approval we have managed to dip into the masses for more fans and maybe attract attention to some of the other things we were doing in a more serious way.”
“I think it’s very necessary,’’ he emphasized, “that you communicate with the public because you can have the greatest music in the world, but if there’s no one sitting out there to listen to it, you’re lost.”
Comparison between the Kenton Innovations period and the current neophonic era is, perhaps, inevitable. Kenton conceded as much.
“During the Innovations period there was a certain thing that I was trying to build, to gain acceptance of. Some of the music was excellent, some of it wasn’t of such a high caliber, but we were very sincere about what we were trying to do. I think the time is better now for something of that nature than it was at that time.’’
He might have added that certainly the economic circumstances of the Neophonic Orchestra are vastly more favorable than they were for the Innovations behemoth. The of transporting such a large complement from city to city today, not to mention meeting the payroll every week, was prodigious even then; to attempt it today would be madness.
Kenton conceded that he also is faced with the problem of explaining to people what neophonic music actually is and described his attempts to do so as sometimes “strange.’’
“People have so many fixed impressions in their minds,” he said with a shrug. “You find a lot of people who ask, ‘Do you think the bands are ever going to come back?’ and ‘Will the big bands return?’ What they’re actually thinking about is the music they heard during the ‘40s and the early part of the ‘50s, and if they will be hearing that music again. I don’t think that’s possible because I think that the music has developed, and now all of the things that have evolved out of the name-band era in the field of jazz are going to be put together into this neophonic orchestra.”
A basic reason for Kenton’s conviction that “the time is better now,” he said, is that in the last four or five years he has taken new stock of the taste of the American people.
“There was a period,” he confessed, “when I felt so disgusted with all of us in America because I thought we were all dead at the switch. It was impossible to communicate with anybody.
“But with us Americans…so much happens here in this country…there are so many different things going on…Music is such a free thing here that if something is great, it will attract attention and gain acceptance.
“You’ve got to remember, though, that the American car is just beaten to death with all kinds of things all the time. It isn’t that the American isn’t any less conscious of artistic things or culture, because he certainly is. It’s just that a thing has to be something really worthwhile before it’s going to gain acceptance.”
Kenton said he wanted to clear up something not directly related to the Neophonic Orchestra. “Some months back,” he began, “I was quoted [DB, April 23, 1964, and other media] as saying that jazz is finished. It made quite a lot of noise. It was another thing that was not completely explained. I think this: jazz as we knew it up until this time has had its say. I think that what we are taking from the jazz world now and presenting in orchestras like the Neophonic Orchestra—and we hope there are others like it around the world—is what we have learned from the field of jazz. That is the foundation for this music. And there’s no way around it. It is not the classical approach to music. It is the jazz approach to music. But again it’s so hard for people to understand. They think that jazz is a static thing. Jazz has been in a state of growth and change, but there are certain baste elements of the music that have been maintained all along.”
He paused before taking up point No. 2:
“I also said that I think that some of the avant garde in jazz today have had such a struggle trying to find identity that they’ve almost gone off the deep end trying to create things that will give them identity. It’s like some of the far-out classical composers. They are doing some of the most ridiculous things just because they are calling attention to themselves. But if you maintain certain basic elements of jazz—which is the way the music is played—there’s no reason now why it’s not time now to take these things that came from the field of jazz and put them into order and let them be the foundation for the new music which is the serious music of America.”
Kenton was then asked how he would comment on the “swing” concept, i.e., basically a 4/4, steady, unvarying beat with the indefinable element inherent that has come to be termed “swing” and has come to be associated inextricably with what is described as jazz. The bandleader was asked how in his view this “swing” concept related—if at all to neophonic music.
“I think it relates very well,” he answered. “As a matter of fact, I have been saying for the last couple of years that in talking to some of the composers recently I feel that they, too, have the same hunger to get away from, not to say the ‘swinging thing,’ but to get away from the use of the rhythm section as we’ve been using it all along. I think it’s a terribly hackneyed sound to hear four guys in a rhythm section clang-de-clang, going on and on and on.
“l like to think that the rhythm section in the Neophonic Orchestra will function a great deal differently than rhythm sections have thus far. Musicians play well today; they don’t have to use the rhythm section as a policing measure anymore. They know what they’re doing. They’re able to keep time by themselves. And they’re able to swing without this forced feeling of time. I think if a rhythm section is used much more sparingly, it will be much more of a thrill to listen to; it will spark a band much more.
“It’s time that we get away from even that hackneyed part of the field of jazz music. I have always maintained that a thing doesn’t necessarily have to swing all the time to be jazz, because there’s a certain way of playing music that came from the jazz conception that can be applied to rubato movement in music or any sort of time, any conception of time. It doesn’t have to be always a swing thing.”
Swinging, then, is not, in his book, a basic, necessary-at-all-times ingredient in jazz?
“No,” he replied, “it never has been.”
Stan Kenton is now at last out of the traveling, one-nighter, big-band world in which he grew up since joining the Everett Hoagland Band in 1934. He said that his basic decision to forsake that life and that aspect of his career was prompted by “personal obligations” to remain in the Los Angeles area. (He lives with his two children in Beverly Hills.) Kenton said that as a result of his experience on the road in recent years he did not see much of a market for dance music anywhere.
“I think the people are more interested in concerts and music for listening than they are for dancing,” he said. “And of course young people have their own music for dancing. I wouldn’t want to risk going out on the road today with what might be called Stan Kenton and a dance band and hope I’d make a success of it, because I don’t think that people are that much interested in dance music anymore.”
It will probably be some time, Kenton said, before the Neophonic Orchestra makes recordings for commercial release; nor did he know, he said, for what company it would eventually record.
“I’ll continue to record under my own name for Capitol,” he emphasized, “because I feel it’s important I maintain my own identity and not become completely submerged in the Neophonic Orchestra.” Stan being Kenton, one understood that.
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.