Blindfold Tests

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The Blindfold Tests was a feature that debuted in Metronome in the September 1944 issue. Leonard Feather would play a series of recordings for his guests, who in turn would comment on the music being played. Feather would move his column to Down Beat on 23 March 1951.

Below are the responses that were made to recordings by Kenton, as well as a two part Blindfold Test in which Kenton was the commenter.
Intermission Riff [Dave Tough] December 1946
Stan Kenton. Intermission Riff (Capitol). Ed Safranski, bass; Shelly Manne, drums.

Sounds like Safranski’s bass; Kenton’s band. I like this band very much. I think Woody’s band was very good for Kenton, and today I think Kenton’s band would be very good for Woody. Incidentally Kenton has a wonderful drummer, Shelly Manne—that’s my boy; my favorite of the young drummers…this thing’s fine; Kenton got off the Lunceford kick and loosened up. He has a swell jumping band today; and even before that, he had a band that was at least trying to say something. Three stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Dave Tough." Metronome. December 1946. 33, 50.
Theme to the West [Chubby Jackson] December 1947
Stan Kenton. Theme to the West by Pete Rugolo. (Capitol).

This was played very well; highly dramatic, very emotional music some pretty themes. The horns sounded like they knew what they were doing; it was all well planned. Sounded like moving picture music. For that particular sound of music, I'd give it four stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Ah, Bitterness [Chubby Jackson]." Metronome. December 1947. 20, 42.
Opus in Pastels [Allen Eager] January 1948
Stan Kenton. Opus in Pastels (Capitol). Five saxes and rhythm section. Comp. & arr. Kenton.

Those saxes are so sweet and sugary…it’s horrible. I don’t like it and yet it does have a sound. Could be something of Sauter’s. The first few bars sounded good. It doesn’t swing, and if a thing doesn’t swing then it should be pretty. This isn’t. The style sounds very familiar. It’s all saxes—could it be Shep Fields? They could have achieved a much more diversified sound with all saxes. One star.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Lester Is the Master [Allen Eager]." Metronome. January 1948. 34-35.
Themopolae [Tex Benecke]. May 1948
Stan Kenton. Thermopolae (Capitol). Comp. & arr., Bob Graettinger.

This might have been Boyd Raeburn, but later on it had some things that sounded kind of Stan Kentonish. I don’t like that type of thing at all. It’s a little too futuristic for—well, for anybody. A lot of discordant sounds, you’ve got to cock your head to make it fit. Lead alto man sounded good. I can’t give this more than one star.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. From Cottontail to Firebird [Tex Benecke]." Metronome. May 1948. 26-27, 39.
The Peanut Vendor [Boyd Raeburn and Ginnie Powell] June 1948
Stan Kenton. The Peanut Vendor (Capitol). Milton Bernhardt [sic], bone, Bart Varsalona, bass trombone. Arr. Pete Rugolo [sic].

GINNIE: I wouldn’t know who this was if I listened to it fifty times. Dizzy? BOYD: Wait, I’ll tell you…Kenton. Is that Eddie Bert on trombone? Bart Varsalona on bass trombone…GINNIE: He’s got to prove something with every number. BOYD: Oh, that’s a beautiful sound! (trumpet dissonances) GINNIE: No it’s not, if he’s serious about it. I’m afraid he’s very serious about a lot of things I think are very funny. I’m sorry, but I could not enjoy dinner listening to that music. Maybe once a month, after listening to Peggy lee. BOYD: Actually that number’s much better performed in person. It should run about twice as long, and the monotony and continued blast is a wonderful exciting factor. GINIE: And gives you bad indigestion. BOYD: But you don’t listen to it as dinner music! GINNIE: Buy Boyd, he does nothing else but that type of thing. BOYD: No, he doesn’t—it’s like a herd of elephants, That’s my biggest criticism of Stan. He doesn’t run the gamut of moods in music. If he just wants excitement, he does it well, but there’s no contrast. I’ll give it three on the basis of what I know the number can do to you in creating excitement. GNNIE: I give it two.
Feather, Leonard G. “The Blindfold Test. A Little Bpyd Told Me [Boyd Raeburn and Ginnie Powell].” Metronome. June 1948. 14, 19.
Themopolae [Tex Benecke]. May 1948
Stan Kenton. Thermopolae (Capitol). Comp. & arr., Bob Graettinger.

This might have been Boyd Raeburn, but later on it had some things that sounded kind of Stan Kentonish. I don’t like that type of thing at all. It’s a little too futuristic for—well, for anybody. A lot of discordant sounds, you’ve got to cock your head to make it fit. Lead alto man sounded good. I can’t give this more than one star.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. From Cottontail to Firebird [Tex Benecke]." Metronome. May 1948. 26-27, 39.
Monotony & Elegy for Alto [Charlie Parker] August 1948
1. Stan Kenton. Monotony (Capitol). Arr. Pete Rugolo

2. Stan Kenton.
Elegy For Alto (Capitol) Arr. Pete Rugolo

1. I like this. Very weird—marvelous idea. Is it Woody Herman? Stan Kenton? I don’t know what to say about it—it’s such a shock. Give it four stars, definitely.

2. That was some real marvelous alto work. I think I liked that better-than the last record. Four stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. A Bird's-ear View of Music [Charlie Parker]." Metronome. August 1948. 14,21.
Lonely Woman [Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Brown] October 1948
Stan Kenton. Lonely Woman. (Capitol). Comp. Benny Carter; Lyrics by Ray Sonin; arr. by Pete Rugolo; June Christy, vocal.

ELLA: This is Benny Carter’s number, isn’t it? Sure is a crazy number. But this is over-arranged for a vocal. It would have meant more it it had been done in tempo. RAY: Yeah, they’re making a whole—ELLA:—production out of it. But it’s a beautiful tune—Peggy Lee sings it great—she came out to Berg’s when I was working there one night and sang it; Benny Carter was there, and Dave Rose. But I mean, the average person if they wanted to learn this number, there’s so much happening that you can’t tell whether it’s the melody or what. RAY: They could have let her sing it. It sounds like she’s acting, you know? ELLA: They’ve been doing a lot of acting on those records lately; what’s that other one? This is my theme…this is my theme! Two stars for me. RAY: It’s typical Kenton. ELLA: But you don’t get a chance to appreciate the lyrics, he’s featuring the band so much. RAY: I’ll give it the same—two stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Ella and Her Fella [Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Brown]." Metronome. October 1948. 18, 28-18, 29.
Monotony [Benny Goodman] January 1949
Stan Kenton, Monotony (Capitol). Comp. Kenton-Rugolo; Arr. Pete Rugolo.

I’ve never heard that before. It’s very well played…it sounds to me more or less like some kind of music for—er—well—dancing, I guess. Not to dance to, I mean—some kind of, well, some kind of exotic dancing, you know…I don’t think the composition is…er…well, the composition is fair. Would I call it jazz, No, certainly not. Progressive? Gee, I don’t think it is progressive, I don’t know what that word means! I think it’s a fair composition, period. Probably Kenton, isn’t it? Couple of stars. Is that Petey Rugolo’s? In the album? Yeah.

afterthoughts by benny

As far as Kenton’s concerned, I do like some of the things he’s done…in fact, i think one of the first things he did was one of his best. What was it called? Rhapsody something? It had quite a success. Oh yes, Artistry in Rhythm. Swing? no, he doesn’t, but i don’t thing [sic] Kenton wants to swing!
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Ah, Sweet Melody of Bop [Benny Goodman]." Metronome. January 1949. 40-42.
Somnambulism [Charlie Barnet] May 1949
Stan Kenton, Somnambulism (Capitol). Comp. & arr. Ken Hanna.

Obviously Kenton. I've been wondering about Stan—never heard the band too much, but what I have heard I liked pretty well. That doesn’t include this. After hearing this, I can understand why people put the band down. I'll give it one star, and I wouldn’t even give it that except that Safranski is on it.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Charlie's Conception [Charlie Barnet]." Metronome. May 1949. 22, 27.
Bongo Riff [Eddie Condon] August 1949
Stan Kenton, Bongo Riff (Capitol). Arr., Pete Rugolo.

That wouldn't be Krupa, would it? It's pretty weird sounding. Thoughtful of somebody to shade the horns down and let the bongo predominate. For what they're aiming at there, they came as close as I ever heard, but it's strictly a novelty. I'd hate to rely on bongos for regular rhythm. Two stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. It's All Under One Tent [Eddie Condon]." Metronome. August 1949. 18-20.
He Was A Good Man As Good Men Go [Billie Holiday] February 1950
Stan Kenton. He Was A Good Man As Good Men Go (Capitol). June Christy, vocal.

That could be anybody; they all sound alike to me…the girl that used to be with Krupa—Anita—or any of them. I guess the band is Stan Kenton…June Christy? I liked Willow Weep for Me, but I haven’t heard many of their things. This is just fair; the tune, the band and the singing, all fair. Didn’t move me. Two stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Lady Day Has Her Say [Billie Holiday]." Metronome. February 1950. 16, 30.
Mirage [Tadd Dameron] May 1950
Stan Kenton, Mirage, (Capitol). Comp. and arr., Pete Rugolo.

This sounds like Stan Kenton and a Pete Rugolo arrangement. He gets a nice mood and effective use of strings and woodwinds. You’re going into another field here—you can’t judge it as jazz, it’s straight music. I hear touches of Stravinsky…this kind of thing is competing with some of the great minds of modern music, but it does have some warmth in it, and I’ll still give it three stars for the attempt.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Dameron Likes Dixie and Bird [Tadd Dameron]." Metronome. May 1950. 23, 35-23, 36.
Solitaire [Kai Winding] August 1950
Stan Kenton, Solitaire, (Capitol). Comp. Bill Russo; Milt Bernhart, trombone.

That’s Milty playing Solitaire, written by Bill Russo for Stan’s Innovations of 1950 album. It’s a very good composition, a great job of writing…lots of warmth and feeling in the playing too. I am very impressed by what Stan and this hand have been doing, the use of strings and the whole range of musical ideas. Three stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Kai Winding Unwinds." Metronome. August 1950. 16, 32.
Jam-Bo [Joe Bushkin] February 1951
Stan Kenton Orchestra with King Cole. Jam-Bo. (Capitol).

This whole thing sounds like a second ending—right from the start…It starts like a very swinging record, but then you wait for something, and nothing happens…Well orchestrated—I don’t know who the band is, but it still sounds like a 96-bar ending on The Peanut Vendor—Kenton or Machito…The piano is well played, but sounds more like a fill-in than a real solo. Give it two stars for the copyist; he had to do a lot of work.
Feather, Leonard G. “The Blindfold Test. [Joe Bushkin].” Metronome. February 1951. 19.
Art Pepper [Lee Konitz] March 1951
Stan Kenton, Art Pepper, (Capitol). Art Pepper, alto. Arr. Shorty Rogers.

Art Pepper, I presume…he gets a lovely sound; a very fine alto player. But I don’t think he’s had an opportunity to play his best with that band. I guess this is his first feature thing. The arrangement doesn’t seem to mean much; it tries to do Everything—the slow and the fast effect and so forth—but it’s not as overloaded with things done for effect’s sake as most of Kenton’s records. Except for the jazz parts, the strings sound pretty good…I don’t know whose arrangement this would be. On the jazz part the band even swings! Three and a half stars.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Lee Looks Them Over [Lee Konitz]." Metronome. March 1951. 13.
Kenton takes the Blindfold Test, Part 1. July 1950
THE PROBLEM with Stan Kenton was not how to get him to talk, but how to get him to stop. Long, Lean and Loquacious gave me more material on each record than I usually get out of san entire interview.

Fortunately, I preserved the whole thing on a tape recorder, so the following is an accurate, though heavily compressed, transcript of Stan’s reactions to the first five.

These are the records reviewed by Stan Kenton. He was given no information whatever about the records, either before or during the interview.

Part one–Kenton names the problems, suggest some solutions, as he takes the blindfold test.

1. Ralph Burns, Introspection (Mercury). Comp and arr. Burns; Bill Harris, trombone; Herb Steward, tenor.

Trombone is very unsure; there is no positive character to it. The arrangement is very good, but I think the arranger was trying to write modern music with the idea of creating dance music. The musicians are very weak in their projection of the guy’s tones; there is no feel. They tried for excitement near the end of the record but nothing happened again. They were just blowing tones. Recording is very feeble; tenor sax is nothing much. Inasmuch as I’d probably give a little higher rating to anybody who is trying to play progressive music, I would say this is about two stars.

2. Dizzy Gillespie, Carambola (Capitol). Arr. Chico O’Farrill; Dizzy Gillespie, trumpet.

I think this record represents a perfect example of what all of us with big bands have to worry about. Because when you have a large orchestra, you run a great risk of losing the feel you have with a small group. A large band should operate the same way and have the same character to it. But there has to be the freedom prevailing.

This band is bound up with a strictness that spoils its color. There is no real naturalness to the thing. It has a kind of Hollywood sound to it. You know, it sounds like what they would record in motion pictures if they were going to have a Latin American sequence. The record was very lacking in rhythmic assertion. Everybody is just reading – it sounds like the Orchestra at NBC going through an opener. The recording again is very bad. And, of course as I explained before, the danger of big band writing and in the musician’s conception–in getting the sounds across that the arranger wants; again I’m talking about naturalness. To make a big thrill, it has to have a natural sound. It has to take the sound and the feeling of the small band and enhance it. The sounds on this record are closed–it sounds as if they are blowing underneath a bed, or something. It’s not an open sound. Probably the guy that engineered this date was of the old school of engineering. I think this thing should have two starts. Who is this, is it Dizzy?

3. Duke Ellington, Good Woman Blues (Columbia). Al Hibbler, vocal.

I like this very much. I don’t know who it is, but the main thing is it represents jazz up to a certain stage–it’s very honest. Nothing modern or progressive, but the emotional character is very good. We in modern jazz criticize this sort of thing because they are still playing on a three-part chord…so the thing we must do is play from the twelve-tone scale but at the same time have the same emotion that these fellows have. That’s one thing that is stopping the growth of modern jazz. I’d give this a three rating.

4. Benny Goodman, Egg Head (Capitol). Wardell Gray, tenor; Goodman, clarinet.

The only thing that makes me realize that this record wasn’t made ten or fifteen years ago is the tenor saxophone. I don’t know who he is, but he is someone who is trying to play in the vein the fellows feel today. The record is something that would be very good for the high school dance class on a Friday afternoon. It sounds like…is it Benny? It sounds like Benny Goodman, shall we say. The whole thing is very amateurish. There’s just absolutely nothing. I don’t think we should even waste time with this record. I would give it nothing.

5. Billy Eckstine, with Pete Rugolo’s Orchestra. Over The Rainbow. (MGM).

I think rather than talk about this record I’d like to talk about what he record represents. To me the greatest singer of our day–of my time–that includes everyone who sings a song from a child, woman, beast, man or what–I think that Eckstine is by far the greatest we have ever had. But this is a great example of how an artist needs help.

Everyone in America in the music business is so conscious of values. They’re continually trying to make somebody who comes after it into the shoes of the man who went before. Eckstine is something that was entirely in his own idiom, but they are constantly balancing him against men like Sinatra and Bing Crosby. It should not be done. Immediately they want the same type of background. They don’t realize that Eckstine has the chance of lasting for the rest of his life as something great.

There are times when people need help so much - he isn’t as strong in the country as he was, and it just shows you how a career can be engineered so badly. Billy is not Bing Crosby, he is not Frank Sinatra, nor Perry Como; he’s something entirely by himself who should be thought of as that, and not try to make out of him the same thing the other fellows represent. I believe in Billy a great deal, and I somehow think that Billy himself will take the bulls by the horns and straighten the thing out.

The orchestration was by Rugolo. The orchestration is very adequate for what it is. Rugolo is one of the most competent musicians we have today. A very interesting thing about this record is that they wanted Rugolo because they felt he was a great musician…I was at the recording, and everyone told Pete how great it was and how thrilled they were with everything. Finally one month later the talk started seeping out here in New York that they did not like the Rugolo accompaniments for Billy Eckstine because they were too colorful. And I think Pete was holding himself down…I don’t see how he could be any simpler.

More recently, Pete has worked with Billy again, at the Paramount, so I suppose that means he’ll have a record date with Billy again–and six months after it’s over they’ll think it stinks again. For the record, I’d give that about two, I think.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. Stan Stumps for Modern Jazz [Stan Kenton]." Metronome. June 1950: 16, 30.
Kenton takes the Blindfold Test, Part 2. July 1950
The perils of Parker and other aspects of the new jazz discussed by Stan Kenton in part two of Leonard Feather’s blindfold test

THIS MONTH’S blindfold test with Stan Kenton was conducted at the same session as last month’s. You might be interested to compare Stan’s remarks about Bill Harris in record number five below with his comments on the trombonist (who also turned out to be Bill Harris) in last month’s number one record. And now, let Stan speak for himself.

1. Chubby Jackson, Flying the Coop (New Jazz). Comp and arr. Tiny Kahn; Charlie Kennedy, alto; Tony Aless, piano; Kai Winding, J J Johnson, trombone.

Sometimes a record can be so badly recorded that no emotion comes out of it. A record has to have overtones, has to have body, and everything else that makes for musical excitement. They’re trying for excitement, but I think if I had this record I probably would play it about half way through and stop. The alto I liked, and the piano I liked every much. The trombone nothing much happened with–had a laboring feeling. It sounds as though they had a date, came into the studio, rehearsed this a few times, and said “Let’s make it and hope we get a good one.” I have to judge this record from what they are attempting to do. One star.

2. Charlie Parker, Everything Happens To Me from Parker with Strings album (Mercury).

As I said about Eckstine, they have done the same thing now with Charlie Parker. They’ve taken Charlie right clear out of his idiom and put him into another thing–they fit just like milk and vinegar. The violin section is still based upon the radio schmaltzy sound, and they have Charlie Parker sitting in there like a jewel in a lot of mud. Someone talked to Charlie before he made these records and told him, “Now let’s just have a lot of melody. We want some good selling things.” I just don’t think these records are going to help Mercury, Charlie Parker or anyone. I think it was a terrible mistake to make this album. I feel nothing from it and I can only feel the tragedy of releasing it for the people. I give it nothing.

3. Flip Phillips, No noise, part one (Mercury). Flip Phillips, tenor; Machito Orchestra.

I like this record very much. I’ll tell you why I like it and why I dislike it. It has a wonderful naturalness to it. The rhythm flows wonderfully; it has great feeling to it. The band feels the accents; everything is completely natural. It sounds as if this organization has played together for a long while. Now the criticism is just like that for all Afro-Cuban music. The harmonic structure is very weak, and I know that they are just developing. The melodies are very simple–the chords are very simple.

This tenor saxophone player has a good sound to his horn, but his harmonic structure is weak too. He doesn’t create anything fresh melodically. At the end of the record he completely exhausts himself and resorts to a few tricks, and lets the rhythm carry him, which is still flowing wonderfully. The record is very good. I think if I owned this I would play it quite often. I think I would probably give it about three stars.

4. Zutty Singleton, Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight (Capitol).

This is not really good Dixieland. They’ve put too much of a society feeling in there. This is kind of Dixieland in the 1950 days here. This is after they left Chicago and spread out a bit, and some of the fellows have felt a little bit of another kind of music. In other words, the thing is not genuine Dixieland. They’re trying to be a little bit corny with it, but they’re also trying to maintain a good heart. This is Dixieland with a little too much reservation. They’re not really melting into the thing.

I’m clear beyond the stage where I start arguing the merits of progressive jazz against swing and swing against Dixieland. We just have to accept all the different phases and let the thing go. I think Dixieland is the basis for all of our jazz. And these fellows got brave and ran a little out in front, but oops! They got afraid, they had learned a little bit about music, so it was pretty hard for them to be basic and simple like they used to be. There’s not too much real character on the record. I’d say that it’s more inclined to be corny in spots than good Dixieland. Let’s let this one go without rating.

5. Woody Herman, Not Really The Blues (Capitol). Comp and arr. Johnny Mandel not Shorty Rogers as incorrectly listed on some labels); Bill Harris, trombone; Buddy Savitt, tenor. [I think it’s Gene Ammons, Ed Chaplin]

I think the arrangement was played wonderfully. It has a very good sound on it. I’ll say it’s Woody Herman right off the bat. However, I don’t think there is too much in the arrangement. It’s a little bit jumbled. It’s probably one of Shorty’s things…he’ll crown me for this. But I still think that there has never been a band ever that created the rhythmic excitement that the Herman band did. On this record it s still evident. It has the freedom that some of the earlier records you played do not have. This is a big band that has a small band feel, which is wonderful.

I’ve many times wished that we could have created the rhythmic excitement that the Herman band has created. For instance, the other night I heard Northwest Passage on the air again. I hadn’t heard it for a long time, and I swear it s so far superior to anything we have today that we just have to salute it again. I think Bill Harris is still most exciting. There’s nothing to compare with him. His sounds fit with my fantasies completely. The saxophone, I don t know who it was, is very interesting. The colored bands have been dominant rhythmically, but there s never been a white band to compete with Woody Herman s rhythmic excitement. I think I would probably give this about a three.

afterthoughts by stan

Sure, I can think of a couple of records I would have given four stars. One would be Charlie Barnet playing that thing of Manny Albam’s, Pan Americana. And the George Handy side out of that great Jazz Scene album, The Bloos. In modem and progressive jazz and bebop there is such an urge today for new harmonic sounds–everyone is in the throes of creating new harmonic excitement-that the music has suffered greatly by the lack of rhythmic assertion and the lack of real emotional character. Charlie Parker is about the only example today of someone who has progressed harmonically while at the same time maintaining a jazz character. The young jazz players should listen to Charlie not just for the technical and harmonic part of his creativeness–but to see how honest and free his projection is.

That is what’s wrong both in the jazz world and in the contemporary world of the classics. I criticize Lennie Tristano a I little bit for this too. You can criticize Tristano for the same thing for which you can criticize Schonberg. Music is created because of the people and for the people. And there’s too much of an attitude today that the masses are peasants, and there’s too much of a feeling of wanting to shut yourself away in an ivory tower, and create, because you were born a hundred years too far ahead. And it’s not possible, because music and art can only be created because of the emotions of the people. A musician has to be with the people. Take all the people out of the world, and would the world mean anything to anyone, in spite of all the wealth? I don’t want any part of the world without the people in it! This has been said many times, and it’s a very simple thing–but it’s my philosophy.
Leonard G Feather. "The Blindfold Test. II [Stan Kenton]." Metronome. July 1950: 16, 23.