Festival of Modern American Jazz

Kenton fan Mike Hodges just made me aware of Sam Noto’s website, along with a great page there on the famous 1954 Stan Kenton Festival of Modern American Jazz tour.

Sam Noto, of course, was lead trumpet for the Kenton band in the mid 1950s, not to mention stints with Count Basie, Louis Bellson, and Rob McConnell.

This fantastic tour package included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Errol Garner Trio, Lee Konitz, June Christy, and Candido, along with, of course, the Stan Kenton Orchestra. The entourage performed 24 concerts in 33 days, starting in Texas and ending up in Los Angeles, with stops in Atlanta, Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit, Toronto and Seattle in between.

There were several versions of the Festival of Modern American Jazz. Other tours featured Art Tatum, Charlie Ventura, Johnny Smith, Stan Getz, Slim Gaillard, and always the Kenton crew.

Check out Sam’s page and read about this historic tour, including a YouTube link to a recoding from that tour. And if you find yourself in the Toronto or Buffalo areaa, go hear him play.



Remembering the past

During the summer of 1974, just a few months after my high school graduation, I once again attended the Stan Kenton Clinic held at Towson State College, Maryland, for a week of dreams coming true.

I lived for these summer adventures, a week in a college dorm surrounded by musicians who loved this music as much as I did. And a Kenton concert every night.

I took arranging lessons from Willie Maiden, Hank Levy, Ken Hanna, and Kenton himself. There were bass lessons, and long dialogue-filled strolls, with John Worster.

But the highlight was when I walked in front of the Kenton band and passed out my latest composition for them to play. The sheer force of the brass and saxes, supported by thunderous cymbals, was like a drug, leaving me feeling intoxicated afterwards.

The Baltimore Sun had a reporter checking out the music-making, and apparently he took notice of me. Many years later I discovered this article. I’ll never forget those intense and rewarding summers at Towson State, and the many musicians that I encountered there who changed and shaped my life.

Bob Curnow and Stan Kenton look on. Bassist Mike Ross can also be seen as I hear my latest composition.

Baltimore Sun
26 July 1974

Kenton says big band thrives
By James D. Dilts

Periodically, some enterprising reporter discovers that the big bands are back.

Really they have never been away, although they do hibernate occasionally and they suffered a major eclipse in the 1960’s from the rock groups.

But the established ones have managed to survive and sometimes they turn up in surprising new forms.

“People always get bent out of shape when you start talking about bands,” Stan Kenton said yesterday. “We’ve never done better.”

The Kenton band today is completing a week-long “clinic” at Towson State where 207 high school and college students and 24 teachers have been taking a concentrated course in music-making.

Mr. Kenton was one of the first leaders to become involved in band clinics and in recent years has been able to keep his 19-piece orchestra on the road 50 weeks a year. In fact, the band is still playing one-nighters but the stops, aboard a bus called “Nowhere” now are at schools rather than night clubs.

A concert is usually involved, for which the band gets from $2,500 to $3,000. The remainder of the pay for the musicians and arrangers comes from the students clinics tuition: $122.50 for the students at Towson and $92.50 for teachers.

Eric L. Henry, 20, a Carlisle (Pa.) college student and music major, thought it was worth every penny. “I have a hard time putting it into words,” he said yesterday. “It’s just been a tremendous experience.”

Mr. Henry has been attending classes in music theory, playing in a rehearsal band, getting an hour of improvisation practice and then playing in a techniques band every afternoon. “Then I go back to the room and pass out,” he said.

I was a little uncertain about music until I came here,” said David J. Holmes, 19, a bass player who was an accounting major at the University of Scranton. He is transferring to Towson State in the fall, he said, to take up music.

Established arranger

The students at the Towson clinic this year come from as far west as Montana and as far south as Florida. The clinic arrangers divide them into bands according to talent, said Ken Hanna, a Baltimorean who has been arranging for Kenton for the past 30 years. (Lou Marini, an ex-arranger and saxophonist for Blood, Sweat and Tears is also participating.)

“I’m lucky to have a lot of Levy’s kids,” Mr. Hanna said. “They’re playing fools.”

Hank Levy is the leader of the Towson State Jazz Ensemble, and an established big band arranger. Several of the scores his band performed at the opening concert Saturday night at Towson State went promptly into the Kenton book.

“They said 4,000 to 6,000 people attended the concert,” Mr. Levy said. “It was beautiful—just like the old days.”

At Towson’s new Fine Arts Building yesterday, the Kenton band, whose youthful members are indistinguishable from their charges, were playing the scores that the students had written.

“Stan tells them to play it just like they wrote it,” explained Mr. Levy. “Mistakes and all.”

The scores ranged from bouncy 1930’s swing-style arrangements submitted by some of the older teachers to the modern and more difficult charts prepared by the young students.

The format was serious but relaxed. Only once was Mr. Kenton, a large man with an angular face and a stentorian voice, required to keep order. “Hey,” he shouted at some malingering bandsmen, who quickly snapped to.

One of the students who conducted the Kenton band’s playing of his composition was Terry Vosbein, a 17-year-old high school student from Atlanta, who was wearing a T-shirt carrying the message “Hell, yea,” on the back.

On the top of his music case was a poster announcing that “Big Bands Are Back.”

“It gives you a feeling of power,” said the Vosbein youth when he climbed down off the stage. “You wave your arm and they play.”

Did he really believe the big bands were back?

“Hell, yea,” he said.

RIP Edward Chaplin

I have just learned of the recent passing of Kenton scholar and friend, Ed Chaplin.

I “met” Ed online, via email and the Yahoo group, Kentonia. We exchanged a lot of information and ideas. In particular, I was continually awed by his knowledge of the 1950s band. It was his keen ear and detailed research that allowed for the correct identification of so many of the sidemen and soloists on the Concert in Miniature broadcasts.

Michael Sparke put it accurately when he wrote that “Ed’s knowledge and appreciation of ‘swinging Stan’ in the 1950s was second to none.”

I got to meet Ed face to face one summer when I was living in Paris. I took the train to London and met him at the station. He brought me to his home where his wife fixed us a delightful lunch. We then went to Michael Sparke’s house, and spent the rest of day taking a bath in All Things Kenton.

His contributions to the Kenton knowledge-base are immeasurable. He was a insightful man with a deep love for the music of Stan Kenton. He was a kind man. He will be missed.

Rare Kenton recording uncovered.

I was recently looking around on E-Bay and found someone offering a cassette of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, playing a live set at Disneyland on 1 June 1968. This is such an undocumented band that I was curious. I paid the ten bucks the seller was asking and anxiously awaited the arrival. Adding to the general excitement of this find, was the discovery of Tom Senff’s arrangement of “Up, Up and Away,” previously unrecorded.

The tracks are as follows:
1) My Foolish Heart (arr. Dee Barton)
2) Fitz (Gene Roland)
3) Up, Up and Away (arr. by Tom Senff)
4) Woman (Dee Barton)
5) Sunny (arr. Stan Kenton)
6) Artistry in Rhythm (Stan Kenton)
7) The Singing Oyster (Dee Barton)
8) Granada (arr. Bill Holman)

Possible personnel (suggested by Anthony J. Agostinelli)

Ray Reed, alto; Mike Altschul, Bob Crosby, tenor; Bill Fritz, Earl Dumler (+bs-sax), bari

Mike Price, Jay Daversa, Jim Kartchner, Carl Leach, John Madrid, trumpet

Dick Shearer, Tom Whittaker, Shelley Denny, Joe Randazzo (b-tb), Bob Goodwin (b-tb, tuba), trombone

Stan Kenton, piano; John Smith, bass; Dee Barton, drums; Efrain Logreira, percussion