All Things Kenton Blog

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.
My Image

Bob Curnow and Stan Kenton look on. Bassist Mike Ross can also be seen as I conduct the Kenton band on 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.