It is well known that Stan Kenton did not want a ghost band. In his will he plainly states that.
"It is my wish that after my death the 'Stan Kenton Orchestra' be disbanded. I have not authorized anyone to use my name in connection with an orchestra, and I direct my Executors to take any necessary action to prevent such use of my name."
Executed on January 3, 1978, at Los Angeles, California.
Virtually everyone who had the good fortune to know Kenton was aware of these desires. He spoke of them often. He told me. He told his sidemen.
Kenton did not leave any wiggle room. He did not say that if an alumni comes along one day who wants to use his name in a band name, that an executor or an heir had the right to okay that action. In fact, the heirs, his children, are not given any power in that matter whatsoever.
Unfortunately, his two executors (Audree Coke, Kenton’s wife-like partner, and a lawyer) did not take the will seriously, nor did they ensure its intentions were carried out after their deaths.
There is a band called The Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra that tours from time to time. It has a few alumni amongst its members. Kenton said not use his name. This band does. So that is a pretty clear violation of the maestro’s stated desire.
So how is the Kenton legacy to continue? Is it to die, forgotten to history? How is it best celebrated?
I think the people who best serve his legacy are the ones who progress the music in new ways. Not bands who play Kenton repertoire, not ones who use his name to book a band. But those true artists who take the things Kenton did and move them to the next level UNDER THEIR OWN NAME.
Kenton believed in Progressive Music. In the almost four decades since his passing, music has evolved. He has been dead almost as long as he led a band. When one thinks of the vast differences between “Harlem Folk Dance” (Kenton, 1942) and “The Tattooed Lady (Alan Yankee, 1976) it is impossible for anyone to second guess what the Kenton sound of 2018 might be. To do so is foolhardy. What is absolutely sure is that it would not sound like “Malaga” or “Here’s That Rainy Day.” Kenton did not stand still.
To me, some of the big bands that celebrated and progressed the Kenton Legacy are: The Bill Holman Big Band, the Don Ellis Band, Bob Curnow Big Band, John Daversa’s Progressive Big Band, the Mike Vax Jazz Orchestra, the Maynard Ferguson Band, Bill Russo’s various bands, Pete Rugolo and His Orchestra. This is a short list. There are others.
And there are the numerous sidemen who carried forth the legacy in their post-Kenton careers, including Kai Winding, Conte Candoli, Frank Rosolino, Lennie Niehaus, Gabe Baltazar, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Tim Hagans, Peter Erskine…the list goes on and on.
The legacy off Stan Kenton has nothing to do with his name. It has to do with music moving forward. It matters not that his name is forgotten. What matters is that jazz progresses.