Below is the text from the 44-page booklet enclosed with the original four LP set.
In every time there are men whose special role it is to give expression to the spirit of their day, They become its symbols, each in his own field of art.
Stan Kenton is such a man, the symbol of a vibrant world that finds its voice today in jazz. His story is, in many ways, the story of modem jazz, and this musical era is his.
Much of the era is revealed in a portrait of the man, where he came from, what he felt...
Deep shadows settled through the old, broad-eaved, California house even during the brilliant daylight hours. In the living room the little boy stood with his bare feet fitted precisely on one small design of the worn rug. He pushed the sweeper over the carpet. Without moving that was the key to the game—he guided the sweeper slowly back and forth, outlining a spokelike pattern. He was the hub.
Somehow, standing in the middle bf the darkened room, the little boy felt insulated, poised and cool, the sibilance of the sweeper swishing a long, controllable rhythm over the rug. Whatever the drowsy purpose that made him play his game, the sound was soothing, satisfying. He would stand there brushing the sweeper back and forth until—it seemed to him—he would suddenly awaken and be bored with the game.
Sometimes the voice of his handsome mother would call like a gentle alarm through the house, “Stanley, Stanley!” His heart would beat faster. He could hear the strong sound of her step. It always seemed that her call was around the corner, ahead of her.
“Stanley, you stay on the back porch with Beulah and Mae-Mae while I run to the store.”
Mrs. Kenton watched as he left the room to join his sisters.
He was tall for his six years—much too tall, possibly, for his young strength. Stanley was a good child. He always tried so hard to please. Sometimes Mrs. Kenton was vaguely disturbed about him. His ungainliness made him an easy target for other children. He had an air of melancholy. He seemed so old at times.
There was a kind of selflessness about him that touched her. So often her young son greeted her as if she were a dear friend returned after many yea rs. But of these adult traits Mrs. Kenton was unconsciously proud. True, they were a burden for a child. In time, she was certain, his world would catch up and the qualities would be appropriate.
There was another side to him which, related to his adult temper, was strangely out of key. He could be hysterically childish. Around other children he cried too readily, laughed too easily. She would hear the high pitched, insistent laughter from outside. She could feel the nervousness in it, a nervousness that kept him hopping up and down, moving, moving, moving…
Maybe they should have stayed in one place. Maybe, Mrs. Kenton thought, Stanley would calm down. There had been so many homes: in Kansas, in Colorado, in California. Mr. Kenton had held so many jobs, tried so many different kinds of work. Maybe here…
It was funny what a child remembered. With all that moving, he recalled the streets. Even now, at the age of seven, Stanley could ride the streetcar and in one or two trips would know the names of all the cross streets for twenty blocks from his home. And he never seemed to forget them.
The chain-driven trucks, electrics, the steel-rimmed wheels of the wagons, and the clopping, hard-shod hooves, the clanging trolleys could still (in 1919) be heard against the increasing pulse of exhaust noises.
This generation of children was not yet completely wheel-borne. Tricycles, wagons, Irish Mails were luxuries. The boys made scooters out of discarded roller skates, a short length of two-by-four, and a box. Stanley had one. He built it himself. With one bare foot on the two-by-four he would push the scooter over the gritty cement sidewalks. Stanley had no apparent sense of “mineness.” Whatever he owned he would share readily with his sisters or his friends-to a point where others easily imposed on him.
Across the street from the Kentons lived the Ames family. Young Freddie was Stanley’s age. He might have been a far greater source of trouble to Stanley but for little Beulah Kenton. Aggressive but practical, Freddie insisted he was going to marry Beulah. He was not the only seven-year-old on the block so moved by Beulah’s charms. To keep an open door at the Kentons, Freddie maintained a happy relationship with Beulah’s brother.
But even love was not enough, at times, to drive him from the temptation of hazing Stanley. Jealous of Stanley’s scooter, Freddie started a campaign. From the first word Stanley found the derision unbearable. Hurt and crying, he chased after his tormentor. His long thin arms flailing wildly, Stanley raged over Freddie until Freddie retreated home. Unconscious of everything but his own fury, Stanley didn’t even know that Freddie, brought to the edge of tears, slammed the door of his house before anyone could see him crying.
So often it was like that. The others always seemed to have a house in which to hide. But Stanley was exposed. His feelings, to him, were naked and apparent. Sometimes the clues were obvious and Stanley for a moment would understand how much the others obscured: like Freddie with Beulah. They would all go to the movies, and when the upright piano momentarily stopped ringing its accompaniment to the deeds of the impassive Mr. William S. Hart, Stanley would see that Freddie had slipped a protective arm around Beulah. The sight brought spasms of giggling from Stanley. If the laughter annoyed Freddie to moving away from Beulah, the sound within annoyed Stanley no less.
However tortured at times the idyll of childhood, Stanley often found himself completely involved in the powerful world that unfolded around him. Petey Moser’s dad worked in the railroad yards. Sometimes Stanley would go with Petey to take Mr. Moser his lunch. The spectacle of power, movement, and sound awed Stanley. He and Petey would squat by the hour near the big fire of burning ties, watching.
Other times he would visit the car barns to look at the clattering city trolleys ronkling slowly along the web of rails.
At the park Stanley and his friends could pick up an occasional coin from tennis players who drove balls over the fence and into the surrounding palm trees.
There were neighborhood war games. Beulah was the nurse. Her ministrations were a high prize, and serious “wounds” earned prolonged treatment. While Freddie, Petey, and the others would insist that they suffered mortal damage, Stanley’s “injuries” were always judged to be so slight that he was immediately hustled back into battle.
Sometimes Stanley would return home to find his father, a handsome Lincolnesque man, in high good spirits. Then home would sing. The children squealed with delight as he romped with them.
Mr. Kenton was never unpleasant to Stanley. He was rarely unpleasant to anyone. A dreamer, Mr. Kenton went from project to project, job to job. As his hopes diminished in each venture he became progressively more brooding.
Stanley was vaguely disturbed by his father. He never seemed able to please him fully. While his mother was almost too quick to approve his smallest accomplishment, Mr. Kenton was slow to notice anything at all that Stanley did.
As he grew older the restiveness in Stanley became Jess apparent. He was plagued by minor illnesses which kept him inactive. But he didn’t mind. Sickness excused him from athletics, which had become an increasingly important diversion among his young friends. They were particularly scornful of Stanley’s complete ineptitude. (His size should have made him a· useful tackle, center, or first baseman.)
He had difficulty with his tonsils. One evening the doctor came to the Kenton house, stretched Stanley out on the dining room table, and performed the tonsillectomy. Stanley could hear his own heart beating, the careful footsteps and the muffled voices of his family. He was apprehensive without being truly frightened. He did harbor a slight hope that, with his tonsils gone, he might suddenly become an effective athlete.
When he was ten, the Kentons moved to another Los Angeles suburb, Huntington Park. While Stanley was very good about his chores, took care of Beulah and Mae-Mae better than an adult, he didn’t make friends easily. Now and again Mrs. Kenton would see him sitting by himself tooting on one of those kazoos that came free with the cans of Karo Syrup.
Though the Kentons were just scraping by, Stan’s mother was able to save enough money for an old upright piano. It seemed to her that the boy needed some kind of an interest. If his playing on the kazoo had given her any idea that he had a musical genius, Mrs. Kenton was quickly disappointed. She tried with her patient, unyielding sense of detail, to teach him piano. For six months, politely, passively, he resisted. But, left alone, Stanley would pick out songs like Over There and Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.
The Kentons were visited by relatives from Portland—two young men, both of whom played. Their music had a full, strong sound, an exciting beat. They were the first men Stanley had ever seen playing piano.
During the two years the family lived in Huntington Park, Stanley’s interest in music grew more and more serious. Mr. Kenton couldn’t stand the sound of practicing, so the upright was moved into Stanley’s room. He practiced continuously. For the greater part of those two years Mrs. Kenton tried to help Stanley. She would arrange for professional instruction but he had an aggressive impatience with the spinsterish teachers to whom he was sent. After a few lessons he would leave.
When Stanley was twelve, the Kentons moved again—this time to Bell, California. The upright went along, but it remained in Stanley’s room. Though it was now his consuming interest, Stanley kept the fact that he played.secret from his schoolmates as long as possible. Whenever the Kentons had company, young Stanley would duck out of the house quickly and quietly for fear that he would be called upon to perform.
Passing a piano store in Bell, Mrs. Kenton noticed a sign advertising lessons given at reasonable rates by a Mr. Frank Hurst. On Saturday she took Stanley to meet the teacher. At Hurst’s request Stanley played. It was a tense, halting performance.
Frank Hurst felt a kind sympathy for the overgrown, shy boy. Once a week Hurst drove in his ancient car to the Kenton home. Beulah and Mae-Mae would meet him at the front door and silently lead him to Stanley’s room. During the lessons the two little girls sat on the bed, never speaking unless spoken to.
It always seemed to Hurst that Stanley was about to give up his music. The boy demanded so much of himself, was so quick to despair when he fell short of the impossible goals he set for himself. As the months passed Hurst became accustomed to his pupil’s attitude.
Underneath Stanley’s shyness and his writhing before his own imperfections, Hurst began to see the hunger and tenacity in his ungainly novice.
Hurst had often seen musicians forcing themselves toward a goal they didn’t have the talent to reach. He tried to take the edge off Stanley’s ambition by telling him about the grind, the lack of opportunities, the bitter disappointments, the rottenness, the competition.
To Hurst it was something of a mystery. Suddenly Stanley was remarkably improved. There was no particular moment to which he could trace the change. Perhaps it was the complete absorption. Stanley thought nothing but music. He would fall asleep with the earphones of his crystal set repeating the program of some little dance band. Perhaps, Frank Hurst thought, it was always there, obscured by the tension, the conflicts, the impatience of the boy. Whatever caused the change, Hurst realized that, no matter how imperfectly, Stanley was no longer laboring under the demands placed upon him by the piano. It had begun to be a means by which Stanley could express himself.
Mr. Kenton thought Stanley should be considering the kind of job that offered hard rock security: something like civil service. Nevertheless he was impressed with the progress of his son. When he had friends in, Mr. Kenton would have Stanley play So Beats My Heart for You straight, then say “Now jazz it up, son.” The performance didn’t always bring the enthusiastic response the immediate family expected. There was Uncle John Kenton. He listened to Stanley. “All right,” John said sharply to Mrs. Kenton. “He plays the piano, but does he have any money in the bank?”
Though he could only play in three keys Stanley began to earn a few dollars here and there. He wasn’t the pianist with the high school orchestra. That chair fell to a young lady of a more classical training and nature. The school music supervisor thought Stanley had a definite talent, but she had no patience with the kind of music in which he was interested. Her point of view annoyed him, but he stuck with the orchestra, trying a number of instruments, including the banjo. With increasing frequency he appeared as an on-stage soloist at school assemblies. If the faculty looked down their noses at jazz, the enthusiasm of Stanley’s schoolmates demonstrated they were riding with him.
Stanley had become a figure to his classmates. His local fame did not in any way solve his shyness. He was constantly asked to parties, but he was not at ease.
It was a question, one he continually asked himself, whether people really liked him or whether he was just being invited along so that he would play piano. Stanley was more comfortable in the balcony of the Mason Theatre watching the shows. To any of a few patient companions—none of whom shared his enthusiasm—Stanley would give a detailed account of how he would stage the production.
Three other high school sophomores joined Stanley to form the Belltones, Bell High’s first jazz organization. They played for dances in the gym, at parties for friends, but they didn’t consider themselves a professional group -until they were booked at a local miniature golf course. The proprietor had read about a Hollywood operator who increased the green fees threefold by employing a band on the premises. The competition among miniature golf courses in California was very keen. Stanley’s group was hired. He and the sidemen, in assorted shades and shapes of blue serge, were setting up when they heard a blast from a links diagonally across the street. The competition had booked a negro band whose leader, a wild trumpet man in a white tux, blasted from eight until twelve. During those long four hours the proprietor kept running back and forth shouting at Stan ‘s group, “Louder, louder! For God’s sake, play louder!”
Miniature golfers who might be attracted by music followed the lure of the trumpet. At the end of the evening the owner of Stan’s course flatly refused to pay, claiming the group had misrepresented itself, that it had driven customers away. Young Stanley and his friends had no recourse. They were able to stuff a few golf clubs down their pants legs. And that was their pay for the evening’s work.
Frank Hurst had moved to Pasadena, but he continued to drive over to Bell to give Stanley lessons. It had been more than three years since Stanley had walked into the piano store behind his mother. In that time Frank and his pupil had built a tentative kind of friendship rewarding to both. Stanley was not particularly at home with his contemporaries. Intellectually, socially, he seemed older than they were, and yet, confronted by their lusty, emotional grasp· on what was growing within them, Stanley felt young and innocent. Adults with banked or abated passions were more comfortable companions.
Stanley would listen sympathetically to Frank Hurst’s problems. He had no solutions to offer, but they didn’t seem to be what Frank was looking for particularly. Stanley was flattered by the confidence.
There was considerable sophisticated advice that Frank in turn could give Stanley. Frank had been around. When called upon he knew how to be inconspicuous—how to dress the part, talk it, act it. Knowing such things gave Stanley a sense of control, insulation.
When Stanley was in his junior year at high school his income was equal to Frank’s.
One evening after a lesson Stanley was working at the piano. Frank had been gone about five minutes. Stanley heard the horn of Frank’s old car. He went to the door, saw Frank had returned and was waving at him to come out.
“C’mere,” Frank shouted, “wanna talk to you.”
In the car, Frank began. “This’s been on my mind for maybe a month…You’re spinnin’ your wheels with me, Stanley. You got a lot of things goin’ for you. You need somebody who knows a lot more than me. Maybe a real good arranger. I don’t know. I just know I’m not doin’ you any good.”
Stanley looked at his hands.
“Stanley, you know it’s true. You gotta learn, so you go to somebody who knows! What are you gonna do—stick with your ignorant friends?”
In the months that followed Stanley saw Frank less and less frequently. He began studying with arrangers, and he listened. Records were the line of communication among musicians. There was a piano man named Earl Hines. The way he played had a sound: full, warm, and strong. That was the way it should be—nearly like that—big and embracing.
The Majestic Building, in downtown Los Angeles, was one of the local temples of music and vaudeville. Here Stanley studied arranging with Tony Arreta, a character who played a lot of piano. How much he learned from Tony was difficult to determine. The glibness, the sharp clothes, the ceaseless action in the studio overwhelmed Stanley.
Here was a world apart, though not one he would have chosen necessarily. Whatever the anxieties, whatever the distasteful situations he had to face, Stan knew he had committed himself to a direction. If he wanted to be heard it would have to be through music. To give it up would be to seek obscurity willfully—not that being lost and nameless forever did not often occur to him.
He played in a downtown hamburger joint: fifty cents a night, burgers and tips. He was constantly plagued by the fear that he would be asked to play something he didn’t know.
Stan’s interest in school waned rapidly. His impatience with authority became increasingly apparent. Scholastically his last year at Bell he did poorly. He tried to convince his family that he should quit and devote himself entirely to music. But his grades had been consistently good, and when, much to his surprise, he was elected president of the senior class, Mr. and Mrs. Kenton would not hear of his leaving.
While he grew apart from his schoolmates (he once saved enough money to buy a car, and bought a grand piano instead) Stan began to meet more frequently with young men of his own age who had similar musical interests. There was Harry from Boyle Heights. He played guitar, arranged a little. Harry was aggressive, positive, and Stan was in awe of his self-containment. When they played together Stan looked to Harry for approval.
Leaving the job at the hamburger joint, Stan, Dan Hurst (sax), and Ed Duckworth (banjo) found a steady Saturday night spot at the Chicken House in East Los Angeles. They split $5.00 three ways. After hours the trio would get a chicken dinner free. With tips they each averaged four to five dollars for the night. On the way home they would stop at a place called The Brown Mug to play the juke box.
Transportation was always a problem. None of the boys had a car of his own. It was a group expectation that one of them would get lucky with his family. Stan was a steady contributor. His father had a Model-T Touring. The car was dependable, but the tires were unstable.
On Stan’s first formal booking, a De Molay dance, he and Dan Hurst climbed into the Kenton “T.” One of the novel features of the car was the steering ratio. It was necessary to make two full turns of the wheel before anything happened at all. The two young men were happily kidding each other about their tuxes. Suddenly a car appeared out of a private drive. Stan lashed the wheel around, crashed into a post. Dan went over the windshield into a picket fence. How Stan got out he never knew. It couldn’t have been more than a minute later when he recovered consciousness. He was lying in the road, music strewn all over. The steaming Ford was locked to the post and Dan was picking himself up. Torn and dirty, they gathered up the music, walked the rest of the way to the dance.
High school ended with a piano solo. As president of the class Stanley was called upon to make a speech at the junior-senior banquet. He spoke rather well—particularly under the circumstances: he had a date with a girl who had been his preferred, if not his steady, companion during his senior year. In the press of arrangements for the banquet and for the dance job he had to play afterwards, Stan had forgotten to pick up the girl. She came by herself, fifteen minutes late, and took her place beside Stan. Following his speech Stan played the piano and then hurried off to the dance job. He had to leave his girl. Her father wouldn’t let her attend a dance with a musician.
It was a quiet afternoon. The summer breeze, bland and sweet, touched the curtains softly. Stan, sitting astraddle the bench, leaned against the piano. His fingers pressed the keys: a long beat against the tension of the sostenuto pedal. He was aware of neither his own reflexive movement nor the dampened, melancholy sound.
In the quiet loneliness, he sometimes felt this strong, deep peace: an arrangement in certainty. Often, it seemed to him, he heard, saw, felt too much. The instrument of his own sensitivity recorded too much: the noise, the voices and their revealing overtones, the light on the concrete and glass—the awareness of them and the rushing tensions inside. It seemed as if a complex net of circuits within him was overwhelmed with the impulses it recorded.
The phone rang. A young voice asked for Stan. It was a trumpet player named Al Sandstrom. There was a job in San Diego. Art and Jack Flack needed a piano man. It would be a job away from home—Stan’s first.
The salary was thirty a week. Out of this sum the sidemen covered their own expenses. Stan agreed to meet Al at the bus station in the morning.
The six piece outfit had been booked into the Red Garter Cafe, a walk-down speakeasy. The Flacks were xylophonists who had formed the group when the vaudeville theatres folded so quickly that there was no longer any place to play their act. Musically they didn’t expect too much of Stan. Neither did the audience. For what the Flacks needed, Stan at eighteen was more than adequate. Whitey Dunham and Al Sandstrom worked with him filling out his repertoire of “standards”: Nobody’s Sweetheart Now, St. Louis Blues, all the others representing the bulk of requests—the songs which gradually became part of the fabric of the sideman’s life—theme music for joints, for the uninhibited, for the remembered laughter, for the over-inhabited loneliness.
There was no one in the group with whom Stan had any real rapport. Somewhere in the growth of expression the man who becomes an entertainer takes one path and the musician another. The aggressiveness it took to command an audience personally was at that time beyond Stan’s grasp. Possibly to the Flacks Stan seemed distant, lost, unsecured—like many musicians who sought to command an instrument.
As the weeks passed, Stan grew lonelier, more and more restive. He felt the need of home. Sometimes he was certain that something had gone wrong there. Finally, after a month and a half, the compulsion to return was too strong. It seemed to him that everything would be all right if only he were back home.
His homecoming was something of a triumph, but in the plodding, uneventful life with his family he saw almost immediately how he had abandoned himself to his anxieties. Stan’s father seemed to know it, too. The studied patience of his mother was a kind of a reproach. How often she had seen the spent zeal, the unfinished labor and overinflated hopes in a new project, new ideas.
He would finish what he had begun. That was a promise. Completion would be a goal in itself. The fears, the pain, the pull of home would not keep him from finishing whatever he began—that was a promise to himself and a hard one to keep.
Among Stan’s friends was a trumpet man named Jimmy Briggs. He had a spontaneous, inventive talent so much a part of him, so natural, that Briggs himself never felt the need to explain it. He couldn’t have, had he wanted. To Stan, Brigg’s talent was a little frightening. Jimmy didn’t have to dig- his feeling and what he played were the same. He enjoyed the luxury of not having to think ahead. And even at the age of eighteen, the trumpet man had the same capacity for abandon in living that he had in playing.
Stan and Jimmy had a job in downtown Los Angeles. Rather than go home for dinner and then come back downtown, Stan went to the old house where Jimmy lived with his mother and sister. The place was dirty, hung with unmoved, sweating odors. Jimmy’s mother was, compared to Stan’s, a very old woman. She had an ancient hat pinned on her head. She and Jimmy started to argue as soon as the two boys entered. And she never stopped talking. After the job, Stan returned with Jimmy, slept overnight on the couch. He woke early the next morning, Mrs. Briggs was padding around the kitchen mumbling. She still wore her hat pinned firmly on her head.
Jimmy came into the room. He was dressed, ready to go. “C’mon; let’s get out of here.”
The jobbing around Los Angeles was slow. Along with Jimmy, Stan had a chance to play Las Vegas with a three-pjece combo organized by Homer Kidwell. The Nevada town was at that time a hustling gambling spot with a local reputation. Down the highway the government had thrown up Boulder City to accommodate the workers and families of those who were building the dam. When the payroll hit Boulder City every two weeks, Las Vegas, uninhibited by federal restrictions, rocked. The brush shacks bulged with the ready laborers. All club employees collected their checks each night. (Musicians $5 the man). Nobody believed it would last very long.
Stan stayed at the Dakota Hotel. Considering the pyramid tents so many lived in, his own conditions were not too bad. He shared a room with two other musicians. It was a little difficult, he found, getting used to the roofless bathroom, the blanket roll kind of existence that everyone seemed to enjoy.
At first the brash, frantic insensitiveness of the people disturbed him: the forced humor; the insistent, phony heartiness. They jostled, shouted, laughed, and fell, drunk, into the bandstand. They bragged about their winnings and wailed, doting over their exaggerated losses. Finally Stan saw so much of it he ceased to be repelled. The gross exuberance, to those involved, seemed harmless, temporary and fitting.
Stan tried it all. Getting drunk was getting lost—loosening the hold on his awareness of self—he made too much noise, laughed too loud. (He could hear himself laughing in the mists.) The next day he was always depressed, out of tune. There was a plane which allowed a freedom from tension, a feeling of exhilaration. But who could always drink to one particular level? His interest in drinking quickly waned. Experiences in which he lost his awareness always proved costly to him.
Gambling held no fascination. It all seemed so cut and dried. If the number came up—that was it. What could anyone do about it?
Itinerant musicians wandered in and out of Vegas continuously. Stan met them all. After two months there he was a fixture. He heard the names of the towns, the joints in K.C., Chicago, New Orleans. With a young drummer named Chet Dean, Stan listened to the big talk. Compared to what he observed in Vegas every day, musicians at least had an anchor—something to follow, something in which to believe.
Chet was a highly enthusiastic young man. He and Stan chewed over music. They listened to Bix, Louis, Earl Hines—all the jazz they could find on records. Chet seemed to be searching desperately for something. He was “sent” too easily. He never seemed to be able to focus his interest long enough to discipline himself. His weakness disturbed Stan.
During his stay in Vegas, Stan contributed to the family every week. There were moments when he felt a pull to return home but the lean times kept him away. The dependency on home ties diminished. Vegas itself was beginning to pall. To Stan the conversation , the music, the people, began repeating themselves, He wanted to break off, move on to new beginnings.
On his way through Phoenix, Al Sandstrom had played with a territory band led by Francis Gilbert. Just before Al quit he told Gilbert there was a great piano man, Stan Kenton, in Vegas, should he ever need one. After he had been in Vegas four months Stan had a call from Gilbert. The offer was $40 a week. Stan accepted. It was late in July when Stan arrived in Phoenix. He took an immediate dislike to the town—and particularly the surrounding countryside. But in the year he stayed with Gilbert, Stan found the semi-desert country had a strong fascination for him. He would drive miles out of Phoenix, turn off the highway to some isolated spot, and sit there in the hot stillness, jotting music in a notebook or, half-dreaming, feel the solace of the brilliant, uninterrupted solitude.
The Gilbert band roamed Arizona playing any kind of event that paid the freight. There was nothing in the demands of the music that taxed Stan. It was comfortable.
One of the sidemen, Ken Walton, was a new type for Stan. He was a college man, well-educated. He was cynical, hypercritical and talented. Somehow he had bogged down. Stan couldn’t figure out why—the guy knew so much. He challenged every assumption, every conclusion. Mostly Stan listened. He began to question his own idols. He learned a healthy kind of skepticism. Walton was a reminder to Stan that he should not always be satisfied working the territory out of Phoenix.
The opposing tensions had, for the time, subsided. He was more generally content than he could ever remember being. Life was easy, pleasant. But there was a strain of guilt. He felt he was vegetating —not reaching out and growing. After a year of traveling the roads of Arizona in busses and limousines, it seemed to him that he was not at all the same person as the boy who had left Los Angeles for Las Vegas.
Stan returned home. It was different now. He felt an adult distance from his family. He had been a breadwinner, had lived on his own for more than a year. As he grew older his ungainliness disappeared. His height, which had been so awkward for him, gave him, with his intent quietness, a kind of authority.
Almost immediately on his return to Los Angeles Stan was hired for Nick Pontrelli’s 14-piece band playing in Ocean Park. It was a vivid demonstration before Stan’s family that he had command of his talent and that he was recognized. He was particularly proud because Pontrelli asked for so much more than Francis Gilbert’s territory band, and Stan felt he was playing up to the job standards. Two weeks after Pontrelli had hired him Stan was let out in favor of Carl Fischer. There was only one reason. Fischer played better. (It took some years for Stan to admit it. By then he and Fischer had become close friends.)
Stan was discouraged, but the family economics would not allow him time to meditate about his failure. He took a job playing a speakeasy from seven p.m. to three. It paid $45. From noon to five he played at an upstairs exclusive spot run for out-of-town buyers. There were models and drinks.
On the night job he played for a vocalist, Marilyn Morgan. They split tips. Between the two jobs Stan was grossing $125. That was big money. He bought himself a car, dressed fashionably, and became seriously engaged to one of the models, Marion Jackson. She wanted to be a singer. What happened to their plans, their enthusiasm, neither of them knew exactly. There were no goodbyes. The relationship just dissolved.
Jobbing was always precarious. Speakeasies came and went faster than the musicians. One place, Stan found, was much the same as another—as soon as he came to terms with the piano.
After any sustained period of inactivity Stan—and all the working musicians he knew—would have to accept any reasonable offer. As a consequence he took traveling jobs even though he would have preferred to stay in Los Angeles until he found what he wanted. He played with Frank Whitney’s ten-piece band on three months of one nighters. It was a spirited band driving along, for the most part, on the talent of Jimmy Briggs.
For those who have done it several times around there’s no more deadly kind of existence than a sustained tour of one-nighters. Sometimes the band might stay in one town for a few days—playing spots within a working radius. More often the band would travel to the next town, loading immediately after the last set. Bookings would jump the band from 30 to 350 miles. The life imposed no restraint other than the discipline of the schedule. But filled as that was with playing and traveling, unloading, registering, packing, unpacking, and eating, there was only time for the music and the details. The laundry and cleaning, getting it back—these were campaigns. In each succeeding town it was all new again: eating places, the barber shops, the bell hops, the hackies, the shine boys—and the liquor or whatever else they might fetch. It was always roulette. No one ever knew what would come up next.
Stan didn’t mind the life. There was a kind of rootlessness and an exhaustion which he found pleasant. Along with some of the others, Stan never lost his interest in playing. There were those sidemen who just went through the motions. They were not so much square as squat. These were men to whom the music was simply a means of earning a living. They wanted only to do the job. It was difficult for Stan, at first, to understand these men who had the emotional rig of a well-adjusted shoe salesman. Some of them played extremely well. They just didn’t seem concerned with the importance of music.
Of course, there were the dedicated. Accomplishment meant musical accomplishment; fame—fame in music; success—success as a musician. Stan was one of these: life was music—music life. Somewhere the vibrations of living experience and the vibrations of sound blended in simple harmonics or complex dissonance. Sometimes, riding along in the bus, listening to the hiss of the hot tires thumping regularly over the lumpy expansion strips, taking in that unique, burnt castor oil odor of exhaust, Stan could hear the sounds. They were part of him, and yet removed, as if his thoughts belonged to a different body than his numb, cramped legs.
After the tour Stan jobbed again in Los Angeles for a brief spell. Then the Whitney band signed with a musical extravaganza organized by local promoter, Ed Sales. Including the ten musicians, there were forty people in the troupe. (They traveled in two busses.) Mr. Sales went ahead of the bus caravan in his own car. The idea was to hit the smaller cities: Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento, and towns which could draw on the surrounding countryside for large audiences. The production costs were paid by two midwestern gentlemen thought, by the cast, to be somewhat naive. The troupe shrank steadily through its California playdates, the better acts and performers leaving as money and promises failed to materialize. Originally designed as a pocket edition extravaganza for localities which could not draw expensive productions, the Sales show became a pocket edition of itself.
The revue sputtered into Provo, Ogden, and finally Salt Lake City. It was then little more than the musicians and a line of chorus girls who did a few specialties. There were creditors who did appear with some regularity. The troupe was held together by the mother of two girls in the line. She had been hired as chaperone for the chorus. When a number of checks bounced, the Sales show was asked to leave Salt Lake’s Semlo Hotel. The performers’ clothes remained with the management of the Semlo.
The chorus mother and her two daughters had come to be a family to Stan. Along with two other dancers from the line they moved into a Salt Lake boarding house. The mother promptly set out to book the four girls and Stanley. She managed to get enough casuals, conventions, and week-end engagements so that they were able to retrieve their clothing and pay their way back to Los Angeles.
Shortly after his return home, Stan had a call from Everett Hoagland, a leader who was the idol of all the young jazz musicians in the area. He was forming a new band built along “advanced” ideas.
Stan was delighted for the opportunity. He had four days to think about his audition. He started to practice, couldn’t. He was too tense. He decided not to practice. He found himself in a state of mind that recurred without any apparent reason. There was apparently no time cycle, no particular stimulus which would set it off. He had learned to live with it—wait it out, knowing it would end. Failure seemed inevitable. Contending with life required an impossible effort. He could, to some extent, rationalize, but even rationalization needed a source of energy, and it seemed to him that the mechanism which made people try was the thing that was out of order.
He remembered Pete Pontrelli and Carl Fischer, Jimmy Briggs, Harry, Ken Walton, Frank Hurst, Uncle John Kenton. He remembered his mother patiently teaching him. Did she really think he could do it? Probably not. She must have been trying to give him confidence. If he couldn’t make the grade—she wouldn’t mind too much. Meanwhile he’d have confidence to try. And he had begun to understand’ that the reassurances he solicited were just signs that he did not believe in himself.
Stan arrived at the Hollywood Knights of Columbus Hall late for his audition. Rehearsal went on for a few minutes, then Hoagland called a halt. The band was good. Stan waited as inconspicuously as possible while Hoagland took care of details. There was the inquiring call, “Mr. Kenton?” He blushed slightly, “Yes, Mr. Hoagland.”
The musicians were still packing up. Stan felt that they were stalling-slowing down so they could be around to hear him play.
Hoagland was a soft-spoken, courteous man. He made short work of the preliminaries, asked Stan to play. Stan begged off. He said he had heard the band. It was too advanced for him: there were better men around. “C’mon,” Hoagland said, “I’ve heard good things about you.” And point by point, he answered all Stan’s objections, edging him toward the piano until Stan finally protested, “But I don’t know what to play.”
“An arpeggio, anything!” Finally, he was at the piano. He played for ten minutes.
“Good,” Hoagland said, “and thanks. I’ll call you.”
Several days went by. Stan didn’t hear from Hoagland. He knew the job was gone.
A week after the audition Hoagland called and asked him to join the band. In the organization period they were playing two nights a week, $10 per night, at Balboa, a beach resort not far from Los Angeles. The first night with the Everett Hoagland band, Stan was brilliant. He played miles above himself. Everyone was impressed - even Jimmy Briggs. The second night Stan fell apart. He couldn’t do anything right. After the evening he wanted to quit. Hoagland talked to Stan for a long time, told him to grow with the band, assured him that perfection was not one of the prerequisites of the job.
In the year and a half that Stan worked for Everett Hoagland he began to find himself. Hoagland was critical but never carping. He didn’t stop short of his demands, but he was obviously interested in achieving results rather than proving his dominance over the men.
Stan’s point of view toward himself changed. He began to sympathize with his own feelings. In many ways he could talk about himself more openly. As he grew more outgoing he found that much of the anger, fear, and confusion he had known was not unique.
At Balboa one evening, when the crowd was pushed tight around the stand, Stan saw a tall, attractive blonde girl. She was with an acquaintance of Stan’s, a young fellow who dropped in to dance several times a week. The girl seemed to have an intensity, an intelligence. She was cool, still, appraising. There was something about her that touched him. He knew there was a feeling between them even though she had not given any outward indication. To Stan there was nothing more positive than the inner evidence.
When the intermission group took over from Hoagland, Stan went searching for the tall blonde. He found her. Without too much enthusiasm, Stan’s friend introduced him. The girl’s name was Violet. If she felt any immediate rush of emotion on meeting Stan she held it calmly in reserve. On that and several later occasions she politely refused Stan’s request to dance. Stan did not readily surrender the belief in his feelings, and there was something provocative, he was certain, between him and Violet. She had a healthy curiosity. She appeared to be genuinely interested in his work. Though she seemed strongly independent, Stan felt a strong pull to protect her, to care for her.
Violet and Stan met and talked at least a dozen times before she consented to go out with him. They began to date once a week. Violet, Stan found, was a girl of many enthusiasms, many projects. She seemed to be able to derive a kind of inspirational satisfaction from discussing her plans. In many ways, Stan discovered, they were alike. Together they had a glowing, emotional diffusion that expressed itself in poetic enthusiasm without form or reference.
Stan eventually would try to contain all he felt, all he had to say, in music. Violet had not yet found a suitable vessel for her expression. She was searching.
Stan and Violet increasingly found that they shared a community of hope and need. They were both people who had to try to work with one hand while painting great dreams with the other.
In July of 1935 they were married.
Stan and Violet took a small apartment in Los Angeles. He continued working with the Hoagland band. When the band went on the road, Stan and Violet went along.
While the musicians, particularly the younger ones, felt Hoagland was doing “good things,” there was considerable resistance to the jazz style. Promoters and location operators in areas far from the huge population centers felt their customers had not been exposed to enough Hoagland-type music. Hotels with a so-called “family trade” were looking for music that muffled but did not completely drown out the sound of bus boys shuffling the china and silverware.
In the last six months of his tenure, Stan had taken over the chore of n:hearsing the Hoagland band. He had contributed many arrangements, and Hoagland discussed all the business problems at length with Stan. Both of them believed they had done a good job in the direction they had chosen. Either their music had no wide appeal or they had not found a device to sell it. Stan could not argue when Everett decided to reorganize, to build a band with a more “commercial” style.
Hoagland started all.over again. He built a “society” band. The dominant sound was muted trumpets against a metronomic, muffled rhythm. On top there was a light filigree of piano arpeggios or precisely hammered open octaves. Now and then a well-mannered clarinet would add brightness. It was the sort of outfit which Hoagland knew could work forever. He asked Stan to stay. Stan had to refuse. It was a difficult decision. In his young years Stan had never respected any man as much as Hoagland. The fact that he in turn had earned Hoagland’s respect made him doubly bound. Then, too, Stan was now a married man. Hoagland had made him an excellent offer.
Stan left Hoagland. He was proud of his decision. He had told Everett that there were many men better able than he to play the kind of society piano the new band would need. That was true. Stan liked his own honesty, and he took a fierce kind of pride in turning his back on the sure thing, on security, to search for something nebulous.
Stan had come to realize that no matter how he saw himself, others saw him far differently—and very often, Stan felt, with a most undiscerning eye. When he had a place to stand, as he had when he was president of his high school class, he was articulate, even glib. This was a distinct advantage. A great many of the best and brightest musicians he knew had no facility with words. Stan had a real curiosity about other people, and an intense manner of listening that flattered many of his acquaintances into confiding in him. He himself remained reserved. He felt uncomfortable with authority in his hands, and he held it very gently. Men took orders from him readily. More and more frequently he was called to organize and rehearse bands. He spent months with Russ Plummer. Later he was called in by Gus Arnheim, who wanted a more modern sound for his band.
Stan continued to play the jobs in and around Hollywood. Late in 1937 he grew restless, decided he had gone as far as he could on the musical knowledge he had accumulated. Chances were that he might continue on securely for a few more years, possibly organize his own band or get financing. But, whatever he did, Stan knew it would be a repetition of musical devices he had already explored. He talked it over with Violet. They had both come to feel that he had something to contribute to music. The solution was, and Violet agreed, that Stan had to quit work and study. They would use what money they had. Stan could play bread-and-butter casuals—provided they didn’t interfere with his study.
The first goal was a chair with one of the motion picture studio orchestras. There were great musicians under contract to the studios. It seemed to Stan and Violet that a studio job would give him the security and the time to do creative work in any of a number of directions.
Stan studied with Charles Dalmores, a French gentleman in his seventies. Dalmores himself played ‘cello, French horn, and piano. He taught theory, solfeggio, and conducting. For technique, Dalmores sent Stan to another teacher.
Dalmores saw through Stan’s polite patience. On his third lesson he said, “Mr. Kenton, you are twenty-five, and with you everything must be learned today. If I could give you this knowledge, then what? What you learn must be aged in a good mind. Not so fast , Mr. Kenton.”
Stan studied with Charles Dalmores for two years. The old gentleman was an insistent master. He demanded knowledge and understanding, but he encouraged Stan to seek new modes, new forms. Dalmores was extremely interested in jazz and its possibilities for serious music. He introduced Stan to modern classical composers who were writing in a contemporary idiom. Dalmores told Stan not to fear tradition. Through the two years that Stan studied with him, Dalmores repeated, ‘‘The practice of art precedes the theory of art, Mr. Kenton.”
The time that Stan spent with Charles Dalmores was the happiest period he had ever known. He felt that he was growing, moving in a direction valuable to him and ultimately, he believed, to music. There was the strongest sense of continuity that he had yet experienced. Here, with Charles Dalmores, was measured growth and achievement. He enjoyed the luxury of knowing what he knew—authorized, footnoted, demonstrable.
Two years after Stan had begun his studies he had the confidence and the capacity at his fingertips to play with the studio orchestras. But he was no longer certain that was what he wanted. Without involving himself in a contract assignment, he worked free lance on a number of pictures. Some of the music was brilliant, some banal, and some proved to be simply a symphonic sound effect.
Though he was a vastly improved pianist. Stan’s interest had become centered in arranging and composing. He took a job at the Earl Carroll Theatre in Hollywood. It paid well, and Stan had time for writing and studying. That was in 1939.
Through the year he wrote experimental arrangements; they had unity without a specific style. Stan had toyed with the idea of forming a band. He was both intrigued and terrified at the idea of fronting his own organization. It seemed, so often, more fitting that he should do the organizational work, the arranging—everything but the conducting. Here he would find fame in obscurity and obscurity in fame.
The· conflict on just how much he should be to the projected orchestra gave way to Stan’s curiosity. His work was on paper. He wanted to hear it. In 1940 he started workshop rehearsals at the Royal Palms Hotel. Stan was highly pleased with the results. The sidemen shared his enthusiasm—whatever they thought about the commercial possibilities.
Late in August, Stan made up his mind. He quit the theatre, devoted all his time to the “book.” He tossed out some of the original arrangements, polished others and added new ones. By the end of September he was ready.
Now, after ten years of mounting international tensions, the prelude to World War II had already begun. An artist had to wonder if what he was working to express mattered at all. Would another band be even a small contribution to the evolution of the jazz form? Why bother? Maybe music itself was just an idle accompaniment to a world blowing itself out the back.
These matters of ultimate importance seemed of immediate concern to Stan. He needed to believe in something, and he wanted the reasons for believing—otherwise it was all futile to him. He had under his fingers command of so many kinds of commercial music that he could be secure. It was logical and it was easy to ask, “What’s the point? When there may not even be a world tomorrow, why not just take yours?”
Stan never could answer the questions. Just the same he began the band project. In irregular alternations of enthusiasm and hesitation the work grew to a sizeable collection of arrangements, promises, plans and dreams. He motivated the project and then was in turn motivated by it. In a sense the band, all those to whom he felt be was now responsible, trapped him into doing what he probably wanted to do.
He finally found reasons, but basically he· came to understand that he wanted something from his audience just as the man who feels compelled to speak out to the one woman, just as the man who is compelled to threaten, to plead, or to preach.
Stan felt a personalized sympathy toward jazz. Even in this small band, he believed he could make a serious musical contribution. Even within the scope of the popular song, he felt he could create a kind of depth which would be more complete than what had been done before. This was the beginning of his own music.
In October of 1940, Stan decided to cut some test records which he could use for audition purposes. The thirteen sidemen who had been rehearsing with Stan had, in addition to their loyalty and enthusiasm for jazz, two conditions in common: they were all unemployed and, with the exception of Marvin George, the drummer, they were all under 21. Marvin was 28. He was able to help Stan with some of the administrative details.
Crowded into the tiny recording room of a Hollywood music store the band cut, among others, two originals - Etude for Saxophones and Reed Rapture—numbers which became fixtures in the Kenton book. On them Stan was able to demonstrate an unique voicing for the saxes, and the talents of an outstanding musician, altoist Jack Ordean.
The recording difficulties seemed insurmountable. Stan felt that the arrangements only became alive when the band played “out.” Certainly the enthusiasm and spirit were not apparent on the records when the volume was brought down to the relatively pianissimo level the engineers demanded. In the end the band hit hard—the engineer tried to get as much on the disc as he could.
The band was good. Stan knew it. He was too much of a musician to deceive himself. Men like Bob Gioga, Harry Forbes, and Frank Beach had invested their time for three months. They believed more strongly than ever. Violet’s enthusiasm had not lagged. He played the dubs again and again. He knew he was right. The sound was strong. It had depth. It was different. That, he told himself, was what everyone was looking for—something different.
To sell the band, the best of the audition discs were arranged in a presentation. Stan had a general idea of the sales pitch. He didn’t commit anything to memory. It was always better, he found, if he spoke from a generalized outline. That way he didn’t lose the spontaneity which, at least, convinced others that he believed in what he was selling.
One advantage in having a band—there were not many doors to try. Only a few agencies handled bands. And Stan was well enough known in Los Angeles music circles to have entré to all of them.
Stan was received politely. He was heard. His records were heard—hesitantly, without enthusiasm, but no one was in a hurry to turn him down. It could take months to milk a “sorry, can’t use it,” from one of the agencies.
Stan was inclined to abstract the more encouraging aspects from his interviews. It cost the agency boys nothing to spread a little happiness. (Stan later learned that often the art of agentry was not to sell talent but to keep it dangling, content, until a buyer happened along.)
Stan was continually faced with the request, “Why don’t you leave the dubs with us for a few days?” After the few days passed he would then have tQ open negotiations to have the agency search for the dubs, to have the dubs heard, and finally to have the dubs returned.
Armistice Day and Thanksgiving passed. When the New Year came Stan decided he had better try to find his own jobs.
In February the band auditioned for an engagement at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa. The ballroom operators had a choice between Stan Kenton’s organization and that of John Costello. The emphasis on original material and jazz was a little too radical for the operator. He picked Costello for the engagement. But circumstance forced a cancellation and on Memorial pay, 1941, Stan opened at the Balboa ballroom.
With the college and high school crowd that colonized the little resort town on weekends, holidays, and vacations, the young Kenton band was an immediate success. Red Dorris, tenor saxist and vocalist, became a local idol within a few weeks. Howard Rumsey, who played amplified bass with spastic abandon, was known by his first name to every jazz enthusiast in the area. The attention and the adulation that the young audience heaped on Stan and the young musicians kept them playing with unlagging enthusiasm. New arrangements had to be added. By this time Stan found himself working continuously on the endless ravel of details.
Ralph Yaw, a talented musician with a feeling for what Stan wanted, made some excellent contributions to the Kenton book—such as Two Moods, which starred Chico Alvarez, trumpet, Jack Ordean and Red Dorris.
Stan himself continued to arrange. He added Arkansas Traveler and La Cumparsita to comply with the professional advice which consistently suggested that he play less original material in favor of standard or currently popular music.
Whatever the criticism, it was tempered by one fact: the Kenton band interested people. The youngsters turned out; business was healthy. Stan was booked for the summer at the Balboa ballroom. Three times a week the Mutual Network broadcast Stan Kenton’ s music.
Stan, Bob Gioga, and Marvin George tried to gauge their success. It appeared to them that they had found an enthusiastic group of local boosters. The same faces seemed to be at the ballroom every night. Only after the summer had passed and the band played a one-night stand at the Glendale Civic Auditorium in suburban Los Angeles, did Stan see how well the band had begun to be established. At 9:30 more than 2000 people jammed the hall. There were nearly twice that number lined up outside.
Prospects were impressive. Finances were low. The band was booked in Portland and, Stan thought, on a string of one-nighters. From a sound engineer he borrowed $300 which he rationed, $20 per man.
When the band arrived in the northwest, bookings turned out to be for weekends only. The take of the sidemen was not more than $30 weekly—a thin slice for a man on the road, particularly if he had to support a wife back in Los Angeles.
Pinned down by a Friday and Saturday engagement which wouldn’t pay for the past week’s expenses, Stan and the men were restless and discouraged. There was talk of giving up the project.
The band was saved by one of those circumstances which occur so regularly in success stories as to be almost a prerequisite of success itself. There was an open date in the booking of the huge Hollywood dance hall, the Palladium. The owner, Maury Cohen, it happened, had gone to the Glendale Civic Auditorium to hear Stan’s band. While Cohen was not particularly taken with Stan’s music, the crowd outside and inside was the kind of evidence which forced an operator to overcome his taste.
When Cohen couldn’t find a name band for the Palladium, he wired Stan. The homecoming engagement saved the band. The young crowd swarmed to the Palladium, and Stan was in a position to command national attention through nightly broadcasts. Variety and The Billboard passed the word on to the trade that an “attraction” had been born on the West Coast. The youngsters jammed around the bandstand and called for St. James Infirmary or Lamento Gitano—and all the musical and satirical productions which the band played for listening. The enthusiasm of the audience and the personality of the band came over the air. By the end of the engagement the word was that Kenton was going to be important. A New York date was waiting. Stan had an eight-week engagement at Roseland, the nation’s most famous dime-a-dance hall.
It was a happy time. Band morale was high, and Stan wanted to keep it that way. On the trip back East, Stan took Violet and his young daughter. He invited the men to bring their families. With eight wives, five children, and several household pets, the band left for New York.
The appearance of the Kenton organization at the Roseland Ballroom was an event in the music world. The jazz intellects wanted to know what, if anything, Stan Kenton had “to say.” The business end of music—agents, bookers, and location owners-could make money from Kenton if he proved to be a bona fide attraction. The publishers might find a fresh voice to sell new songs or re-sell their old ones. Arrangers and musicians were curious to see if Stan could really push himself to a commercial success on the type of music he had been broadcasting.
Stan had been on the air too often to expect that his music would shock or even surprise anyone. In person, however, the band did jolt the critics, operators, and the dancers. Personally Stan won the friendship of the eastern music columnists. They were sympathetic but, for the most part, didn’t care for the music. Strangely enough, nearly all the criticism was qualified with prophecies of success.
With the regular patrons of Roseland, the Kenton band was a dismal failure. There were only two serious reasons for attending the ballroom: to dance or to socialize with the hostesses. The tempos that kept the California jitterbugs happy did not prove suitable for interpreting the Peabody or the tango and Stan’s band played too loud for any subtle-exchanges between the hostesses and guests. They couldn’t hear themselves talk.
By mutual agreement Stan and the Roseland management terminated their agreement in three weeks instead of the contracted eight.
Though the band was kept working immediately afterwards, the engagement at Roseland was regarded as a failure. Stan was swamped with advice. In and out of the organization, for all kinds of reasons—even disinterested—Stan’s acquaintances were afraid he would miss his opportunity for the big money. There were still many complaints that the band played too much original music. Stan began to add pop tunes and standards. He tried to tone the band down, tried to compromise on some of the arrangements. He tried to please everyone.
In September of 1942, Stan played the Summit in Baltimore. The complaints and the advice were as ominous, as varied, and as frequent as ever. Looking back over six months he found the band had achieved a string of commercial successes in clubs, theatres, and dance halls. Whether he had done so well because or in spite of the advice, he couldn’t tell, but he saw that continual changes in approach were obstructing the growth of the band, providing an irritant to the men and to himself. It would be simpler, he decided, to stand or fall on his original convictions—jazz as he heard and felt it.
In Baltimore the first of a series of personnel changes began which continued throughout the war. Marvin George, Jack Ordean, and Howard Rumsey left the band.
Stan had added Ted Repay, piano, some time earlier. At the Summit engagement vocalist Dolly Mitchell joined the band and quickly succeeded in identifying herself with the Kenton organization.
Critical acceptance improved gradually. Theatre engagements were consistently successful both with audiences and reviewers. The band played the shows well, and were an entertainment entity in themselves—for much of the Kenton material was designed primarily for listening.
Stan continued to do some arranging. A young writer, Joe Rizzo, proved particularly adept at arranging standards for Stan. He contributed Russian Lullaby, Ol’ Man River, and I Know That You Know.
Though Stan had a personal manager and an agency handling the business, he asked to be consulted on all details. Finding time to write was a continual problem. Finally it became necessary for Stan to search for outside arrangers who understood what he wanted. As Dolly Mitchell became more important, Stan sought writers who could create interesting vocal backgrounds for her without losing the essential quality of the band. Charles Shirley brought Salt Lake City to Stan. It was incorporated in the book along with other Shirley works including Liza , which featured a Red Dorris solo. (For his singing Red had been given consistently uninspired reviews. But as an instrumentalist, he continued to improve until he was drawing critical acclaim.)
In 1944 Dolly Mitchell left the band and Anita O’Day, widely known for her work with Gene Krupa, joined Stan along with a young male vocalist and arranger, Gene Howard.
A considerable quantity of material was mailed or brought in to the Kenton organization. After rehearsal one afternoon in a San Francisco theatre Stan saw a young soldier waiting. It was Pfc. Pete Rugolo, a student of Darius Milhaud at Mills College. Rugolo had written an original composition and arrangement which he thought would be fine for the Kenton band. The name of the selection was Opus a Dollar Three Eighty.
It was three months before Stan found time to read down the arrangement. As soon as he did Stan began to search for Private Rugolo. Three days later he located him. On the long distance phone Stan offered Rugolo a job as soon as he was discharged from service.
In four years Stan had become famous. These were war years. The quality of continual movement, arrival, and departure common to the band was shared with the whole country. People were dignified by direction, a journey from which, eventually, they would all hope to find their way home again.
The pressure of the times and of success itself kept Stan moving. Even back home he could spend little time with Violet and the child. He had signed with Capitol Records, a company whose main offices were in Hollywood. As soon as he hit town Stan would begin to prepare for recording sessions. Then there were the commercial engagements, broadcasts, rehearsals, auditions and the performances for men and women in the Armed Services.
There was, too, a constant turnover in personnel. Of all those who started at Balboa in 1941 only Bob Gioga and Stan were deferred from service. Once at the Paramount Theatre in New York the Kenton band opened with nine new men. Many musicians who became famous in jazz joined Stan during the war years: Eddie Safranski, Vido Musso, Buddy Childers, Boots Mussulli, Ray Wetzel. Anita O’Day left the band, and in Chicago a school girl named Shirley Luster auditioned for Stan. He signed her, and changed her name to June Christy.
By 1945 the band was a strange mixture of personalities: returned veterans, youngsters of sixteen, young men classified and waiting to be called, older men being reculled and reclassified. The personalities and peculiarities of the sidemen were as diverse as their ages.
One of the sixteen year olds had come to Stan after two years with a well known jazz group. He was a lover— with five unfortunate experiences to prove it. An older man was a professional Milquetoast. He carried the spending money he allowed himself in a compartmentalized change purse with sections for food, incidental, and entertainment money. Sticking religiously to his discipline, he would refuse to join the others at a motion picture if he had, for the week, run out of cash for entertainment.
There was one known as “wigless.” The others said of him, “all talent—no brains.” He was continually leaving his possessions, including his instrument, at the previous engagement. Faced with his delinquencies he would shout angrily at the men in the band, “Why did you let me do it? You know I’m not responsible!”
Some squandered. A few found business opportunities everywhere. There was the “operator.” If he had nothing else to do he’d find himself a pawn shop and haggle with the owner. In four years with the band the operator never bought anything he didn’t turn over for a profit. There were solid citizens. There were touchy and temperamental ones. A soloist, nearly thirty, was disturbed almost to the point of quitting when one of the other sidemen said, “Thanks, old man.” He felt it was a reflection on his advancing years.
There were the clowns and the practical jokers. One night in Minneapolis, Stan, at the mike, announced the first number of the evening, I’ve Got the World on a String. He walked to the piano which had, since rehearsal, been placed on a shallow platform. Before he could give the downbeat, Stan tripped and fell, disappearing completely from sight. The audience gasped. There was complete silence. Bob Gioga immediately stepped to the mike and announced, “Our next number will be Tea for Two.”
Beyond the petty irritations of living together there were very few personality conflicts. To the younger men who joined the band, Stan was an institution. The ·older men knew Stan’s reputation for treating his sidemen fairly and courteously.
After the war ended, some of the former members of the band returned. By early 1946 the personnel and business side of the organization had become stabilized. The appeal of the band was at its height. The annual polls named “Artistry in Rhythm” the most popular music of the year. Financially the Kenton organization could not have done any better.
More than a third of the sidemen, the core of the band, had been traveling almost continually for two years. The men were worn physically. Stan himself found it increasingly difficult to drive himself. It had been five years since he and Violet had, for any period of time, a life together.
On the bandstand at Tuscaloosa playing a University of Alabama dance, Stan looked at the men, listened to the music, felt his own weary loneliness.
After the dance, Stan announced that he was disbanding. The men were given three weeks’ salary and their fares. Stan wired Violet that he was on his way home.
There were peaceful months of recuperation. Stan, Violet, and little Leslie (now seven years old) vacationed in South America. Stan began to see that should he continue the tours it would ultimately force him to make a choice between the band and his family. Quite undramatically, he discussed it with Violet. Their life toether had been reduced to six weeks a year. The arrangement was far from satisfactory. It could not continue.
But the alternatives were not as drastic as “music or the family.” Recording, arranging, conducting, composing provided many situations in which Stan’s talents were welcome. Though it would mean giving up the band, Stan could stay in California and continue working in music at any number of interesting and well-paying jobs.
Too, there were opportunities outside of music which, from the standpoint of money, were attractive. Stan tried to evaluate each of the different prospects. Violet listened and—to the best of her ability—allowed Stan complete freedom in choosing his direction.
At home Stan continually played back the recordings of all his bands. In the work he found much of which he was proud. It was incomplete, but it was, Stan felt , a beginning.
He was rested. He felt full, fat, and lazy. At times he grew lonesome to hear the sounds again, the pulse of the band —even to feel the airy, nervous clarity which came from too much coffee, too many cigarettes, and too little sleep.
By the middle of summer the pressures, external and internal, began to increase. He was a musician, a traveler, and he was a money-maker. Someone was always after him.
There had to be another year on the road. There was a possibility that a concert attraction would be the solution. If concerts were successful it would not be necessary, Stan believed, to stay on tour more than four months a year. He discussed the idea with arrangers Pete Rugolo and Ken Hanna. They were eager to try. Violet, too, was enthusiastic about the project.
They all agreed that the most logical approach would be to use the nineteen piece “Artistry” band. The personnel had, since the war, become stable. Boots Mussulli, Vido Musso , Shelly Manne, Kai Winding, Eddie Safranski, and Milt Bernhart were, in themselves, attractions. If, with them, the Kenton band could not draw the young crowd into halls, make them sit and listen, then, Stan and Violet believed, the concert idea would never work.
Some of the dance items were kept in the repertoire : If I Could Be With You, Artistry in Harlem Swing, and By the River St. Marie. Numbers which had proven successful in theatres, on records, and at the colleges were shuffled back and forth in the program. With this small band Stan did not believe he had the scope to offer a full concert of modern music.
Though the instrumentation, except for the addition of Jack Costanzo on bongos, would be the same as the “Artistry” band, Stan decided to try the title, “Progressive Jazz,” a banner he felt was truly descriptive. The concerts would be essentially a test. If they were successful Stan hoped in the future to develop the idea with a large orchestra.
Rehearsals were called.
The Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa agreed to go along with Stan’s experiment. They rented 3000 camp chairs , released advertising and publicity for a Sunday afternoon concert late in September. Two days after tickets went on sale all seats were gone.
The Kenton management decided to book a series of sixteen dates at such established concert halls as the Academy of Music, Philadelphia, the Civic Opera, Chicago, Symphony Hall, Boston, and Carnegie Hall, New York.
The concerts were fitted between regular bookings. Nothing Stan ever did proved more successful. Variety headlined, “Kenton’s Carnegie Hall Concert a Killer Both Artistically and at B.O.” In its story, the show business “bible” stated: “Kenton’s success is based on his constant striving for new paths in music, his band’s excellent understanding of it…His music, filled with dissonant and atonal chords, barrels of percussion and blaring, but tremendously precise, brass, could probably be compared in the jazz field to the music of Stravinsky and Shostakovitch.”
George Simon in Metronome was less ecstatic. “It [the band} has, in Stan and Pete, two intense, enthusiastic musicians who are firmly convinced they are making for progress in jazz. Unfortunately, I think, Stan and Pete and the men who play their music so well are deeply shrouded under a neurotic conception of jazz if not of all music. Their stuff is not mellow, but megalomaniacal, constructed mechanically of some of the familiar sounds and effects of modern composers, from Bartok to Bongo Drums, with little apparent feeling for the jazz medium and none at all for the subtleties of idea and emotion which support every roar ever heard in music.” And in conclusion Simon added, “Lurking behind this sad musical tale is a personal one, for me , at least, sadder still. Stan and Pete and June and the band and its manager Carlos Gastel are among the very nicest people this business has ever seduced. But their collective effort, mighty as it is, is not making it. It couldn’t have not happened to a nicer bunch of people.”
Stan continued touring the dance circuit. The influence of the “Progressive” aspect modified all the music the band played. Even Sophisticated Lady and June Christy’s Over the Rainbow were progressively shaded.
Playing concerts and dance engagements, the band worked its way West.
On June 12, 1948, Stan Kenton, his band, and June Christy packed 15,000 people into the Hollywood Bowl for a concert in “Progressive Jazz.” All the hopes and effort that had gone into Stan’s music were, to him, justified by this acceptance. The entire program, but particularly the originals, Machito, Interlude, and George Weidler interpreting Elegy for Alto , were received with towering applause.
Throughout July and August, Stan had accepted scattered concert bookings. He had only a few days here and there for the family after traveling time and the press of business arrangements. Early in June he had come to a parting of the ways with his long time manager, Carlos Gastel. Gastel felt the concerts would ultimately destroy Stan’s wider appeal. Stan believed he had to press the concert idea. The separation was amicable. Stan and Carlos had worked together for seven years with only a handshake between them.
In September the band headed east again, fulfilling concert dates and one-nighters. The schism between the dance and the progressive side of the music was exuberantly demonstrated at one college dance. A group began to chant for the concert pieces. Those who wished to dance were disturbed. The discussion became an argument, the argument a brawl.
The last of the concert engagements had been scheduled for December. At that time, Stan decided, he would conclude his “Progressive Jazz.” The men were weary. Physically and emotionally he had driven himself one fatiguing day after another to the point of exhaustion.
It seemed to him that he had lived enough music. At last, he believed, he could turn to something else. The concerts had given him not more time at home, but less.
When Stan concluded the last “Progressive” concert the Kenton organization was, according to the theatrical trades, the biggest box office aggregation in the country.
During the months of the mild California winter Stan, more than ever before, was able to interest himself in pursuits other than music. He dabbled in the popular psychiatric literature of the moment. Here was a new kind of introspective instrument and he brought it to bear on himself.
The simple release from all the demands of the music business, in itself, gave him freedom to organize his outlook, re-evaluate his beliefs. For the first time he did not feel the urgency to hurry back to the band, the piano. To him it seemed finished.
Violet and Stan were separated, but they saw each other frequently. Both held a distant hope that there might be a way back to the marriage. The hope grew, paralleled by a disturbing anxiety as the months passed and Stan did not return to music.
By the time June came Stan was healthier than he had been in years. He would return to music and the band. Both Violet and he realized it. This time, however, it would be different: a big orchestra and a limited concert tour of ninety days. The remainder of the year would be spent in California preparing for the ensuing year. It was a fine idea, just fine, Violet said.
The music for the new orchestra would be related to new environment. The spread of jazz took place in an era when an accelerated technology and giant industry built and rebuilt the whole country. The nation had become a complex of engines and motors, thermostats, switches , pumps, and neon tubes. Home itself jumped with the speeding armatures of the ice box, oil burner, vacuum, mixmaster, the oscillations of the electric shaver, and the tapping valves of the family car.
Inevitably, the creative music of moderns had to reflect the automatic, fluorescent environment. With few exceptions jazz was limited to the voicings of the small group and the dance band. If the new music were to speak of textures, tempos, and contrasts of the age, then the range of the jazz orchestra , Stan felt, would have to be expanded.
New music would have to be written, though the investment - and the risk—would be sizeable. By the end of June there were newspaper stories that Stan would return to music with a forty piece orchestra which would include strings and horns. Bob Allison, director of the Kenton enterprises, began to frame a tour.
Pete Rugolo, Shorty Rogers, Neal Hefti, Johnny Richards, Laurindo Almeida, Bob Graettinger, Manny Albam, George Hardy, Frank Marks, Chico O’Farrill, joined Stan in writing for the new orchestra. A “book” began to grow.
By August Stan had George Kast lining up violin, viola, ‘cello, and horn men. Many of those who had become identified with Kenton bands—Bob Cooper, Art Pepper, Buddy Childers, Chico Alvarez, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Russo , Milt Bernhart and Shelly Manne—agreed to return for the experimental orchestra. Don Bagley replaced Eddie Safranski.
The rehearsals seemed endless. All the material was new and unfamiliar to the entire orchestra. Each composition was read down, checked by the arranger and composer, evaluated as to merit, and categorized. Gradually Stan was able to program the material using contrasting works such as Ennui and Samana in order to give any one concert pace and color.
Not even in the early days before the first engagement at the Rendezvous Ballroom was Stan fixed with the uncertainty which faced him now. He could not remember the unique experience that he himself had known on first hearing the music. It was simply being played correctly or incorrectly. Whether it was capable of moving an audience he no longer knew. The rehearsing and rehearsing destroyed any chance he had of simulating the attitude the interested listener would bring to the concert hall.
It became increasingly important to Stan that he play the music for an audience before the tour started. While production was still in various stages of completion, the Kenton management was able to arrange a workshop rehearsal at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium. Invitations were mailed announcing the informal performance of “Innovations in Modern Music.”
The orchestra, dressed casually, appeared on the bare stage. Stan outlined the purpose and the aspirations of the music. From the opening—the articulate bongos on In Veradero—through the flight of Bob Cooper’s tenor (Coop’s Solo), Stan could feel that rapport with the audience which meant success.
Violet listened from out front. When Stan brought the orchestra to its feet for a final bow she walked slowly around to the artists’ entrance.
On the stage Stan was surrounded. Someone was screaming about risers. There was a thriving argument on the subject of band uniforms. A disc jockey from Fort Worth was trying to get a taped interview. A photographer demanded pictures of the brass section. No one had thought to tip the stagehands. Someone from a high school paper insisted that Stan tell her “how it felt.” Philadelphia was calling.
Violet found herself a comfortable folding iron chair, sat down, and lit a cigarette…
“Innovations in Modern Music” was followed by a second edition, but neither proved to be what Stan had hoped for—a tour that could be concentrated in three months of intensive concertizing. Moving a forty piece orchestra involved, somehow , three times the difficulties of a twenty piece band. The financial hazards were terrifying. The more formalized approach was highly successful in large metropolitan areas, but in the smaller cities it seemed to destroy the interest of his young and constant followers. “Innovations” occupied Stan’s time more completely through the whole year than any project he had ever undertaken. Before the 1951 edition was organized Stan and Violet were quietly divorced.
The fame the Kenton bands and the sidemen had achieved was international. Correspondence, publicity culled from foreign publications and the steadily mounting sales of records demonstrated a continually growing interest in Stan and his music. During the early preparations for a third “Innovations” tour Stan held several exploratory discussions with representatives of European promoters who were eager to have him tour the continent. But the idea was not particularly appealing to him. He remembered reading an account of a Paris concert at which a French orchestra played Kenton music exclusively. The audience had reacted by throwing mixed fruit at the musicians.
Stan’s reluctance to take the European junket succumbed to the enthusiasm with which everyone else greeted the idea. His recording company had facts which indicated that Stan would be received with more than average interest. Economically, the Kenton management assured Stan, it would be a wise move.
Los Angeles representatives for the British music press believed Stan’s music was even more widely known and appreciated in England and the continent than in America. On their advice Stan decided to build his program around modern jazz, which meant he would feature a “Progressive” type band. June Christy agreed to rejoin for the European dates.
There was a climactic engagement in Dublin. A Sunday matinee and evening concert there were the only performances for English speaking audiences. Due to American-British union restrictions the Kenton band could not play in England. But when the curtain rose more than half the audience of 7000 which jammed the Theatre Royal had come over from England. Twelve charter planes had been added to the regular London Dublin flights. The service across the Irish Sea included a special Kenton excursion.
In Paris Zoot Sims received a standing, shouting ovation for his Zoot. At the Sportpalast, Berlin, the hall in which Herr Goebbels had denounced American jazz ten years before, 15,000 young Germans—many of them from East Germany—turned out for the Kenton concert.
In Stockholm, Milan, Copenhagen, Munich, and every city on the itinerary, the band played to packed halls of enthusiastic listeners.
Stan personally found the European tour the most rewarding experience of his career. His music was, he discovered, being played for ballet and modern dance groups. The Sadlers Wells company was experimentally choreographing some of the early originals. In France and Italy Kenton saw art films built around his music. The serious interest the press took in his concerts and the space devoted to the reviews indicated how wide an audience the music had.
In Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and England, Stan found the best evidence of the modern jazz influence: young musicians who could play alongside the American greats.
Returning to America, Stan could look back at the tour, back through his years in music and see how his own aspirations for jazz had, in this era, come to be realized. Not that he had stood alone. There were many before him: composers, arrangers, personalities who were the spokesmen for jazz. And there were the great artists who performed the music. They were jazz itself.
It was difficult for Stan to assess his own contribution. He still didn’t know how or why it happened, but he had become a focal personality in the new jazz movement. From the earliest days of the band, young composers and musicians—on a high professional level—wrote to him, sent manuscripts, dubs, and tapes. They identified their own problems with Stan.
Many young men interested in jazz, Stan found, were far different from those with whom he had played in his early days. More and more frequently musicians with the virtuosity that comes only from studying classical techniques appeared on the jazz scene. Prominent jazz musicians had themselves returned to serious study. Young men now were often not only good jazz men but outstanding technicians, composers, and arrangers. And while they believed in the freedom of jazz, the spontaneous relating of invention to emotion, they believed just as strongly in the mastery of technique, and, for themselves, they believed in an intellectual understanding of the material they wished to use.
On the roster of artists leading the modern jazz movement were many who played in Kenton organizations before they achieved their own success: Milt Bernhart, Bob Cooper, Stan Getz, Bill Holman, Lee Konitz, Stan Levey, Shelly Manne, Boots Mussulli, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Frank Rosolino, Sal Salvador, Bud Shank, Conte Candoli, Kai Winding. Gerry Mulligan (Swing House), Laurindo Almeida (Baa-Too-Kee), Bill Russo (Bill’s Blues), and many others found a place for imaginative arrangements and compositions in the modern idiom.
Possibly, Stan felt, the encouragement he gave those artists would ultimately prove his most lasting contribution. As far as his own music was concerned, he could not evaluate it himself. Still, it was satisfying to know that it was being heard, and heard carefully, in his own time.
In the future Stan hoped he would be able to return to Europe. Meanwhile he wanted to begin grouping his music in three general categories: popular and dance, progressive and jazz, and finally, innovations and new directions. In this manner he expected to find an outlet for experimentation, for contemporary performances in jazz, and the means to introduce new ideas to the widest possible audience.
In following his own artistic conscience he sometimes turned his back on the obviously profitable aspects of his own music—often to the dismay of those who represented, recorded, and managed him.
But he spoke to those who had an ear to listen. In 1954, in the largest poll ever recorded by The Down Beat, Stan Kenton was elected to the “Music Hall of Fame,” an honor established for those who had “contributed the most to modern American music in the Twentieth Century.” Only two others, Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller, had been previously elected.
Stan had left his mark on an era.