Willis Conover

Interview with Stan Kenton

WWDC Radio Station
Washington DC
14 January 1947

The audio and pictures are from the Willis Conover Collection, part of the Music Special Collections at the University of North Texas Music Library. This wonderful archive and its preservation has been the work of many people at UNT, most notably, Maristella Feustle, Music Special Collections Librarian.

Presumably, Part One exists of this interview and will surface at some point. But the remaining three parts offer some insights into Kenton in the midst of one of his most fertile periods.

My Image
My Image
My Image
  • Transcript – Part two

    00:24 Stan Kenton: Wow, see I’m at a total loss ‘cause I never heard of them even.

    00:27 Willis Conover: Okay. Well, I meant to omit that record from the list anyway. Here’s something a little bit more familiar. I think you can identify it. I know you’ll recognize the style, but let’s see how quickly you can name the artist and the title of the selection.

    [music]

    01:21 WC: You got that, huh?

    01:21 SK: Yes, that’s another wonderful thing, there’s some wonderful tenor on there by Dave Matthews from Commando Serenade.

    01:27 WC: Right, Commando Serenade.

    01:28 SK: Just tell him to play just about eight bars of the tenor. It’s later on in the record, just put the needle down anywhere.

    [music]

    03:58 WC: Okay, you did very well, Stan. You identified the band and the name of the number as well. If you can identify the personnel, that’s perfectly alright.

    04:05 SK: The personnel, no I couldn’t do that.

    04:07 WC: No, I mean on each of these selections.

    04:09 SK: Oh. Personnel, all I can say is that’s Dave Matthew’s arrangement and his composition, that’s him playing the saxophone, I think it’s one of the finest things Dave ever did.

    04:18 WC: Sounds a lot like Duke too, of course. Very much so. That’s when Matthews was going through a stage where he lived and breathed Ellington, everything he wrote was Ellington and he was really…He did a lot toward making Duke famous.

    [laughter]

    04:33 WC: Stan I don’t think you’ll have any trouble identifying these next artists.

    [music]

    05:10 SK: Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. I think it’s on the back of a record that Buck Washington on piano made with Earl called Dear Old Southland.

    05:17 WC: That’s right, and it’s Weather Bird. Alright, now here’s one of the modern bands if you have it queued up in the control room, do you? Alright, perhaps you should identify this one rather easily, at least the orchestra. He plays somewhat in your style.

    [music]

    06:00 SK: No, I don’t recognize it at all. It’s great, whatever it is.

    06:02 WC: Randy Brooks.

    06:03 SK: Is that a Randy Brooks transcription?

    06:04 WC: Record.

    06:05 SK: A record, huh? That’s great. Sounds wonderful. I would never have guessed. What’s the name of it?

    06:09 WC: Thunder Rock.

    06:10 SK: Have you heard the things you hear before? It’s great, isn’t it, huh?

    06:13 WC: I guess Stan doesn’t have much time to listen to records.

    [laughter]

    06:16 SK: Now don’t admit me a complete failure here!

    06:18 WC: No. I’m giving you a...

    06:21 SK: I don’t have as much time as you might think, Willis, to hear the records. I don’t have any records that I carry around on the road with me. And the only records I hear are generally when I’m around in music stores, and records that fellas bring in, that are out and bring in from the stores, and play ‘em up in the theaters and things.

    06:37 WC: Alright, Stan. Who’s the clarinet man in this band?

    [music]

    07:18 SK: I just had said to you before we came on the air here, Willis, it might be Benny but it sounds so thin for him, the tone sounds so thin. And I don’t recognize the composition. You say it is Benny Goodman?

    07:27 WC: It is Benny Goodman. It’s a composition written for him by Mel Powell, Clarinade.

    07:30 SK: Yeah. No, I don’t know it.

    07:31 WC: Fairly recent release. Now this last one, Stan, is a sort of a trick. It’s a nasty trick to play on you.

    07:37 SK: Oh, really?

    07:38 WC: Yeah. You’ll get the tune right away but you’ll have some trouble with the guy that’s playing it, I think. Maybe I’m wrong. Go ahead and play it.

    07:44 SK: Alright. Let’s try it.

    [music]

    08:40 WC: This is really a dirty trick, Stan. You listen a little longer.

    [music]

    [laughter]

    09:17 WC: Oh, brother! How’d you like that, Stan?

    09:19 SK: I don’t know, I think it’s a…That really is a dirty trick! That is a dirty trick for him to do. What a beautiful record that thing is.

    09:27 WC: Spike Jones, of course.

    09:28 SK: Yes. Isn’t that thing beautiful when it started? Did you like it, Pete? Did you know who it was?

    09:33 Pete Rugolo: I knew, because of…

    09:34 SK: Did you? Oh.

    09:36 WC: Pete Rugolo, how about sitting up to the…Pete is mic shy. But if you’re gonna talk at all, you might as well talk over the mic.

    09:43 SK: Well, I think it’s a beautiful record. If I had a thing, I’d take some scissors and snip out the center part and keep the outside track. A funny thing about Spike is you know, he and I grew up together. There were several of us in Los Angeles that all got started about the same time. There was Spike Jones and Freddie Slack and Buddy Cole and Vito and…Oh, I guess, no use trying to think of more names, but I played with Spike a lot and he has always been like he is on records today. I remember, once, we had a job where we were supposed to wear tuxedos. And Spike would always loosen the satin, the thing that runs down the seam in the trousers, so that it would hang out. So that when he walked down the street, it would dangle in the wind, you see. He was always wearing dickeys with no shirts underneath, so that all of a sudden, he could move his coat, and they’d roll up underneath his neck. But he was really a great swing drummer at one time so I never thought that he’d be famous in this sense.

    10:34 WC: Well, you got seven out of 11.

    10:37 SK: Did I do that well?

    10:38 WC: Yeah.

    10:39 SK: I thought I’d missed a lot more.

    10:39 WC: Seven and a half, as a matter of fact. Yes? So you did very well, Stan. Okay, you’ve qualified as a person who’s able to answer our questions tonight. You should answer this first one easily. A listener named Miss Binny Martinovich of Arlington Farms, Virginia, Main Hall, Room I-101. I don’t know if she’s listening or not. Go up and wake her up, girls! Wants to know, well she says, “I saw Stan Kenton in St. Louis, MO, about a year and half ago or maybe even longer. Ever since then, I’ve wondered about a certain song he then played at the Tune Town Ballroom. I’ll give you the little information I know concerning it and I’d appreciate your finding out just what it is, and if it had ever been recorded. At the time, I feel quite sure he said it had no name because one of the members of the band had just passed, and I think it was named after him. Several months ago, I heard it on the radio and it was called 120. It’s very good. It’s all I can say about it. What is the original title of the song?”

    11:35 SK: Well, I think that, the woman, what is her name? Binny. I think that when Binny was in St. Louis the arrangement…There was a thing that I wrote for a record. And it was an instrumental and it’s funny, most of the time, I think of the titles before, almost, the arrangements are written. But I wrote this without a title. And that was the number in the book, 120. And I think that the title that we’d used then was after our band boy. We have a property man by the name of Gable, and I think…His nickname is Gabe and I think that we called the thing Gabe Comes On, I’m pretty sure that she’ll remember that’s what it was and then of course when we got to the coast, we did make a master of it for Capital and it was finally…I didn’t want the thing released because I felt that it was inferior to the band and...

    12:19 WC: We have it on transcription.

    12:20 SK: And it had been funny what was put on transcription and we decided to call it 120 on transcription.

    12:25 WC: Gabe Comes On, she thought you said somebody had passed on.

    12:28 SK: No, I think it was called Gabe Comes On. We don’t even have it in the book anymore.

    12:32 WC: Alright, Tom Corcoran, an old friend of mine from Gonzaga High, writes in care of me, “Dear Mr. Kenton, if in the short space of one minute from now you could have the wish of selecting from all of America the top musicians in their field for your band, who would they be? In other words, an all-star band?” He wants five trumpets, five trombones, five reeds, four rhythm, two singers, one extra specialty, for example a vibraphone, and one arranger.

    12:56 SK: Well, gee, that’s a very difficult question. There’s a lot of musicians that I might answer. I think maybe what he would like to know instead of having me labor over trying to find five trumpets and five saxes and so forth, just let me say names of my favorites in the business today of the musicians and maybe that will satisfy his question. I think on drums I would choose either Dave Tough or Shelly Manne. I think that they both are the finest. I have never played with Davy. He’s never been in our band, but I don’t know just exactly how he’d feel in the band, but I know that we’ve never had anything finer than Shelly. He’s tremendous.

    13:29 WC: Well, Stan let’s say exclusive of the men are already in your band, because I’m sure you think you have the finest...

    13:32 SK: Well, no, I’m modest about the men I have in the band. I only have two in there that I can sincerely say are the greatest that I believe. One is Safranski and one is Shelly Manne. On trombone, I would naturally choose Bill Harris. He’s so far out ahead of everyone else and he’s truly a great artist, even more than any of the others, some of the other trombone players. And saxophones, I think that, on first alto I’m very fond of Benny Carter. I like Benny Carter’s first style of saxophone playing, I think much better than some of the other fellows. I’ve also heard fellows who’ve played great in the last couple of years, but I named Benny Carter. His name stands out in my mind right now. And on tenor, I’m very fond of Vito. Vito’s not with us but I think that Vito is fiery and spirited and I think he’s absolutely great. For the…What have we named?

    14:18 SK: We’ve named some trumpets. For the trumpets, it’s a rather difficult question on trumpets. I think that Dizzy is a very hot product today and I like Dizzy very much, but I am not a fan of that particular vein of music. I have…I’d go for the other type thing. I’m more from the Louis Armstrong school, and I like trumpet players that play in that vein. On first trumpet, I can’t…We have a phenomenal trumpet player in our band, a fellow by the name of Buddy Childers, for swing work and things. But I think there’s Conrad Gozzo, there’s probably Chuck Peterson, there’s probably a number of good trumpet players that could probably…That are probably equally capable of…That’s about. And on vibraphones, …

    14:55 WC: No what he says here, it says, “Any extra specialty with the band, for example…”

    14:58 SK: Well, I think Lionel is tremendous. I like Lionel on vibraphone. Pretty much I’d prefer him to Red Norvo.

    15:04 WC: Aside from a vibraphone...

    15:05 SK: Extra specialties?

    15:06 WC: Who would you like to have besides a vibes man?

    15:08 SK: Well, let’s see. I can’t think of anything else. It seems like...

    15:11 WC: You probably have them if you wanted wouldn’t you?

    15:12 SK: Yeah, I’ve never heard of, or saw, a guy that played harmonica good or a saw musician or anything. I can’t think…I don’t think there is any novelties in swing music in a sense. I couldn’t name anything.

    15:23 WC: Any singers outside of those you have or...

    15:25 SK: I think the singers…I’m very fond of Billy Eckstine. I like him very much. As for the girls, I think I would choose Anita O’Day.

  • Transcript – Part three

    00:02 Willis Conover: Good enough. And what about arrangers, aside from Pete Rugolo?

    00:06 Stan Kenton: Uh, arrangers, let me see…

    00:12 WC: It’d be hard to get Duke.

    00:14 SK: No, I wouldn’t have Ellington, because I think that he’s great but he thinks another way. I think something else. And arrangers, let me see. Now who is my favorite arranger here?

    00:25 WC: Sauter? Oliver?

    00:26 SK: I wouldn’t pick Sauter. I think Sauter’s great too, but I wouldn’t pick him for my particular band.

    00:31 WC: Burns?

    00:32 SK: I think that my next arranger would probably be Neal Hefti.

    00:36 WC: Mm-hm. Excellent…

    00:38 SK: After that. I like George Handy very much but we wouldn’t get along together at all.

    00:43 WC: Well, Tom, I hope you feel satisfied, that’s about all I can think of. Maybe some time I’ll sit down and try to write an all-star band. This is Washington, WWDCN. The boys at the FCC are happy, let’s continue with our interview. Stan, tell me. Do you honestly think you’re pretty good? And that’s not a wisecrack…

    01:01 SK: Do I honestly think I’m pretty good?

    01:02 WC: I mean, you feel as though you’re…

    01:06 SK: What I have to say is this, you’ll never feel in music, I don’t think you ever feel extremely confident. You never feel that confidence. Because that’s what makes it such a thrill to work, because there are actually days when I wake up and I work with the band and I say “I don’t believe I’m capable of going ahead and doing anything more because I don’t seem to feel it, I have no new ideas,” you know? Then I begin, I’ll say to become afraid, and then you become afraid and you get confused and the next thing it’s an awful mess. You’d be surprised how often you can become confused. Because one thing I do more than make money or anything else, I’d like to see our band realized and mean something, I want to see it grow in institutional proportions and mean something for music. I’d like to help a lot to try to set a pace for other bands and things, the band business is in such a state of corruption today that it’s a horrible thing, you know? And I hope that the band through our efforts can help to bring the music business out of it so that it will be a little better business, and also do our share toward bettering music.

    02:00 WC: Well, great. Stan, a lot of people think you’re great. Here’s a guy who thinks you stink. Guy who wrote me a letter. I say, here’s a fellow who wrote me a letter and he thinks you smell.

    02:10 SK: He does? Are you gonna read it on the air?

    02:11 WC: Yeah.

    02:12 SK: You are.

    02:12 WC: Can you take it?

    02:13 SK: Well, we’ll see how bad it is. Go ahead and read.

    02:15 WC: All right. Just stop me if you can’t take any more, all right?

    02:18 SK: All right.

    02:19 WC: It’s a friend of mine, who writes fine very critical letters after practically every broadcast I do, that contains music that he feels strongly about one way or the other. He says, “Dear Willis, You’ll probably never speak to me again after you read this letter, but you can have Stan Kenton. I don’t want any part of him. Man, that show at the Capitol was horrible. I stayed through two shows and the second was worse than the first.” Okay?

    02:42 SK: Yeah, go ahead.

    02:44 WC: He didn’t play anything, and the only one he featured was Safranski. Winding, the only other kick in the band, didn’t take one solo. Christy was nice, but that’s all. Kenton sure is on the wrong kick. He socks you hard at first and you’re dizzy, and you don’t know what’s good or bad. But when you recover, all you hear is noise. Kenton is nothing but a popular song hit of the day. He’s taking Glen Miller’s place. He’s laying down the same kind of music, only more modern. Winding and Safranski are the only soloists he’s got, Mussulli is a just a better than average album man. None of the trumpets play any good jazz. Manne is a good funny man, and when Musso is with him, he has to blow so loud to be heard he doesn’t play anything. I do have to admit that Kenton was kind of cute on the stage, and he can wash my laundry any time.

    [laughter]

    03:27 WC: Did you ever wash laundry?

    03:28 SK: No, but I’ll be doing it after you read this letter.

    03:30 WC: “Well, after listening to it five times, it gets very monotonous, with the exception of Willow Weep for Me. Yeah, Kenton sure came up with something new, just like Glenn Miller. You remember Miller came up with that clarinet sax stuff, and he was the talk of the music world. Metronome and Down Beat were full of him, just like Kenton today. He’s just another Glenn Miller. But maybe that’s what he wants! Miller made a lot of gold. But at least Miller never claimed to be doing things big in jazz. And when you get right down to it, Miller had much better musicians than Kenton has now. You know anyone who wants to buy a slightly used Kenton album, I’ll sell it for carfare money to see Louis at the music hall. Now those transcriptions are different. Those ‘June Christy and Her Kentones’ are nice. Not great, but nice. I don’t think that poor Stanley spent sleepless nights worrying over those transcriptions. The less thought the great man puts on his music, the better it is. The payoff is…”

    04:18 WC: Fan him a little bit, will you, Pete? “The payoff is that he claims he wants to give his men a chance, and the only chance they really get are on transcriptions, which he didn’t give much thought to. Or maybe Christy gave them the chance. I suppose he’ll come up with something new shortly. Say, I’ve got an idea. Why doesn’t he use a series of echo chambers, you know, one after another? Or better yet, run it from an echo chamber into a dead room and back to another echo chamber. There’s no end of possibilities. That interview you had with him on the Glen radio show was just too much. In naming arrangers, he condescended to mention Ellington and Strayhorn at the end of his list. What a laugh! He talks about modern arranging. Sy Oliver’s numbers for the old Lunceford far surpass anything Kenton or his boys do today. Here’s a question you can ask him, Tuesday night. How’s he going to give his men a break, as he claims, when in person you can’t even hear them solo? Farewell, Willis, old man. It was nice knowing you. Sincerely yours…‘Sincerely’ underlined…Joe.” Friend of mine named Joe Snow.

    05:12 SK: Well I’ll tell you, ladies and gentlemen, we mustn’t try to kid you about one thing. Willis got this letter in the mail. He received it in the mail a couple of days ago and he called me up on the phone and read it to me, and I asked for the letter…

    05:23 WC: Without identifying the man.

    05:24 SK: I asked for him to, would he please send the letter to the theater? Because I thought it was a very good letter. I’ll tell you why the letter interests me a lot is, most fan mail you get is mail that have a bunch of flattering phrases in it, everybody thinks you’re great and tremendous and how much they enjoy it and would you please send them an autographed picture and so forth? And then every once in a while a letter will come along from a fella and he’ll say “Why didn’t you do this or that or the other thing” or “You better do this or you’re gonna be out of business,” and it’s generally always those letters that you hang on to. And out of all the letters I’ve ever received I’ve never had a letter written about the band that is this strong, and one thing most of the letters sometimes that are written in strength, where they’re trying to criticize you, are done in an illiterate way and that makes the value of the letter worthless.

    06:07 SK: But this letter is very well written and you can tell that the fellow has given it a lot of thoughts and you’d be surprised in the letter he has hit me on the chin a couple of three times there with things that I know that are faults of mine. And then there are also things in the letter that I disagree with him on too. So as a result we decided to read the letter over the air tonight, we thought it would be interesting. So Willis asked, he said would I mind if he brought the chap that wrote the letter up on the program, and I said I thought it would be a wonderful idea. So ladies and gentlemen I want you to meet the chap that I meet just a while ago, the fellow that wrote this letter. His name is Joe Snow. Joe?

    06:42 Joe Snow: Well, thank you very much Mr. Kenton.

    06:43 SK: You know Willis before, you don’t have to worry about being introduced to him.

    06:46 JS: No, I know Willis very well.

    06:47 SK: And I’m awfully happy to meet you really, and I want the letter… To tell you the truth, you have probably become famous over this letter because I wanna take the letter home, I’d like to show it to my manager, I wanna show it to Capital Records. I want the people to see the thing. Sometimes they think that people don’t give things a lot of thought around the country with the records they choose, and after they read this letter they’ll know there’s such people as you around, you really analyzed the thing from a very serious point. What do you wanna do Willis?

    07:12 WC: Joe, don’t let him out talk you, he lays down an awful lot of gab.

    07:14 JS: No…

    07:15 SK: I think Joe, what Willis would like us to do here is just start fighting over this thing, but I think what would be wonderful…

    07:20 WC: I put, we have Stan at one end of the table and Joe’s down at the other end of the table on another mic, they can’t reach other. And as long as you lay off the profanity, I’d like to know what you… Well Stan, what’s your reaction to the letter?

    07:31 SK: Well what I’d like to do if it’s all right with Joe is this, I’d like to take the letter from the top and take each statement as we go.

    07:36 JS: I wanna say one thing first.

    07:37 WC: Yes.

    07:38 JS: When I came down here I didn’t exactly expect you’d have a baseball bat but you were certainly very nice, and you treated me nice…

    07:45 WC: That’s very disarming.

    07:47 JS: He treated me like I was a fan.

    07:48 SK: You mean you’re trying to win me now by flattery is that…

    07:51 JS: And I’d like to say one thing, I’m not a musician, I’m an outsider looking in and of course Mr. Kenton, actually I don’t know a B-flat from a dotted eighth note but…

    08:00 SK: Well let me tell you something Joe, here’s a very interesting thing. Our music today, any band’s music it’s up to you people that are in the public to buy the records and if you don’t buy them, it doesn’t make a difference whether the musicians think they’re good or bad or what. You must buy, and I don’t mean that to be supporting a thing commercially either. Because in the first place, there’s one thing that I value very highly, and that’s the opinions of the fans that follow the band, this band and other bands that follow all people because if I may be frank about a thing, musicians are confused a lot. They are affected by a great many personal feelings, and there’s a lot of frustration in musicians that they’re not honest like the public is. So I consider really the public’s opinion more important than musicians and I mean that from that standpoint.

    08:41 JS: Well, answer, I wanna ask you one question, what are you out after? Are you after to make money, or to just get your kicks, or try and have the best band you can get?

    08:50 SK: No, I want to try, Joe to have the best possible band that I can engineer. I really do. It would be a thrill someday if I could think that we had the greatest band in America. You know what I mean? And be recognized as such. I want our band to not just be a name band, I just don’t wanna do what Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman, and Harry James did. I want our band to be a big thing, I want it to be an institutional thing, I want all people to know it, and I want to do my best then to keep the band in a jazz vein to where we’ll say that when we fold up, all I wanna do is feel that we’ve done our share of helping jazz grow and helping it become a respected music. You love jazz but you’d be surprised the number of people around the country that still think it’s a lot of rot.

    09:32 JS: Well that’s true.

    09:33 SK: They think it’s a horrible music and they think it’s very degrading, they think the younger generation if they buy jazz records it’s a sign that they are going to go to the dogs completely.

    09:42 JS: Do you consider your music jazz though?

    09:44 SK: Yes.

    09:45 JS: A lot of people listen to your music. Do you swing in jazz or?

    09:49 SK: Yes, you see…

    09:49 JS: Because some people combine them and some people call ‘em different. For me swing is the same kind of music that Glenn Miller played. Just…

    10:00 SK: Well, that could be. I think the word swing doesn’t mean any more than that. I really do.

    10:02 JS: Jazz to me is relaxed, very relaxed, and played with feelings. And I don’t see how you can play with feeling when you have to blow all your might, and another thing you can’t even hear your soloists most of the time. I mean at the capital… I couldn’t hear your singers on By the River of St. Marie, several times the trumpets would come in so hard…

    10:29 SK: You couldn’t hear.

    10:29 JS: You couldn’t distinguish their words.

    10:32 SK: Well, that could be a fault. I’ll tell you Joe, I’ll tell you a little bit about the band and then its purpose. And you’ll know sometimes you’ll easily see why the faults are… The reasons for the faults. One fault that I have is this, I think all the time I’ve always thought in terms of an arranger. And the band was really meant to be a band in the beginning to exploit and arranging things, you see what I mean, arrange things. And the band it’s only been about since the last year that we have started to use more solos all the time because I realized that the solos are the thing that make the arrangements have more of a pulsating sound. You see what I mean? It has to have those…

    11:06 JS: You must have solos.

    11:07 SK: That’s right. They are the ones that inspire the tone color into the jazz sounds of the sections, otherwise we have nothing. When you remark about in your letter here of not hearing soloists on the stage, I’ll admit that that’s true. You hear Winding and a couple of few short things up there, Safranski, you wouldn’t have heard Safranski if it hadn’t have been that he was, the particular show you caught probably he was featured.

    11:27 JS: Well he wasn’t at the next show.

    11:28 SK: The next show Charlie Mann played, they trade off you see. And sometimes on a stage it’s terribly difficult, you should have seen us at the Paramount Theater in New York where we played nothing there, we couldn’t play a thing. You have a certain show to present at the time, you can never catch any band at a good advantage of the theater, you’ve got to hear them on a one nighter. Sometime we’ll play a one nighter here then you’ll be able to hear everything because in four hours then you’ll hear just exactly about how the whole thing is done.

    11:51 JS: Let me say one more thing.

    11:52 SK: Yeah.

    11:53 JS: In your album in Safranski, I think he’s a very excellent bass man, bassist and I tried to listen to him and I got my ear right up next to the radio, and all of a sudden “wah”, some trumpets come out and I’m blown across the room. I can’t listen to ‘em.

    12:07 SK: Oh really? Well you see, I, that’s the thing that I like.

    12:11 JS: And do you wanna know one other thing?

    12:12 SK: Yes, what?

    12:12 JS: I use cacti needles on all my records, and one cacti needle won’t last out one of your records.

    12:18 SK: Is that a fact?

    12:19 JS: That’s the truth.

    12:19 SK: Well that’s something I didn’t know.

    12:20 JS: One cacti needle…

    12:21 SK: You mean because of the load of brass on there?

    12:23 JS: It must be, I don’t know.

    12:23 SK: Yeah.

    12:24 JS: The volume that comes out.

    12:24 SK: Well see we have a hard time recording the band too, Joe, because the band blows it. When it’s blowing strong it really blows strong, but the reason it blows strong is we try to create a throb in a sound in the blending of brass. You cannot get a thrill out of a brass section blowing soft, that kind of a thrill. You see? And another thing Joe, sometimes, now, I say we play jazz. Our band is a brand of jazz. But you can’t say that we play jazz in the sense that Coop plays jazz.

    12:51 JS: No.

    12:51 SK: Or you can’t say that we play jazz in the sense that we’ll say the old Eddie Condon, that sort of thing, or the old New Orleans style, or some of those old things because I don’t feel that we have any part of that and don’t want any part of the Dixieland jazz or anything. You see what I mean?

    13:03 JS: Well I understand all that, but the one thing is, the noise.

    13:06 SK: Well to me that’s not noise. See? That’s not noise to me. See to you, it’s disturbing to hear those other sounds, but to me those sounds are created to add thrill to the sounds that are going on. You see? And that’s not noise to me. There’s been lots of times where the band, the musicians have come to me in the band and they say “Stan, we should start blowing softer”. And I say, “Yes, let’s try to find a lower blowing level”, a level to where you’re blowing softly. Then when you blow a triple forte, you’ll feel it. You’re blowing strong, you see. Somehow we’ll try for a few days and all of a sudden the band is blowing right back strong, and you know why it blows strong? It’s because of me, and I know that. That’s the thing that I reflect upon the band. But that is the way I like it.

    13:49 JS: Well do you have any slow, relaxed instrumental music?

    13:52 SK: Yes, yes we have. They’re not recorded, things that aren’t recorded.

    13:57 JS: I mean every one of your instrumental numbers are frantic.

    14:00 SK: That’s right, they have been, and that’s one thing…

    14:00 JS: Feels like the whole band is tied up in a ball like that. I don’t feel like they relax.

    14:04 SK: You should’ve known the band two or three years ago when it was really tied up in a ball. When the things we played, the band expressed nothing but a lot of nervous energy. There’s a… What are some of the things here in the letter now, like you heard me talking to Willis a while ago, you know what I think of Shelly. I think Shelly’s a great, great drummer. Of course he’s funny too. I think Mussulli is not the greatest in the country but I think Mussulli plays very good alto.

    14:28 JS: Well I have to say I haven’t heard him very much; I just heard him on these very fast numbers a la Jimmy Dorsey. Real fast.

    14:34 SK: Yes, well you haven’t noticed any Jimmy Dorsey tint in the…

    14:38 JS: Oh no, his tone is nothing like it, but running all over the keys.

    14:41 SK: Now another thing, we talked about those loud things. I know that that is my fault, and that’s a thing I try to correct. You talk about when Musso is with him; he has to blow so loud he doesn’t play anything.

  • Transcript – Part four

    00:20 Stan Kenton: That could be true. It’s not true all the time, but it could be very true. Now, you take on his Sorrento, the band is blowing strong behind him.

    00:26 Joe Snow: And Musso is horrible on that in my opinion.

    00:28 SK: Do you really think so? I think he plays very good on it.

    00:32 JS: Do you know that Musso has changed his style of playing in the last eight years?

    00:36 SK: Has he changed it?

    00:37 JS: He certainly has. When he was with Goodman he didn’t play anything like that. He had a kick all his own. Now, in my opinion, he’s on a combination Coleman Hawkins kick and.…What’s this fellow who played with Duke?

    00:49 SK: Ben Webster.

    00:49 JS: Ben Webster kick. Before then he was under the.…And when he was playing with Krupa, you can get some of his old records. It’s relaxed, nice stuff. Now he’s with you, he’s frantic and loud and hard and harsh.

    01:00 SK: Well, that could be, too, in the way of recording. There’s a lot of brilliance on the records when Vido’s recorded with us and through the studios out there, but that’s the way we like him recorded. I like to have him sound that way. He has an immense tone.

    01:09 JS: He does.

    01:11 SK: That might be true too, Joe, about what you speak about Vido there. I know that he has had backgrounds that are too strong as far as…But you gotta remember one thing. Remember what I told you when I started, about the arranging? You know what I mean? I tell some of the musicians, sometimes the band they’ll come to me and they’ll say, “Stan, why can’t I blow more? Why can’t I blow more? I’ll never learn how to play in this band because I don’t get a chance to play enough. You know what I mean?” I say this, that any big band can only be a showcase. Guys can’t learn how to play in the band because they should know how to play when they get there, then they can be showcased in the band. And so as I said, the band is primarily and is yet an arranger’s band today. Now, Woody’s band, I don’t think was an arranger’s band.

    01:49 JS: In other words, you think that the outstanding feature of the band should be the arrangers and not the soloists?

    01:53 SK: No, I don’t say that, Joe. I say that was it.

    01:55 JS: Should they balance or…

    01:56 SK: Yes they should. And that’s what we’re out to do.

    02:00 JS: In your band I don’t think…I can’t say so-and-so isn’t a good soloist when I haven’t heard him. But you don’t get a chance to hear them enough.

    02:08 SK: Yeah. Well, you haven’t heard very many records either. See, we haven’t made very many records. Have you listened to the transcriptions?

    02:12 JS: Yeah, I listen to all your transcriptions.

    02:13 SK: Well, you should have heard enough to make a…

    02:14 JS: I think some of them are very good. How High the Moon is nice.

    02:19 SK: Well, that’s Christy, see. And you’re right about the letter there, I had nothing to do with her recordings. She recorded. Now you must remember one thing, when she made records with the musicians, those are ear arrangements, most of them.

    02:28 JS: Small band too.

    02:28 SK: Yes, and there are things that the.…Instead of voicing the horns together and trying to get an ensemble effect, they let a man take 16 bars, and so most of the soloists on the record were very capable and able to do it. I don’t think she used very many of our men. Well, I guess she did, two, three or four or five of them. But I know that some of the sessions had different men on them. Another thing, I think Christy is a great singer and you’re not very impressed with her.

    02:51 JS: Oh, no. No, I…

    02:53 SK: Well, here in your letter you say that she is alright.

    02:55 JS: I can name five or six singers better than June Christy.

    02:58 SK: White singers?

    03:00 JS: No, I can only name Anita O’Day.

    03:02 SK: Yeah, well. But I think that…

    03:04 JS: Oh, no, wait a minute. One more.

    03:05 SK: Who?

    03:06 JS: A girl used to be with Woody Herman, quit him.

    03:09 SK: Frances Wayne?

    03:09 JS: Frances Wayne, I like her better.

    03:11 SK: Do you really? See, I don’t know…

    03:12 JS: Only three Woody Herman numbers I like and she’s on two of them.

    03:18 SK: We’ll admit one thing, they both can’t be equal. One is superior, you know? But I don’t, I prefer Christy to Frances Wayne. You know, I really do. You know, Joe, this is a wonderful letter, it really is. Where is this thing here? There’s some stuff in here that.…Now, it would be nice to be as big as Glenn Miller. If we could be as big as Glenn Miller, playing our music as big as Glenn Miller was, it would be a thrill. But I’ll tell you honestly, I don’t want to sacrifice anything to become big. You know what I mean? I want the band to become big playing its music that it plays. And there’s lots of times when we record some things that are stupid and silly, novelties and things like that, but they’re absolutely necessary things. You have to record them, or otherwise the band gets clear out on a tangent by itself. I have to worry about this too, there’s about 30 people in the band and they all make money and we have to eat. And I will not, with some of the instrumental things, I will not alter a thing. I keep it just exactly the way I think it should be, but there are things like Rika Jika Jack that we’ve made that were meant to be commercial, record selling novelties.

    04:14 JS: Do you want to know what I think about your fans?

    04:16 SK: Yes.

    04:16 JS: I won’t say they’re morons, ‘cause I don’t think they are. But I think they’re just going through a stage, they haven’t matured enough. For instance, eight or nine years ago I used to hang down at Nick’s all the time. I thought that was the greatest music that could be played. I thought “Pee Wee” was great. Well, I matured out of that. I found out they’re limited that they don’t…

    04:34 SK: That’s right. I agree with you there.

    04:35 JS: They don’t play so much. Well, I think your fans now, they’re just discovering hot music more or less, and they’re listening to Stan Kenton and it’s a thrill. I have to admit that loud music is a thrill just like you hear a volley of guns. It’s a thrill. I think eventually that if they are gonna like music at all, they’ll mature and gradually wear out of that down to more subtle music. Relax.

    04:58 SK: No, you see, I think jazz is growing all the time. Now, would it sound funny to you if I think that our band is much greater than the Benny Goodman band was? Much greater than the Tommy Dorsey band was that played the Sy Oliver arrangements that you spoke about in the letter.

    05:10 JS: I meant Jimmie Lunceford’s band, the Sy Oliver arrangement.

    05:12 SK: Yeah, well, I think Sy Oliver was a great arranger at one time, Joe, but I think he’s completely antiquated today. I think he’s lost the feel entirely. I don’t think that Sy’s stuff means anything anymore. I don’t think the old Lunceford band means anything at all anymore.

    05:26 JS: Well, that’s something I’ve argued with myself a lot. I think you should advance in music, definitely. But I think there’s some things that are laid down that they should be played all the time, they shouldn’t be improved anymore.

    05:38 SK: There’s one thing that’s laid down, that’s a heart in jazz. Jazz has to have a sincere, throbbing heart sound. And that’s why there have been in the past 10 years too many musicians playing jazz that aren’t jazzmen. Get up and play a few things.…Guys like Ziggy Ellman, who is no more a jazz man than…

    05:55 JS: No, he certainly isn’t.

    05:56 SK: The fellow that sweeps the place out here, you know what I mean?

    05:58 JS: I know what you mean.

    05:58 SK: And they have been considered jazz. That’s what made the thing such a confused thing. And there are very few good jazz musicians in the country today. We have a hard time trying to find fellows to play section work and not be soloists, but guys that just blow in a section that will blow with a heart and feel.

    06:13 JS: You know Benny Goodman, Sometime I’m Happy?

    06:15 SK: Sometimes I’m Happy?

    06:16 JS: That real relaxed thing by Fletcher Henderson.

    06:19 SK: I don’t like that, see. I think that’s gone. That doesn’t mean anything anymore.

    06:21 JS: To me that’s still knocks me out.

    06:23 SK: Well, it’s still not…

    06:24 JS: And yet I like Dizzy. I get a lot of kicks out of Dizzy. But that to me.…Some band could keep on playing that same type of thing. If they play that same type of thing they can work around it and get in different arrangements. But on the same order they can get new arrangements.

    06:38 SK: You see, I think that Benny Goodman’s style of rhythm and all that sort of thing is all gone. I don’t think that means anything anymore. To tell you the truth, Joe, there’s only one band that has remained more or less unchanged and has progressed and advanced and still today is superior to anything there is, that’s Duke.

    06:54 Willis Conover: Duke Ellington, that’s right.

    06:54 SK: And sometimes I analyze the Ellington band because like this.…You take some of the musicians out of the Ellington band and they’ve left the band and gone other places and they’re impossible. They’re not good musicians at all.

    07:04 JS: True.

    07:05 SK: You take Sonny Greer, Ellington’s drummer, if Duke ever kicked him out Sonny would starve to death ‘cause he couldn’t work anywhere. You know what I mean? Rex Stewart left Duke. He couldn’t even blow. You know what I mean? And so I’m building up to this point, the one thing that makes that Ellington band so great is that thing has remained intact year after year. The band will be 30 years old I believe next year, something like that.

    07:25 JS: But, but you take Duke’s newest number, his most progressive number, you put that and play that, and you take his oldest number and play that and you can tell it’s Duke Ellington.

    07:36 SK: Yes, that’s right.

    07:37 JS: Well, now, that’s the point I’m getting at.

    07:39 SK: But you can’t tell me that Ring Them Bells, a thing that was recorded 15 years ago, is as good as the stuff that he’s recording today.

    [chuckle]

    07:48 JS: I mean I kind of dig it myself, but to me it’s just as good.

    07:51 SK: It is, huh?

    07:52 JS: Maybe not definitely Ring Them Bells.

    07:55 SK: Well, I’ll take any old arrangement. Take Three Little Words or take, oh.…I’m trying to think of something 20 years old.

    08:02 WC: Echoes of Harlem?

    08:04 SK: Some of those old.…No, that’s more recent. I think that the Ellington band has definitely showed progress, Joe.

    08:09 JS: Well, you take a number like Saratoga Swing. I like that. Now, Duke, in that.…Now he has lost something and he has gained something. He’s lost some of the old feeling he used to have in those old numbers.

    08:21 SK: Yeah.

    08:21 JS: Feeling, I mean really great feeling. But he has gained a lot.

    08:26 SK: He’s gained a stronger swing in the band. I’ll tell you, I heard the band in New York three or four times. They were playing there. And I’ll tell you, Joe, I’ve never have heard the Ellington band swing like it’s swinging now. It’s terrific. It’s wonderful. It seems like.…You know it used to be for a savage swing you had to hear bands like Earl Hines and bands that created whirlwind things. You know what I mean? And it was always Duke that you appreciated so much for moods. But now Ellington has moods and hard, strong swing too. He’s great. Well…

    08:53 JS: Let me ask you one more question.

    08:54 SK: What?

    08:56 JS: Do you think that in years to come if your band keeps intact you’ll ever start relaxing down a little bit and…

    09:04 SK: Oh, yes, I think so.

    09:05 JS: Maybe get in some numbers that aren’t blasting and…

    09:07 SK: Yes, I think so, Joe.

    09:09 JS: Well, I hope so. [chuckle]

    09:10 SK: All right. I know that we will because I’ll tell you, I wanna do all that I’m capable of doing. And when.…I hope to goodness that I have some word from somewhere that’ll tell me when I start messing things up rather than stay in the music business like some of these guys are today and creating a lot of rot. And recording rot and having it around for people to buy phonograph records that are absolutely are bad. You know a guy like Benny Goodman, who we’ll say is worth a lot of money today and has been a great musician, and you listen to the stuff that he’s recording today and it’s a pity. Somehow.…I don’t wanna be like Benny. I think that I’m helping music today.

    09:45 JS: He’s not laying down anything.

    09:46 SK: And the day I cease to help it, I hope that something happens to me if I don’t realize that I’m not contributing anything and get out.

    09:52 JS: May I say something about Artistry in Boogie?

    09:55 SK: Sure, go ahead.

    09:56 JS: When I heard that number I thought it was terrific. And I still do up to about three-fourths of the record. You know the end where the trumpets come blasting in?

    10:03 SK: Yeah.

    10:04 JS: It just kills the record for me. I’d just as soon take it off.

    10:07 SK: Yeah, well you see, it’s a funny thing, Joe. Now that is a very exciting…

    10:11 JS: Yeah, I know. You’re building up to something.

    10:12 SK: Well now, here’s what I say though, it’s not just loud music. There’s a throb going on in the band. There’s a throbbing sound that’s being created there, see. Yeah, I can tell the things that you like. And I can tell right now the things that you dislike. Now like, on the end of.…Here’s an example. Take that Artistry in Boogie. When we play that on jobs, that arrangement is very difficult, but it’s extremely exciting. Very exciting. And it’s not exciting because the brass is loud. It’s exciting because there’s a thing in there…

    10:41 JS: I’ll tell you something, if I saw your band, say at the Savoy Ballroom, and everybody was yelling and screaming and having a great time, I would probably think it was wonderful. It’s a sensation band.

    10:50 SK: Yeah. Yes it has been that.

    10:52 JS: If you get the certain people around, everybody’s enjoying themselves, I think it’s great you guys are knocking yourself out…

    10:58 WC: It’s like Hampton. The effect can be…

    11:00 JS: Yeah, it’s like Hampton. To me it’s a lot like Hampton, only person I think you’re laying down more than Hampton. I don’t think he’s laying down anything.

    11:06 SK: Well, Hampton’s band is nothing but a lot of excitement, you see. I do believe that we’re playing music. We’re trying to construct arrangements that are composition form, that have a lot of harmony in them, a lot of richness in them. See, Lionel does nothing. He has 10 brass and five or six saxophones and they are all, you might say, are musical tom toms. Everybody’s playing a beat with all their might. He creates nothing like that, see. As great as Lionel is, you know and he’s one of the greatest exponents of swing because he can create a beat and start a thing gonna drive you crazy.

    11:34 JS: And yet I bet if you were seeing his band at a certain place, you’d probably get a big kick out of it.

    11:43 SK: No, I do get a big kick out of it, Joe. Don’t say I.…Don’t mistake me.

    11:47 JS: More or less entertainment, isn’t it?

    11:48 SK: Oh yes. It’s a great thing. And it’s a thrill. I get a thrill out of the band. When those guys.…When Cobb gets up and starts blowing and they start that thing going, those guys stomping their feet and.…Why, that thing.…I feel a thrill from it. But I’m talking about the musical part of the band. It’s not a musical band like the Ellington band. In a matter of fact you can’t even compare them.

    12:05 JS: Well, that’s what I think about your band.

    12:07 SK: Well, that’s fine. I don’t think that. I think our band is a musical band.

    12:10 WC: Well, we said at the beginning of the evening, Stan you wouldn’t convince Joe and Joe you wouldn’t convince Stan, and we wound up exactly the same way. I don’t think so. You think so? I don’t. I know we have dozens of would-be critics who are listening who would like to have been up here and participate in the discussion. And if that had been true we would have had to stay on the air with this program all night long instead of letting Bill Cox’s program go on in just a couple of minutes. But I wanna thank you Stan and Joe Snow, both good friends of mine for coming up here and contribute.…Well. Doing my work for me; I’m getting paid for it and you’re doing it free.

    12:43 SK: Well, all I can say is this. I mean this sincerely George [sic], great talking to you. I have enjoyed it. And don’t think that I won’t leave holding a few things in my mind and don’t think you haven’t planted a few seeds in my mind.

    12:53 JS: Oh, I have.

    12:53 SK: And I hope that when you leave you think a little bit more of the Kenton band than you thought when you came in here. Don’t have to tell me, I said I hope. [chuckle] Anyway, it’s a pleasure knowing you, and Willis, I wanna thank you very much for having us on your show.

    13:07 WC: It was a great opportunity for me to be able to be here while it happened. Artistry jumps.

    [music]

    15:52 Announcer:
    Washington, WWDC.