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.
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.