Posts Tagged ‘Bob Graettinger’

Stan Kenton: A Centennial Celebration

Stan Kenton!

It seems there are 2 camps of people with opinions about Stan Kenton and his music - you love it or hate it. I belong to the former.

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I first got to know Stan Kenton’s music via the double lp Stan Kenton Today. I simply loved what I heard. Unlike other kids born in the early 1950s, I grew up with the sounds of the big band era - Benny Goodman, Harry James, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. As a young trumpet player the new-to-me sound of Kenton’s brass section was an absolute thrill, unlike any of the other big bands I had heard up to that time. I also found the compositions and arrangements interesting, and this was before I had ever written a note of music.  The lp, released on the Decca/London Records Phase 4 Stereo series, was lean on information about the players in the band as well as the arrangers. One of the arrangements really jumped out at me - Yesterdays, which featured Richard Torres on tenor. For a while I wondered who wrote that wonderful arrangement. Another arrangement I really enjoyed was Malaguena. Talk about exciting! I eventually found out that someone named Bill Holman wrote both of those arrangements. Bill Holman quickly came to the top of my list of favourite arrangers as I found other recordings featuring his outstanding writing. When I started to write Holman became a major influence on my own work and he continues to be an important influence on my own work today. This double lp soon led me to other Kenton lps, some recorded by his then current band and some reissues, all released on Stan Kenton’s Creative World label. What an interesting variety of sounds Kenton recorded! The early 1940s Luncefordesque rhythmic style, the emphasis on the saxophones in his earliest recordings, the increasing size of the brass section, the upward direction in range of the trumpet players, the sometimes almost classical, sometimes non-swinging, but engaging music of the mid to late 1940s, the Innovations Orchestra of 1950-51, the New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm band full of top notch soloists, Cuban Fire, the mellophonium band of the early 1960s, the LA Neophonic Orchestra and his last bands of the 1970s. I love it all!

This December 15 marks the 100th year since Kenton’s birth and many big bands around the world are presenting Kenton concerts. As the director of the University of British Columbia Jazz Ensemble I, I felt I too wanted to do a program of Kenton’s music. I also felt it was important to expose my students to the Kenton sound and style through playing some of the music recorded by his bands and this centennial provided the perfect opportunity. For a concert program I thought that I would try to give the audience a cross section of the music he made with his bands - from the early 1940s to the end of an era in 1979. Choosing this program was overwhelming to say the least. I needed some help, or a way to deal with all the charts he recorded. Of course I started with those arrangements and compositions that are readily available through Sierra Music Publications. I then loaded my numerous Kenton cds into itunes, created a playlist and started listening. Some charts jumped out as being iconic Kenton material - Artistry in Rhythm (Stan Kenton), Opus In Pastels (Stan Kenton), Malaguena (arranged by Bill Holman) and Intermission Riff. But I thought we should also work on some of his less performed music - Improvisation (Bill Russo), Portrait of A Count (Bill Russo), Machito (Pete Rugolo) and Three Thoughts (Dee Barton). To round out the program I thought we should play something by the audacious Bob Graettinger so we are working on Modern Opus. Johnny Richards is represented by Artemis and Apollo, Recuerdos and El Congo Valiente. Bill Holman is represented by Bags, Malguena and his deconstruction of What’s New?. We are even working on Pete Rugolo’s Fugue For Rhythm Section.

I also decided I wanted UBC Jazz Ensemble II, directed by Dennis Esson, involved. This allowed a greater range of music to be played without killing off all the brass players. Listening to, and rehearsing, this music has created some keen interest and curiosity in many of the students. They have learned quite a bit about Count Basie and Duke Ellington over the years, but many were unaware, or were only vaguely aware, of Stan Kenton and his musical legacy. They also did not know he was a pioneer in jazz education, the very thing that helped create the opportunity to study and perform big band jazz.

Even though I am very familiar with all these Kenton recordings I have to say it has been an immense pleasure to wallow in Kentonia for the past 3 or 4 weeks.

UBC Jazz I will present a short mixed program, which will include several pieces recorded by Stan Kenton, at noon on Monday, November 14, 2011 at the Robson Square Theatre in downtown Vancouver. UBC Jazz I will then play a 1 hour program of Kenton material at noon on Thursday, December 1 in the Roy Barnett Recital Hall at UBC. Finally, both UBC Jazz Ensembles will present a full evening program of Kentonia at 8:00pm on Monday, December 5th, also in the Roy Barnett Recital Hall. All concerts are free.

Here is a list of the pieces the UBC Jazz Ensembles are working on:

El Congo Valiente - Johnny Richards
Portrait of a Count - Bill Russo
Modern Opus - Bob Graettinger
What’s New? - arranged by Bill Holman
Three Thoughts - Dee Barton
Artemis and Apollo - Johnny Richards
Rise and Fall of a Short Fugue - Bob Curnow
Decoupage - Hank Levy
Intermission Riff - Ray Wetzel
But Beautiful
- arranged by Lennie Niehaus
Improvisation
- Bill Russo
Artistry in Rhythm
- Stan Kenton
Machito - Pete Rugolo
Willow Weep For Me - arranged by Bill Mathieu
Malaguena - arranged by Bill Holman
Young Blood - Gerry Mulligan
Opus In Pastels - Stan Kenton
Fugue For Rhythm Section - Pete Rugolo
Bags - Bill Holman
Elegy for Alto - Pete Rugolo
Kingfish - Bill Holman
The Blues Story - Gene Roland
Recuerdos - Johnny Richards
Whatever Lola Wants - arranged by Lennie Niehaus
Unison Riff - Pete Rugolo
Reed Rapture [aka Reed Rhapsody] - Stan Kenton
Southern Scandal - Stan Kenton

Of course the is no way, short of playing a 4 hour concert, that we could play all these on our next concerts but those that get dropped from this concert series will be scheduled for a performance on one of the concerts in the new year. At UBC we will be celebrating Stan Kenton for the entire school year. For more information on the UBC Jazz Ensembles go to <http://www.music.ubc.ca/student-ensembles/jazz.html>

The case for Bob Graettinger and other musical experimenters of the late 1940s

I wrote this short little essay a few years ago for an email group I belong to, so I thought I might post it here.

When the big bands of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Harry James were at their height of popularity in the late 1930s and early 1940s they primarily played popular tunes designed for their dancing and light entertainment value. With the rise of other popular forms of music, especially vocalists, and the waning public interest in big bands as entertainment vehicles, some of the surviving bands of the mid-to-late 1940s began to experiment with music that was designed to be listen to. This change in musical direction also accompanied a gradual shift in performing venues, from ballrooms to concert halls. The biggest names to go in this direction were Duke Ellington, Boyd Raeburn, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman and of course Stan Kenton.

Removing many of the necessary musical requirements to please the dancing public composers and arrangers, by the late 1940s, became free to try writing jazz music that incorporated elements such as irregular rhythms, the absence of a bass line or a steady pulse from the drums, original melodies that were not singable, dissonant harmony, different types of ensemble voicings, longer sections for improvisation. While some of the music written during that time is forgettable, or rather more graciously heard as “noble experiments,” there are many memorable pieces including George Handy’s The Bloos and Dalvatore Sally, George Russell’s Cubana Be Cubana Bop, Eddie Sauter’s Hangover Square, as well his exquisite arrangement of Summertime, Ralph Burn’s Summer Sequence, Gil Evans’ arrangements of La Paloma and Spanish Dance, Duke Ellington’s The Tattooed Bride and The Clothed Woman, Bob Graettinger’s City Of Glass and the many compositions and arrangements of Pete Rugolo and Stan Kenton, including the Prologue Suite and Artistry In Percussion. I hear the musical explorations of that time as being very liberating and that these musical experiments, failed or not, deserve to be seriously considered for what they helped to give to the future of jazz arranging and composition. Consider the mere idea of a Fugue For Rhythm Section (Pete Rugolo) let alone its intrinsic value.

While European musical developments after WWII had a long musical history to build upon, or reject, jazz composers had no extensive history of big band music as a form of ‘art music’ and were creating something quite new. Duke Ellington’s large scale work Black, Brown and Beige from 1943 was criticized for its failings in relation to European composition. But, there was no structural model, or tradition, for Duke’s new ideas. The same can be said about the work of Pete Rugolo, Eddie Sauter and Bob Graettinger.

Despite the mixed results of Graettinger’s work for Stan Kenton, I feel that both his compositions and his arrangements of standards are the ultimate in musical liberation for their time, akin to the work of Charles Ives, another musical anomaly. Yes, Graettingter’s music is audacious and sometimes totally overwhelming in sound. However, judged in its place in time it should be, if not loved, appreciated for what it helped bring to jazz composition and arranging.

By the late 1950s this tendency to incorporate concepts of classical composition into jazz music was finally given a label by Gunther Schuller - Third Stream Music. While this term does tend to evoke the late 1950s, the idea is still with us in the present work of Bill Holman, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider and many other contemporary composers and arrangers. These writers have moved away from the formulaic chorus forms of jazz to a more European model of compositional ideal - that of musical development. On top of this they bring the rhythms of jazz, space for improvisation and opportunities for self expression by the performers. With more time (roughly 60 years) modern jazz composers have developed a greater sense of control and balance in their work. Those musical experiments of the mid-to-late 1940s are what we have built many of our present day big band compositional and arranging aesthetic values upon. I am very grateful to our preceding masters for having shown us a way.

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