Posts Tagged ‘Hank Levy’

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.

kenton_live_london

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>

Stan Kenton - 1976

I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BMus in May 1976 and, typically for most young people just finishing their schooling, I was trying to figure out what to do next. So, at the urging of my dear friend Brian Fairholm we decided, along with another friend, Rodger Owens, to attend the Stan Kenton Jazz Clinic in Sacramento, California. Brian had attended a Kenton Clinic at York University in Toronto the year before and was full of enthusiasm for attending another one.

The clinic was held at the University of California at Sacramento and we were housed in the dorms with the sound of the Kenton ’76 LP seeming to come from of every room. It seemed everyone was into the experience. We then had to audition for placement in one of the many big bands. Tim Hagans, who was about the same age as me, handled my audition.

Besides playing in one of the bands we also took theory and arranging classes. I ended up in the advanced arranging class with Hank Levy (I still have the class handouts). I don’t remember too much, but I do remember Hank as being a very nice person and quite open with his knowledge. I was happy just sitting there, soaking it all in.

At the beginning of the week all the students were encouraged to write something for the Kenton band to play sometime later in the week. I remember the reading day as being a marathon event, with far too many arrangements of Barry Manilow’s I Write The Songs written in the Kenton style. Yikes! A number of other students just wrote a single chord. I guess that was enough for them.

Typically for me (even then), I wrote an epic. It was one of those slow-fast-slow things. I had written a tune just before leaving Vancouver and I wrote the arrangement during the clinic, being inspired by the Kenton band. In the double time section I included space for some solo work by Jeff Uusitalo and Tim Hagans. I remember handing out the parts and Dick Shearer, on noticing Uusitalo’s solo spot, telling me that he could solo as well. Of course he was smiling as he made the comment.

The chart came out fairly well and after I collected my parts and started to leave the stage Stan motioned me over and congratulated me on my chart. I was in heaven.

In front of the stage was a table. I don’t remember everyone that was sitting at the table listening to the student charts but I do remember Bob Curnow. He motioned me over and asked me what I was up to and was I going to school. Little did I know that many years later I would get to know Bob fairly well and that he would publish some of my big band music.

Here is a picture of me conducting the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the summer of 1976. Seated in the chair attentively listening is Stan Kenton with Dave Bardhun playing piano. The saxophones are Terry Layne (alto), Roy Reynolds (tenor) is behind Ramon Lopez (congas) and Alan Yankee is on the end playing baritone. I cannot remember the other visible saxophone player’s name. Gary Hobbs is the drummer and John Worster is playing bass. You can just make out Tim Hagans, Steve Campos, Dave Kennedy and Joe Casano in the trumpet section (I’m standing directly in front of Jay Sollenberger). The tuba/bass trombone player is Doug Purviance and Dick Shearer is just barely visible. I have a cassette of my chart around somewhere.

Fred Stride conducts the Stan Kenton Orchestra

Fred Stride conducts the Stan Kenton Orchestra

On the last day of the week long clinic all the student bands were to perform a few tunes (I remember our program included Jerry Dodgion’s arrangement of Marian McPartland’s Ambiance and Pat William’s Mr Smoke). Well, there were so many bands (20 I think) performing on the final day that the Kenton band never played their final concert. Still, while that was a bit of a disappointment, we did get hear them play quite a bit during the week, especially their rehearsals of the music for their upcoming recording - Journey to Capricorn.

That week was a great experience. I loved every minute of it and it is burned into my memory.

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