Posts Tagged ‘Stan Kenton’

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>

UBC Summer Music Institute 2011 - The Jazz Bands

It has taken me a while to get around to writing and posting this blog, but here goes.

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We recently wrapped up UBC Summer Music Institute #19. It seems like yesterday that my old UBC associate Marty Berinbaum (now retired) began the camp. We’ve had many talented kids go through the program over the years and this year was no different. And, as always, my job was directing jazz ensembles.

Week 1 - Intermediate Jazz Band

The first week I worked with younger students in the intermediate jazz band (big band). This year we had students ranging in age from 12 to 17, with 14 probably being the average age.

Interestingly, the numbers were down this year in the saxophone section (go figure that one!). I ended up with 1 alto (a real mystery), 2 tenors and a bari. There were 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 guitar, 1 bass and 2 drummers (no piano). I also had some junior counselors (senior high school students) helping out and filling in some of the holes in the sections (alto 2 and piano).

As I always like to do, we read through a few charts on Sunday afternoon and again on Monday morning before I decided on a final concert program. The first week of the camp goes very quickly so there is not much time to spend on reading, although I feel strongly that this needs to be done.

Tuesday afternoon was the faculty recital with some of the jazz faculty ending the concert. I played piano, which is something I’ve been pursuing with a little more intensity in the past couple of years. Joining me were Adam Jones (bass), Alex Flock (guitar) and Bernie Arai (drums), who became a dad for the second time the very next day. Congratulations to Bernie!

kenton

Stan Kenton

To help give this years camp a stronger musical focus, we celebrated Stan Kenton’s 100th birthday (December 15, 1911) by listening to a few recordings and reading through some pieces associated with his bands.

Since the music performed by Kenton’s band was beyond the technical capabilities of such young musicians, we worked from my new junior band arrangements of Artistry in Rhythm and Intermission Riff. Also on the concert program were Work In Progress by Gordon Goodwin, Paul Murtha’s arrangement of What Is Hip?, Winter Poem by Sammy Nestico and Michael Sweeney’s arrangement of Mas Que Nada.

The final concert was a great success with the band really peaking on What Is Hip?. It’s great to hear such young players concentrating on the details and still bringing substantial energy and fun to the performance. The Intermediate Jazz Band was then followed by the Intermediate Concert Band, directed by Bryan Knapp, another original UBC Summer Music Institute faculty member. Bryan is a marvelous conductor and he can really get the younger musicians following his every move. To use a little “jazz speak” - “they were very tight.”

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Week 2 - Senior Jazz Band

Week 2 was with the older students, with a wide range in age, from 14 to 69. And, because the enrollment was up this year for senior jazz, we ended up having 2 bands. My colleague Dennis Esson directed the “other band.”

As a first order of business, Dennis and I had to divide up the students to create 2 big bands of equal ability. To help us recognize the abilities of the students we had them read through two of Sammy Nestico’s great charts - A Little Blues Please and The Blues Doctor. Both charts are relatively easy to play, with just enough reading challenges to help us gauge their skill level and with the flexibility to be opened up for solos. Because we had 8 alto saxophone players, we had them play in pairs and in various combinations. The other instruments switched off, sometimes returning in a different combination. Helping us with this task were my RA (rehearsal assistant) Adam Gough (saxophone) and guitar instructor Alex Flock. After hearing all the students play we chose 2 lead altos, 2 lead trumpets and 2 lead trombones. We then filled in each section making sure to spread out the soloists. We did not want to have any band ranking, no #1 and #2 band.

Dennis’ group ended up with 4 altos, 3 tenors, 1 bari, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 guitars, 1 piano, 2 basses, 1 drummer. My group had 4 altos, 2 tenors, 1 bari, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 guitars, 1 piano, 2 basses, 2 drummers and 1 mallet player (vibes, marimba with some latin percussion). We were a little lean on trumpets this year, but all 6 six were excellent players topped by 2 very superior lead players. BTW - all the performers dressed in blue shirts in the photos below are councilors who function as camp assistants. Their help contributes greatly to the success of the camp.

Each band then set off to their respective rehearsal spaces to spend the remainder of the first day reading through various charts. Rather than start working right away on the music for the Saturday concert I prefer to read (as does Dennis). By doing this the students become exposed to many more writers than they would in their school bands. This also has the added benefit of helping them work on their reading skills, which can be a serious issue for many high school students. Another benefit is I can really get to know their skill sets, including who likes to solo and how well they might be able to solo. There is no point in choosing repertoire that has solo sections beyond the capabilities of the available soloists.

On Monday and Tuesday mornings Dennis and I worked with our own groups and after lunch we changed places. I felt this was important to all the students and would go a fair ways to help eliminate the inevitable perspective of an A band and B band. We preferred Dennis’ band and Fred’s band, although the office used red and blue.

This year only Monday and Friday afternoons were set aside for 3:00-5:00 recreational activities. The Tuesday rec. period was given over to the faculty concert, which was composed of solo pieces and assorted small ensembles performing an eclectic mix of classical music and jazz. The faculty jazz band was made up of myself at the piano, Adam Jones on bass, Alex Flock on guitar, and stepping in on drums, for an absent Bernie Arai (a new father), was current UBC student Jeremy Lawi. Our front line was Dennis Esson on trombone and Mike Braverman on tenor sax. I had a great time playing with the guys and hearing their great solo work. Mike, as always, set the room on fire with one of his solos.

Wednesday afternoon was set aside for master classes for all instruments. I was in charge of all the rhythm section instruments. Perhaps playing would have been nicer, but we ended up talking about practicing, music education, life and many other things both musical and non-musical. Recreation period on Thursday had sessions for flutes and brass, with the brass session being a mouthpiece manufacturer demonstration and tryout. Most days ended at either 3:00pm or 5:00 pm, but Monday and Friday were long days beginning at 9:00am running until noon, then another 2 hour rehearsal from 1:00-3:00. We would then meet again at 7:00pm and finish at 9:30. Still, I always felt good at the end of each day. The kids were great to work with, both serious and willing.

With my group we read through various charts on the first 3 days of the camp including: Machito (Pete Rugolo), Artistry In Metal (Artistry In Rhythm) (Stan Kenton arr. Fred Stride), Groovemeister (Les Hooper), Artistry in Rhythm (Stan Kenton), Big Dipper (Thad Jones), Time Waits For No One (Sammy Nestico), Street of Dreams (Victor Young arr. Stan Kenton), Chunga’s Revenge (Frank Zappa, arr. Fred Stride), Black Nightgown (Johnny Mandel), Shadrack (McGimsey arr. Bill Holman), Dancing Nightly (Bill Holman), Rompin’ At The Reno (Benny Carter), Riba (Duke Ellington arr. Ron Collier), Bags (Bill Holman), Intermission Riff (Ray Wetzel/Stan Kenton), Blues Express (Shorty Rogers), Michelangelo (Astor Piazzolla arr. Fred Sturm), and Pacific Swing which was composed by our lead trombone player, Jared Richardson.

This group of students turned out to be quite decent in the reading department, which allowed us to plow through all this music. It seemed that most of the kids, in both weeks I might add, loved the reading experience and many of them told me they don’t read very much in their school band and they could feel their reading getting stronger. I think we could have easily read new charts every day. But there is a point when it is better to concentrate on a few pieces and work on conceptual and performance skills.

The final concert at the Chan Centre on Saturday afternoon began with Dennis Esson’s group performing Les Hooper’s The Residual Fire Dance, Ascending by Fred Sturm, my version of Willie Maiden’s A Little Minor Booze, Bill Holman’s Kingfish, Bob Curnow’s beautiful arrangement of Pat Metheny’s Always and Forever, poignantly played by trumpet player Thad Mai and my arrangement of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Runnin’. Dennis’ rehearsal assistant was Cam Golinsky, who also taught trombone lessons and took care of all the jazz ensemble library needs. Thanks Cam! Cam is dressed in the yellow camp shirt seated in the trombone section. My rehearsal assistant Adam Gough filled in on tenor to cover for one of the students who had to leave that same morning.

Thad Mai soloing on Always and Forever

Thad Mai soloing on Always and Forever

Dennis Esson's Jazz Band - aka Blue Band

Dennis Esson's Jazz Band - aka Blue Band

My band followed and we began our set with Ernie Wilkins’ arrangement for the Count Basie band of Moten Swing. I think there are very few greater moments in big band music than that first ff horn figure going into the bridge in the first chorus. Wow!

Ol’ Man River is Bill Holman’s rousing arrangement of Jerome Kern’s classic tune. This chart features several soloists, particularly tenor sax and drums. The drummer on this chart, Miles Wong, was in great form throughout. Holman’s independent writing can be a little disconcerting for younger players that are used to full sectional work or block-type voicings. His approach demands that everyone play with strength and conviction and not to just follow the lead player, not unlike playing Ellington or Mingus.

sierra-radiohead

Steve Owen’s new arrangement of Radiohead’s Kid A was up next. This chart is part of a new series published by Sierra Music Publications of the music of Radiohead.  The students were really into playing this one. Overall the parts aren’t too hard, but the chart does require a skillful drummer and a strong trumpet soloist. Our trumpet soloist was Alex Gambrel, a recent recipient of a Fraser MacPherson Scholarship.

Loco-Motion is my 2009 UBC Summer Institute composition (published by Sierra Music Publications). This is a straight ahead blues chart that can easily be opened up for solos. We did find that it was better to open up the the trumpet solo section, where the rhythm section can be looser and really groove. This chart was directed by my rehearsal assistant, Adam Gough, a current UBC music major and aspiring music educator. I have always tried to create opportunities for students to get their feet wet directing the big band in both rehearsal and performance settings.

Adam Gough directing the Red Jazz Band

Adam Gough directing the Red Jazz Band

My newest UBC Summer Music Institute jazz band piece is It’s Just You And Me. This chart is a slow ensemble outing based on a reharmonization of an old standard. I alternated 4 bar phrases of a rhythm section-less chorale with a Li’l Darlin’ style ensemble melody. Between each 8 bar section I inserted a 4 bar phrase, or interlude, which I had intended the piano to solo over. For our performance I had the vibes take those short solos. The second chorus consists of a 16 bar piano solo with no interludes. The final B and A sections are more alternating chorales and swing feels, but occurring in different places than in the first chorus. I was fairly pleased with this one and it didn’t require too much work from the students. The main focus in rehearsal was tuning, blend and releases. When those things happen the group really becomes a much more mature sounding ensemble.

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Johnny Richards’ El Congo Valiente from Cuban Fire concluded our portion of the concert. This arrangement was written by Richards in the early 1960s for high school bands, but it’s still a challenge and closely resembles the original. We had all the necessary percussion on this one and they really added to the performance.

El Congo Valiente

El Congo Valiente

For a “really big band” finale we combined both jazz bands and played Pete Rugolo’s Artistry in Percussion featuring all 3 drummers at 3 different kits. We also had all 4 basses and all 4 guitars playing with both the piano players sharing the bench. This was quite the visual and aural experience, especially the trumpet soli played by 7 trumpets and the 3 drummers.

Massed Senior Jazz Band - Artistry in Percussion

Massed Senior Jazz Band - Artistry in Percussion

The week was very successful and both jazz bands were in excellent form throughout the concert. We were followed by a concert band directed by John Van Deursen, made up of visiting students from Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as some local students. They were followed by the Senior Concert Band directed by my colleague Dr. Robert Taylor (UBC Director of Bands) and Yeh Shu Han a very fine trumpet player and conductor from Taiwan. Like the jazz bands, these groups really played well. It is always a treat to hear all the groups on the final concert.

I’m looking forward to #20.

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.

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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