Kenton Declares Jazz Is Finished - JazzWax

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December 08, 2010


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Bret Primack

Given the coroner's notice many times, both Jazz and the Theatre refuse to give up the ghost. The naysayers abound, yet real art survives, and the truth somehow manages to slip through the cracks. Mr. Kenton's Prophecies of Doom could be as bombastic as his arrangements but they make for nice reading half a century out.

Michael Steinman

With muted apologies to Stan Kenton:

Kenton snaps, "Jazz is dead!"
Jazz takes a swig of its coffee, grins and says quietly, "Maybe so, but I'll outlive you, Stan!"

Allen Lowe

Stan Kenton is Dead

Joel Lewis

This is same Kenton who stated in an interview around the time that black musicians were taking up all the good jobs in jazz (or something to that effect). The ghost of Kenton should give thanks that he recorded with Capitol, as his reissues have been judiciously handled by the Blue Note/EMI reissue program focusing on his strengths and leaving his junk in the vaults. I think Kenton probably has a better rep now than when he was alive.

Kenton's comments are odd because many fans accused his 50s era music, with its highbrow pretensions, of "killing jazz". However, it is often forgotten that Kenton's music was posited as the adult opposition to rock and roll in the film "Blackboard Jungle". In an early secene, when Glen Ford meets another teacher in a bar, they start talking about muisc and discover they are both Kenton fans. The other teacher (who will later get all his precious 78s smashed by the hoods of North Manual High in a scene that still pains me to watch) proclaims "Stan the Man!" They are also in the only inner city bar that has Kenton on its jukebox. Later in the film, Bill Russo's "Invention for trumpet & Guitar" is also heard on the soundtrack.

Poor Stan. When he made is "Jazz is Dead" remarks in 64 little did he know that within a few years he finish out his career playing sets of rock tunes at ear-splitting levels at high schools and colleges and issuing albums with titles like "6.1 on the Richter Scale!". Too bad his will forbade a ghost band, as it would be nice to hear a modern ensemble do up "City of Glass" or stuff from his innovations period.

Ed Leimbacher

I guess it was Kenton rather than Jazz that got folked.

Richard Salvucci

You know, at the same time Stan was telling everyone that jazz was dead, I was a teenager taking the bus out to Villanova University's Intercollegiate Jazz Festival, at which Kenton was a "featured" judge. Either Stan didn't like what he heard, or the pub was too much for him to turn down. Sad either way.

C Fine

Great posting as always. Quick note on Salli Terri - she was much more than just a folk singer. Salli Terri was a classically-trained, highly-versatile artist, with an amazing voice, who made a number of fabulous recordings. Most famous is "Duets with the Spanish Guitar," with Laurindo Almeida, which can still be obtained on CD from Arkiv Music. Terri made a number of excellent folk song records (some with Almeida), was a professor of music, did voice-overs for Disney, and even did the vocals for one of the classics of Lounge music, Robert Drasnin's "Voodoo!"

Any Salli Terri material is highly recommended!

Rick Megahan

Stan was an intense advocate of his brand of symphonic jazz and at the same time was a man of his time in terms of resisting newer, more obtuse forms of jazz. I take issue with Joel in that while Kenton's later work was influenced by modern music, it was unmistakably 'Stan' in volume, voicings and rhythm. His early popular hits were more commercial than the rock influenced tunes of the '70s.

Too bad that Capitol demanded product associated with current pop trends like 'Hair'(the selection of album covers displayed are the ones I never play, though the Wagner one is kind of interesting). But let's face it, even Sinatra and Miles have some schlock in their discographies.

And BTW, there are occasional opportunities to hear live Kenton arrangements thanks to the Stan Kenton Alumni Band, the Capitol Bones Big Band in DC and the Los Angeles Jazz Institute. You may have to wait awhile for those groups to showcase City of Glass again though.

Bill Kirchner

Some of Kenton's music (he had an enormous recorded output) was bombastic and forgettable, but much was good and some was excellent. (For starters, "Contemporary Concepts" is a must-own album.)

Kenton had some genuinely great bands, and he gave a vital boost to some important composer-arrangers (Pete Rugolo, Bob Graettinger, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Russo, Bill Holman, Lennie Niehaus, others). He, like Ellington, was a master showman and self-promoter. And he was one of the pioneers of the jazz-education movement.

Once at the Berlin Jazz Festival, Thelonious Monk overheard a musician putting Kenton down. Monk turned to the man and said, "What have you done, compared to what he's done?" As usual, Monk got to the heart of the matter.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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