Between January 1950 and January 1952, Stan Kenton led a 39-piece band known as the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra on two tours. The orchestra's dreamy, Wagner-esque jazz arrangements were hip for a brief period but soon took on the characteristics of a wobbly truck transporting too much fine furniture. The orchestrations didn't click with young audiences and Kenton's musicians grew weary performing the syrupy modern-classical material. Kenton also led a dance band during this period that fell just short of swinging.
So in January 1952, Kenton retooled and began commissioning more modern, swinging charts by Johnny Richards, Shorty Rogers, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Holman, Gene Roland and others. In 1953, Kenton's swinging New Concepts band toured the U.S. and Europe, exciting audiences wherever it played. Unfortunately, there's little footage of the early stages of what would go on to become the heart of Kenton's signature sound.
Last week, a reader in Germany made me aware of an amazing clip. It's from a German film directed by Erik Ode called Schlagerparade [Hit Parade]. It features a thin story about an unknown German composer whose works are credited to another artist. For the most part, it's a showcase for performers including Kenton, Rolf Kühn, the Werner Müller RIAS orchestra and others—many of whom play themselves in the film (more information here.)
For the film, the Kenton Orchestra was captured in Berlin on August 27, 1953 and featured Buddy Childers, Vic Minichiello, Conte Candoli, Don Dennis, Don Smith (tp) Bob Burgess, Frank Rosolino (tb) Bill Russo (tb) Bill Smiley (b-tb) Dave Schildkraut, Lee Konitz (as) Bill Holman (ts,arr) Zoot Sims (ts) Tony Ferina (bar) Stan Kenton (p,arr) Barry Galbraith (g) Don Bagley (b) and Stan Levey (d).
The song is Gerry Mulligan's arrangement of Swing House. As you'll see, the lighting guy had a field day. Solos by Frank Rosolino, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims and Conte Candoli. This is an orchestra!