Stan Kenton -  Amid much hype, a stepping off point for many notables.
Stan KentonAmid much hype and frustration, a stepping off place for many future notables.

. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Stan Kenton – live at Steel Pier, New Jersey – Sept. 21, 1953 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

As the era of the Big-Band began to fade, a lot of effort was put in to reinventing the genre. Getting away from the Dance-band formula and concentrating on music to be listened, not danced-to, Stan Kenton sought to break new ground and take Jazz to new heights. He wasn’t alone in this quest – Jazz had been breaking new ground and shedding its commercial skin for a while as was evidenced by the explosion of Bop on the scene and the birth of the small group.

But Kenton tried to do that on a grand scale, and attempted to make it a commercial endeavor, steering away an audience who wanted to dance and convert them into an audience who listened. It was hard and it wasn’t met with great success because times dictated there was waning interest (and Rock n’ Roll on the horizon). The era of the Big Band was coming to a close, venues were drying up. It was no longer economically sustainable to drag a 10-20 piece band from town to town, playing one-nighters. Occasionally an extended stay at a well-established venue would result in some breathing space. Such as this weekend’s gig at the legendary Steel Pier in Atlantic City, part of a month-long series of broadcasts from NBC from August to September 1953.

But his bands were a stepping off place for a number of musicians. This particular concert, from September 21, 1953 features Zoot Sims, Lee Konitz, Frank Rosolino and several others, who would enjoy celebrated careers later on. But this was a starting place and it provided a lot of influence for musicians throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

To give you an indication of what Kenton’s Artistry In Rhythm was all about, here is a sample as performed at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City on September 21, 1953.

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