Stan Kenton this week. At a time when Big Bands were on the wane, Sten Kenton, with his New Concepts In Rhythm and full 20-piece band (down from the original 39 piece orchestra that included strings), Kenton embarked on an ambitious cross-country, one-show-a-night tour, billed as mini-concerts. His idea of re-evaluating the Big Band into a Progressive Jazz organization, utilizing forward-thinking charts and outstanding Jazz soloists was a successful attempt at modernizing Jazz, while still making it danceable and broadcasting it each night from a new city via NBC Radio was a gamble that largely paid off, and brought many converts to this new Progressive Jazz on board.
At a time when venues were becoming fewer and father between, such a move was bold. Many ballrooms had gone out of business. The costs of booking bands made it impossible to travel with a big band, rather than pick up musicians along the way. It was harder and harder for a big band to survive as the economy made it more difficult to support the large numbers of Big Bands, so prevalent during their heyday. Times had changed. Tastes had changed. But Kenton’s label, Capitol had a lot riding on this, and his albums were successful – but how long it would stay that way was anybody’s guess.
This gig, a one-night stand at The Casino at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire was typical of the majority of gigs the Kenton band played during this year-long tour; small towns, college campuses, resorts during the Summer season; all places where Kenton could get the message across. Just before air-time he would talk to the audience, giving them some idea of what was going to happen, explaining his concepts and what they were going to hear.
And although Stan Kenton had his fair share of detractors, he was still able to get Progressive Jazz out to a mainstream audience, and that had many benefits for a wide cross-section of Jazz musicians as well as audiences in the 1950s.