A little reminder:
Stan Kenton and his orchestra, live from Birdland in New York and broadcast on June 20, 1953 by NBC Radio as part of their All-Star Parade Of Bands series.
Variously described as Modern America’s Man Of Music, Stan Kenton and his orchestra were part of a wave that virtually re-defined Jazz, taking it from the dance floor to the concert hall – making it music to ‘be listened to” and not music “to be listened at’. It was also during this period of time that Big Bands, whose hey-day during the years just prior to World War Two to just after, had since begun to wane – not only on economic grounds but on the grounds of desire for musical progression. New blood and new ideas were on the horizon and Kenton sought to be part of that wave.
After a year’s hiatus, in 1950 Kenton finally put together the large 39-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra that included 16 strings, a woodwind section, and two French horns. The music was an extension of the works composed and recorded since 1947 by Bob Graettinger, Manny Albam, Franklyn Marks and others. Name jazz musicians such as Maynard Ferguson, Shorty Rogers, Milt Bernhart, John Graas, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Laurindo Almeida, Shelly Manne, and June Christy were part of these musical ensembles. The groups managed two tours during 1950–51, from a commercial standpoint it would be Stan Kenton’s first major failure. Kenton soon reverted to a more standard 19-piece lineup.
In order to be more commercially viable, Kenton reformed the band in 1951 to a much more standard instrumentation: five saxes, five trombones, five trumpets, piano, guitar, bass, drums. The charts of such arrangers as Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Richards, and particularly Bill Holman and Bill Russo began to dominate the repertoire. The music was written to better reflect the style of cutting edge, be-bop oriented big bands; like those of Dizzy Gillespie or Woody Herman. Young, talented players and outstanding jazz soloists such as Maynard Ferguson, Lee Konitz, Conte Candoli, Sal Salvador, and Frank Rosolino made strong contributions to the level of the 1952–’53 band. The music composed and arranged during this time was far more tailor made to contemporary jazz tastes; the 1953 album New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm is noted as one of the high points in Kenton’s career as band leader. Though the band was to have a very strong “concert book”, Kenton also made sure the dance book was made new, fresh and contemporary. The album Sketches on Standards from 1953 is an excellent example of Kenton appealing to a wider audience while using the band and Bill Russo’s arranging skills to their fullest potential. Even though the personnel changed rather rapidly, Kenton’s focus was very clear on where he would lead things musically. By this time producer Lee Gillette worked well in concert with Kenton to create a balanced set of recordings that were both commercially viable and cutting edge musically.
To get some idea of what the band during its early 1950s tenure sounded like – here is one of what became a massive number of broadcasts Stan Kenton did with his band for NBC Radio from the early to mid 1950s.
A fascinating glimpse into music and how it was evolving in the 1950s.
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