Friday, June 5, 2009

A special post about Kenton

Stan Kenton--there is no middle ground for this bandleader. Jazz aficionados either love his music and consider it constantly innovative or else find it bombastic and excessive. Have to admit, I'm definitely in the former camp, although I admit there are cringe-worthy performances such as the draggy version of "September Song," which includes a vocal by the band which frankly, sounds as though they were lobotomized and forced with cattle prods to sing it. On the other hand, fine sidemen like Shelly Manne, Stan Getz, Art Pepper, Lee Konitz and Zoot Sims were among Kenton's personnel at certain points in their careers. Furthermore, Pete Rugolo, Shorty Rogers, Bill Russo, Bill Holman, Johnny Richards, Chico O'Farrill and Lennie Niehaus contributed exciting, hip arrangements that kept the sound of the orchestra fresh and forward-reaching, and don't forget that Anita O'Day, June Christy and Chris Connor were among Stan Kenton's vocalists. Guess the rule of thumb for listening to Kenton is this: with a few exceptions, try to avoid tracks which feature Kenton's piano-playing and charts and focus on most of those involving the musicians and/or arrangers noted above. Also, my own favorite period of the Kenton band's long history was the 1950s, when the influence of that decade's jazz innovations could often be heard in the contributions of the younger guys who had come onboard.

I realize I'm breaking my own rule by including a link to a Soundie of "Tampico" from the 1940s, but there don't seem to be any good examples of Kenton's 1950s orchestra at You Tube. Anyway, I've always loved this particular song, and it's great to see June Christy singing during her prime. Click here to check it out for yourself.

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