Stanley Newcomb Stan Kenton was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger who led an innovative, influential, and often controversial progressive jazz orchestra. In later years he was active as an educator, Stan Kenton was born on December 15,1911 in Wichita, Kansas, and was raised first in Colorado, then in California. He graduated from Bell High School, in Bell, California, Kenton learned piano as a child, and while still a teenager toured as a member of several bands. He played in the 1930s in the bands of Vido Musso and Gus Arnheim. In June 1941 he formed his first orchestra, which later was named after his theme song Artistry in Rhythm, a competent pianist, influenced by Earl Hines, Kenton worked in the early days much more as an arranger than later, and as inspiration for his loyal sidemen. Although there were no musicians in his first band, Kenton spent the summer of 1941 playing regularly before an audience at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach. Influenced by Jimmie Lunceford, the Stan Kenton Orchestra struggled for a time after its initial success and its Decca recordings were not big sellers and a stint as Bob Hopes backup radio band during the 1943–44 season was an unhappy experience, Les Brown permanently took Kentons place. Kentons first appearance in New York was in February 1942 at the Roseland Ballroom and its soloists during the war years included Art Pepper, briefly Stan Getz, altoist Boots Mussulli, and singer Anita ODay. By 1945, the band had evolved, the songwriter Joe Greene provided the lyrics for hit songs like And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine and Dont Let the Sun Catch You Cryin. A popular recording of Laura was made, the song from the film Laura. In the mid-1940s, Kentons band and style known as the wall of sound or wall of brass. Calling his music progressive jazz, Kenton sought to lead an orchestra as opposed to a dance band at a time when most big bands were beginning to wind up. Kenton had succeeded in forming a radical and very original band that gained its own audience, in 1949, Kenton took a year off. In 1950 he put together his most advanced band, the 39-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra that included 16 strings, a woodwind section and its music ranged from the unique and very dense modern classical charts of Bob Graettinger to works that somehow swung despite the weight. Kenton managed two tours during 1950–1951 but soon reverted to his usual 19-piece lineup, then quite unexpectedly, Kenton went through a swinging period. The charts of such arrangers as Gerry Mulligan, Johnny Richards, the music was never predictable and could get quite bombastic, but it managed to swing while still keeping the Kenton sound. In 1956, when the band returned from its European trip, the Kenton band was playing in Ontario, Canada, at the time, and Kenton dispatched a telegram which lamented a new minority, white jazz musicians, and stated his disgust literary geniuses of jazz. Jazz critic Leonard Feather, responded in the October 3,1956, Feather implied that Kentons failure to win the Critics Poll was probably the real reason for the complaint, and wondered if racial prejudice was involved
Kenton in January 1947
(From left:) Pete Rugolo, Stan Kenton, and Bob Graettinger in 1948.
Stan Kenton with his band in Münich, Germany, September of 1973
Stan Kenton with Bob Curnow, Universal Studios in Chicago, 1974