Stan Kenton

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Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton.JPG
Background information
Birth name Stanley Newcomb Kenton
Born (1911-12-15)December 15, 1911
Origin Wichita, Kansas, United States
Died August 25, 1979(1979-08-25) (aged 67)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Genres West Coast jazz, swing, jazz
Occupations Bandleader, pianist, composer, arranger
Instruments Piano
Years active 1930s–1970s
Labels Capitol, Decca, Creative World
Associated acts Maynard Ferguson, Zoot Sims, Anita O'Day, June Christy, Chris Connor, Art Pepper, Pete Rugolo, Eddie Safranski

Stanley Newcomb "Stan" Kenton (December 15, 1911[1] – August 25, 1979) was a pianist, composer, and arranger who led an innovative, influential, and often controversial American jazz orchestra. In later years he was active as an educator.

Early life[edit]

Stan Kenton was born in Wichita, Kansas, and was raised first in Colorado, then in California. Kenton was born on December 15, 1911, and his birth certificate states this; but he was conceived out of wedlock, and his parents told him (and everyone else) that he was born on February 19, 1912 to obscure this fact.[1] Kenton believed well into adulthood that February 19, 1912 was his birthday,[1] and recorded a concert on February 19, 1973 which he released as Birthday In Britain.[2] Because this remained a family secret, even his grave marker showed the 1912 birthdate.[1]

Kenton learned piano as a child, and while still a teenager toured with various bands. He attended Bell High School, in Bell, California, where he graduated in 1930. In June 1941 he formed his own band, which developed into one of the best-known West Coast ensembles of the 1940s. In the mid-1940s, Kenton's band and style became known as "The Wall of Sound", a tag later used by Phil Spector.[3]


Kenton played in the 1930s in the dance bands of Vido Musso and Gus Arnheim, but his natural inclination was as a band leader. In 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 was much more important in the early days as an arranger and inspiration for his loyal sidemen. Although there were no major names in his first band (bassist Howard Rumsey and trumpeter Chico Alvarez come the closest), Kenton spent the summer of 1941 playing regularly before a very appreciative audience at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, CA. Influenced by Jimmie Lunceford (who, like Kenton, enjoyed high-note trumpeters and thick-toned tenors), the Stan Kenton Orchestra struggled a bit after its initial success. Its Decca recordings were not big sellers and a stint as Bob Hope's backup radio band was an unhappy experience; Les Brown permanently took Kenton's place.[3]

Stan Kenton with Eddie Safranski, 1947 or 1948

By late 1943 with a Capitol Records contract, a popular record in "Eager Beaver", and growing recognition, the Stan Kenton Orchestra was gradually catching on. Its soloists during the war years included Art Pepper, briefly Stan Getz, altoist Boots Mussulli, and singer Anita O'Day. By 1945 the band had evolved quite a bit. Pete Rugolo became the chief arranger (extending Kenton's ideas), Bob Cooper and Vido Musso offered very different tenor styles, and June Christy was Kenton's new singer; her hits (including "Tampico" and "Across the Alley From the Alamo") made it possible for Kenton to finance his more ambitious projects. A popular recording of "Laura" was made, the theme song from the film Laura (starring actress Gene Tierney), and featured the voices of the band.[3]

Calling his music "progressive jazz," Kenton sought to lead a concert orchestra as opposed to a dance band at a time when most big bands were starting to break up. By 1947 Kai Winding was greatly influencing the sound of Kenton's trombonists, the trumpet section included such screamers as Buddy Childers, Ray Wetzel, and Al Porcino, Jack Costanzo's bongos were bringing Latin rhythms into Kenton's sound, and a riotous version of "The Peanut Vendor" contrasted with the somber "Elegy for Alto". Kenton had succeeded in forming a radical and very original band that gained its own audience.[3]

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 two French horns. Its music ranged from the unique and very dense modern classical charts of Bob Graettinger to works that somehow swung despite the weight. Such major players as Maynard Ferguson (whose high-note acrobatics set new standards), Shorty Rogers, Milt Bernhart, John Graas, Art Pepper, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Laurindo Almeida, Shelly Manne, and June Christy were part of this remarkable project, but from a commercial standpoint, it was really impossible. Kenton managed two tours during 1950-1951 but soon reverted to his usual 19-piece lineup.[3]

Then quite unexpectedly, Kenton went through a swinging period. The charts of such arrangers as Shorty Rogers, Gene Roland, Gerry Mulligan, Marty Paich, Johnny Richards, and particularly Bill Holman and Bill Russo began to dominate the repertoire. Such talented players (in addition to the ones already named) as Lee Konitz, Conte Candoli, Sal Salvador, Stan Levey, Frank Rosolino, Richie Kamuca, Zoot Sims, Sam Noto, Bill Perkins, Charlie Mariano, Mel Lewis, Pete Candoli, Lucky Thompson, Carl Fontana, Pepper Adams, and Jack Sheldon made strong contributions. The music was never predictable and could get quite bombastic, but it managed to swing while still keeping the Kenton sound.[3]

Later years[edit]

Stan Kenton in Munich, September 25, 1973

Kenton's last successful experiment was his mellophonium band of 1960-1963. Despite the difficulties in keeping the four mellophoniums (which formed their own separate section) in tune, this particular Kenton orchestra had its exciting moments; the albums Kenton's West Side Story (arrangements by Johnny Richards) and Adventures In Jazz, each won Grammy awards in 1962 and 1963 respectively. Kenton Plays Wagner (1964) was an important project, produced in concert with his interests in jazz education and encouraging big band music in high schools and colleges instructing what he called "progressive jazz." Stan knew what he had in the body of work that was The Stan Kenton Orchestra and in the remainder of his life and career, he took on the challenge of ensuring his legacy that was Progressive Jazz.

A somewhat ironic twist to his jazz roots emerged in his 1962 single "Mama Sang A Song". His last US Top 40 (#32 Billboard, #22 Music Vendor), the song was a narration, written by country singer Bill Anderson. He re-released it in the 1970s on his Creative World label.

In the early 1970s Kenton split from his long-time association with Capitol Records and formed his own label, "The Creative World of Stan Kenton". Recordings produced during the 1970s on this new label included several "live" concerts at various universities and are a testament to his devotion to education. In addition, Kenton made his charts available to college and high-school stage bands. When Kenton took to the road during the early 70's and up to his last tour, he took with him seasoned veteran musicians (Willie Maiden, Warren Gale, Graham Ellis and others) teaming them with relatively unknown young artists to mentor America's youth and take advantage of the unchecked energy in those young players while at the same time preserving the legacy of his work as an active art form. New Kenton arrangements (including those by Hank Levy, Bill Holman, Bob Curnow, Willie Maiden and Ken Hanna) expanded the creative foundation that nurtured original musical exploration by these younger artists long after Gabe Baltazar's "graduation" in 1965. Many alumni became educators and itinerant clinicians caught up in the art of inspiring younger players (Mike Vax, The Baron Jon Von Ohlen, Chuck Carter, and Richard Torres). A few went on to take their musical careers to the next level (Peter Erskine, Dick Shearer) and beyond.

Jack Sandmeier, Road Manager during these years, tells the story of an unusual meeting in a hotel lobby lounge between Woody Herman and Kenton. Unusual because they both toured more than fifty (50) weeks a year "one-nighters," in order to keep their respective bands on the road, they hardly ever met. In discussing a chronically late band member, Herman said to Kenton..."Fire his ass, there's thousands of them and only two of us."[4][5]

He had a skull fracture from a fall in 1977 while on tour in Reading, PA. He entered Midway Hospital on August 17, 1979 after a stroke and later died.[6]


In 1956, when the band returned from its European trip, the Critics Poll in Down Beat reflected victories by black musicians in virtually every category. 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 [with the so-called] literary geniuses of jazz." Jazz critic Leonard Feather, alone of all the critics, responded in the October 3, 1956, issue with an open letter which questioned Kenton's racial views. Feather implied that Kenton's failure to win the Critics Poll was probably the real reason for the complaint, and wondered if racial prejudice was involved.

Fellow DownBeat critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote that Feather's verdict was passed on Kenton "...without, unfortunately, any real forethought or public statement from the only musicians really in a position to know.”[7] Jazz writer Jack McKinney stated that the night Kenton wrote the telegram, there were two African-Americans trombonists touring with him.[8] Previous to Feather's letter, in the December 16, 1953, issue of Down Beat, critic Nat Hentoff had written that ". . . Stan is as free from prejudice of any kind as any man I know."

Feather's allegation of prejudice ignored Kenton's well-known close friendships with Duke Ellington and Count Basie.[9] In July to September, 1955, the year before Feather's letter, Kenton hosted the CBS summer replacement, Music 55, for which he invited Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway, and many other African-American artists to participate.[10] He toured with Basie and his Orchestra in Fall, 1960, and released a single with the Nat King Cole Trio in 1962 that included Orange Colored Sky.

McKinney wrote further, in 1965, that "All points [of the Feather letter] except the last were based on conjecture, and events preceding and following Feather's complaint have shown how ridiculous they were." He further pointed out that many budding African-American jazz musicians, such as Art Tatum and Charlie Parker, were given more exposure on Kenton-sponsored tours than elsewhere.[8] One Kenton band member, trumpeter Donald Byrd, in discussing Kenton's hands-on college and university music program, said, "My experience with the Stan Kenton clinic at the National Band Camp has left me in complete ecstasy ... The camp was interracial, both in the teaching faculty and the student body..."[8]

Feather himself realized his error, and in August, 1960, apologized for the letter he then claimed was a "result of sorrow."[7] Kenton later lamented of Feather's apology, "I think it was on the back page of the Pittsburg Inquirer."[8] Kenton reportedly felt that Feather had created a great ill feeling toward him by African-American musicians, and no matter how apologetic Feather would be, much of that "prejudice-in-reverse" would remain.


Kenton was a salient figure on the American musical scene and made an indelible mark on the arranged type of big band jazz. Kenton's music evolved with the times throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and although he was no longer considered a contemporary innovator, he promoted jazz and jazz improvisation through his service as an educator. The "Kenton Style" continues to permeate big bands at the high school and collegiate level, and the framework he designed for the "jazz clinic" is still widely in use today.

His music has experienced a resurgence in interest, with later critical "rediscovery" of his music and many reissues of his recordings. An alumni band tours to this day, led by lead trumpeter Mike Vax, which performs not only classic Kenton arrangements, but also new music written and performed in the Kenton style.

Kenton donated his entire library to the music department of North Texas State University[11] (now the University of North Texas), and the Stan Kenton Jazz Recital Hall is named in his honor. His arrangements are now published by Sierra Music Publications.[12]

Kenton continued leading and touring with his big band up to his final performance in August 1978. He suffered a stroke in August 1979. Kenton did not recover and died on August 25, 1979. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles.

In his daughter Leslie Kenton's 2010 book "Love Affair", she made unproven allegations of inappropriate behavior by Kenton. No charges were ever filed.[13]

Noted band personnel[edit]

Composers and arrangers


Studio albums[edit]

  • Stan Kenton and His Orchestra - McGregor #LP201 (1941)
  • The Formative Years - Decca No. 589 489-2 (1941–1942)
  • Stan Kenton Encores - Capitol No. 155 (various early years)
  • Stan Kenton's Artistry in Rhythm - Capitol No. 167 ('45-'48)
  • Opus in Pastels - Jazz Roots (1945–1952)
  • A Presentation of Progressive Jazz - Capitol #T172 (1947)
  • Innovations in Modern Music - Capitol No. 189 (1-30-1950)
  • Stan Kenton's Milestones - Capitol #T190 (thru 1950)
  • Stan Kenton Presents - Capitol No. 248 (1950)
  • City of Glass - Capitol #H353 (1951)
  • Stan Kenton Classics - Capitol No. 358 (various years)
  • New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm - Capitol 383 (1952)
  • Stan Kenton's Greatest Hits (orig.recordings) - Capitol No. 398 (1943–1951)
  • Sketches on Standards- Capitol No. 426 (1953)
  • This Modern World- Capitol No. 460 (1953)
  • Portraits on Standards - Capitol No. 462 (1953)
  • Kenton Showcase: The Music of Bill Holman and Bill Russo - Capitol #W524 (1954)
  • The Kenton Era - Capitol #WDX569 (1940–1953)
  • Duet (with June Christy) - Capitol No. 656 (1955)
  • Contemporary Concepts - Capitol No. 666 (1955)
  • Kenton in Hi-Fi - Capitol No. 724 (1956)
  • Cuban Fire! - Capitol No. 731 (1956)
  • City of Glass and This Modern World - Capitol No. 736 (various years)
  • With Voices - Capitol No. 810 (1957)
  • Rendezvous with Kenton - Capitol No. 932 (1957)
  • Back to Balboa - Capitol No. 995 (1958)
  • The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton - Capitol No. 1068 (1958)
  • Lush Interlude - Capitol No. 1130 (1958)
  • The Stage Door Swings - Capitol No. 1166 (1958)
  • The Kenton Touch - Capitol No. 1276 (1958)
  • Viva Kenton - Capitol No. 1305 (1959)
  • Standards in Silhouette - Capitol No. 1394 (1959)
  • Two Much! (with Ann Richards) - Capitol No. 1495 (1960)
  • Sophisticated Approach - Capitol No. 1674 (1961)
  • The Romantic Approach - Capitol No. 1533 (1961)
  • A Merry Christmas! - Capitol No. 1621 (1961)
  • Kenton's West Side Story - Capitol No. 1609 (1961)
  • Adventures in Blues - Capitol No. 1985 (1961)
  • Adventures In Jazz - Capitol No. 1796 (1962)
  • Adventures in Standards - (1961)
  • Stan Kenton Plays 18 Original Big-Band Recordings - Hindsight #HCD=407
  • Mellophonium Magic - Status #CD103 (1962)
  • Mellophonium Moods - Status #STCD106 (1962)
  • Adventures in Time - Capitol No. 1844 (1962)
  • Stan Kenton! Tex Ritter! (with Tex Ritter) - Capitol No. 1757 (1962)
  • Artistry in Bossa Nova - Capitol No. 1931 (1963)
  • Kenton/Turner (with Jean Turner) - Capitol No. 2051 (1963)
  • Artistry in Voices and Brass - Capitol No. 2132 (1963)
  • Kenton/Wagner - Capitol No. 2217 (1964)
  • Stan Kenton Conducts the Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra - Capitol No. 2424 (1965-1966)
  • Stan Kenton Plays for Today - Capitol No. 2655 (1966-1967)
  • The World We Know - Capitol No. 2810
  • The Jazz Compositions of Dee Barton - Capitol No. 2932 (1967)
  • Hair - Capitol #ST305 (1968)
  • Finian's Rainbow - Capitol No. 2971 (1968)
  • National Anthems of the World - Creative World No. 1060
  • 7.5 on the Richter Scale - Creative World No. 1070 (1973)
  • Stan Kenton plays Chicago - Creative World No. 1072 (1974)
  • Fire, Fury and Fun - Creative World No. 1073 (1974)
  • Kenton '76 - Creative World No. 1076 (1976)
  • Journey Into Capricorn - Creative World No. 1077 (1976)
  • Some Women I've Known - Creative World No. 1029
  • Stan Kenton Without His Orchestra (solo) - Creative World No. 1071
  • Street of Dreams - Creative World No. 1079
  • Stan Kenton presents Gabe Baltazar - Creative World No. 3005

Live albums[edit]

  • Stan Kenton Live At Cornell University (1951)
  • Stan Kenton Stompin' At Newport - Pablo #PACD-5312-2 (1957)
  • Road Show, Stan Kenton, June Christy, The Four Freshmen - Capitol #TBO1327 (1959)
  • Kenton Live From The Las Vegas Tropicana - Capitol No. 1460 (1959)
  • Stan Kenton at Ukiah - Status #STCD109 (1959)
  • Stan Kenton In New Jersey - Status #USCD104 (1959)
  • Live at Redlands University (1970)
  • Live at Brigham Young (1971)
  • Stan Kenton Today - Live In London - London/Creative World #BP 44179-80 (1972)
  • Live at Butler University (1973)
  • Birthday in Britain - Creative World #ST 1065 (1973)[2]
  • Live in Europe (1976)
  • The Lost Concert Vol. 1-2 Recorded at The Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, CA on March 18, 1978, posthumous release in 2002 - Jazz Heritage


  • The Kenton Era - Capitol #WDX569 (1940–1953)
  • Stan Kenton On AFRS - Status DSTS1019 (1944-1945)
  • One Night Stand - Magic #DAWE66 (1961–1962)
  • The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Holman And Russo Charts - Mosaic MD4-136
  • The Complete Capitol Recordings - Mosaic MD7-163
  • The Peanut Vendor
  • The Jazz Compositions Of Stan Kenton - Creative World #ST1078 (1945–1973)


Stan Kenton's compositions included "Artistry in Rhythm", "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine", "Dynaflow" with Art Pepper, "Machito" and "Collaboration" with Peter Rugolo, "Opus in Pastels", "Artistry Jumps", "Reed Rapture", "Eager Beaver", "Artistry in Boogie", "Fantasy", "Rhythm Incorporated", "Southern Scandal", "Harlem Holiday", "Painted Rhythm", "Minor Riff", "Concerto to End All Concertos", "A Theme to the West", "Elegy For Alto", and "Sunset Tower".


  1. ^ a b c d Sparke, Michael (2011). Stan Kenton: This Is an Orchestra!. North Texas Lives of Musicians. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-1574413250. Retrieved February 14, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Stan Kenton And His Orchestra – Birthday In Britain". Discogs. Retrieved February 14, 2014.  The album was recorded on February 19, which is not Kenton's birthday; at the time, he either thought it was, or was publicly maintaining that it was.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Scott Yanow. "Stan Kenton | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  4. ^ Interview with Jack Sandmeier, June 7, 2009
  5. ^ Jack Sandmeier's unpublished memoir "Where's the Bus"
  6. ^ "Stan Kenton, Band Leader, Dies; Was Center of Jazz Controversies". New York Times. August 27, 1979. Retrieved 2009-02-19. "Stan Kenton, the band leader, died Saturday night in a Hollywood hospital. He was 67 years old. Mr. Kenton entered Midway Hospital on Aug. 17 after a stroke. His manager, Audrey Coke, said Mr. Kenton had never fully recovered from a skull fracture he suffered in a fall two years ago." 
  7. ^ a b "Stan Kenton". Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  8. ^ a b c d [1][dead link]
  9. ^ Arganian, Lillian (1989) Stan Kenton: The Man and His Music. Artistry Press. ISBN 978-0-9621116-0-0
  10. ^ "Music 55". Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  11. ^ "University of North Texas Libraries". Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  12. ^ "Stan Kenton Orchestra". Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  13. ^ Kenton, Leslie. Love Affair: The memoir of a forbidden father-daughter relationship, Random House, 2010


  • Easton, Carol (1981). Straight Ahead: The Story of Stan Kenton. Da Capo. ISBN 978-0-306-80152-5. 
  • Lee, William F. (1994). Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm. Los Angeles: Creative Press. ISBN 978-0-89745-993-8. 
  • Sparke, Michael (2011). Stan Kenton: This Is an Orchestra!. North Texas Lives of Musicians Series. University of North Texas Press. ISBN 978-1-57441-325-0. 
  • Colt, Freddy (2013). Stan Kenton, il Vate del Progressive Jazz. Mellophonium Broadsides, San Remo (Italy). 

External links[edit]