Stan Kenton

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Stan Kenton
Stan Kenton.JPG
Kenton in 1973
Background information
Birth name Stanley Newcomb Kenton
Born (1911-12-15)December 15, 1911
Wichita, Kansas, United States
Died August 25, 1979(1979-08-25) (aged 67)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Genres Progressive jazz, West Coast jazz, swing
Occupation(s) Bandleader, pianist, composer, arranger
Instruments Piano
Years active 1930s–1970s
Labels Capitol, Decca, Creative World
Associated acts Maynard Ferguson, Zoot Sims, Gerry Mulligan, 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 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.

Early life[edit]

Stan Kenton was born on December 15, 1911 in Wichita, Kansas, and was raised first in Colorado, then in California. (He wrongly believed that his birthdate was February 19, 1912 and many sources still report this date.) He graduated from Bell High School, in Bell, California, in 1930.


Rise to stardom[edit]

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 dance bands of Vido Musso and Gus Arnheim, but his natural inclination was as a band leader.

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 name musicians in his first band (with the possible exception of bassist Howard Rumsey and trumpeter Chico Alvarez), Kenton spent the summer of 1941 playing regularly before an audience at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, CA. Influenced by Jimmie Lunceford (who, like Kenton, featured high-note trumpeters and thick-toned tenors), the Stan Kenton Orchestra struggled for a time after its initial success. Its Decca recordings were not big sellers and a stint as Bob Hope's backup radio band during the 1943–44 season was an unhappy experience; Les Brown permanently took Kenton's place.[2]

Stan Kenton with Eddie Safranski, 1947 or 1948

Kenton's first appearance in New York was in February 1942 at the Roseland Ballroom, with the marquee featuring an endorsement by Fred Astaire.[3] By late 1943, with a contract with the newly formed Capitol Records, a popular record in "Eager Beaver", and growing recognition, the Stan Kenton Orchestra was gradually catching on; it developed into one of the best-known West Coast ensembles of the 1940s. 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.[2] The songwriter Joe Greene provided the lyrics for hit songs like "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine" and "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'".[4] 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 Greene's "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, and featured the voices of the band.[2]

In the mid-1940s, Kenton's band and style became known as the "wall of sound"[6] or "wall of brass".[7] Calling his music "progressive jazz,"[8] Kenton sought to lead a concert orchestra as opposed to a dance band at a time when most big bands were beginning to wind up. By 1947 Kai Winding was greatly influencing the sound of Kenton's trombonists, the trumpet section included such performers 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.[2]

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.[2]

Then quite unexpectedly, Kenton went through a swinging period. The charts of such arrangers as Gerry Mulligan, 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.[2]

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, 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.

Later years[edit]

Stan Kenton in Munich, September 25, 1973

Another Kenton 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". Kenton 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 (No. 32 Billboard, No. 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 ended 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. Kenton also made his charts available to college and high-school stage bands. When Kenton took to the road during the early 1970s and up to his last tour, he took with him seasoned veteran musicians (John Worster, Willie Maiden, Warren Gale, Graham Ellis and others) teaming them with relatively unknown young artists, and new arrangements (including those by Hank Levy, Bill Holman, Bob Curnow, Willie Maiden and Ken Hanna) were used. Many alumni associated with Kenton from this era became educators (Mike Vax, John Von Ohlen, Chuck Carter, and Richard Torres), and a few went on to take their musical careers to the next level, such as Peter Erskine.

Kenton continued leading and touring with his big band up to his final performance in August 1978.


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[9] (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.[10]

Personal life[edit]


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.[11] Because this remained a family secret, even his grave marker showed the 1912 birthdate.[1]

Marriages and children[edit]

Stan Kenton had three marriages. His first produced a daughter, Leslie, who was a successful expert on and author of several books about health, spirituality and beauty.[12][13] His second – to Ann Richards, who sang with his band and who later shot herself at age 46 – produced two children, daughter Dana and son Lance. All three marriages ended in divorce. Kenton had three grandchildren.[7]


Kenton fractured his skull in a fall in 1977 while on tour in Reading, PA. He entered Midway Hospital on August 17, 1979 after a stroke and died on August 25, 1979. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles.[7] Kenton's consumption of alcohol had grown over the years,[14] and the London Daily Telegraph described his death in 2010 as coming "after a long battle with alcoholism".[15]


Kenton's daughter Leslie Kenton wrote a book Love Affair, published in 2010, about her upbringing and her close and complicated relationship with her father.[16] In spite of this, Leslie Kenton maintained an emotionally close relationship with her father before, during, and after this time, although also suffering from traumatic effects.[12][13][17][8][15]

Noted band personnel[edit]

Composers and Arrangers


Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

  • Stan Kenton Live At Cornell University (1951)
  • Stan Kenton Stompin' At Newport – Pablo #PACD-5312-2 (1957)
  • On the Road with Stan Kenton – Artistry Records #AR-101 (Recorded Nov. 6, 1958 at the Municipal Auditorium, Sarasota, Florida)
  • Kenton Live from the Las Vegas Tropicana – Capitol No. 1460 (1959)
  • Road Show (with June Christy and The Four Freshmen) – Capitol #TBO1327 (1959)
  • Stan Kenton at Ukiah – Status #STCD109 (1959)
  • Stan Kenton In New Jersey – Status #USCD104 (1959)
  • Mellophonium Magic – Status No. CD103 (1962)
  • Mellophonium Moods – Status No. STCD106 (1962)
  • Stan Kenton And His Orchestra At Fountain Street Church Part 1 – Status #DSTS1014 (1968)
  • Stan Kenton and His Orchestra At Fountain Street Church Part 2– Status #DSTS1016 (1968)
  • Private Party – Creative World No. 1014 (1970)
  • Live at Redlands University – Creative World No. 1015 (1970)
  • Live at Brigham Young University – Creative World No. 1039 (1971)
  • Live at Butler University – Creative World No. 1058 (1972)
  • Stan Kenton Today – Live In London – London/Creative World #BP 44179-80 (1972)
  • Birthday in Britain – Creative World #ST 1065 (1973)[11]
  • Flying High In Florida (1972)
  • Live at the London Hilton - Part I & II (1973)
  • 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


  • Stan Kenton's Milestones (Capitol, 1943–47 [1950])
  • Stan Kenton Classics (Capitol, 1944–47 [1952])
  • The Kenton Era (Capitol, 1940–53 [1955])
  • City of Glass and This Modern World – Capitol No. 736 (1951–1953 [1957])
  • Stan Kenton's Greatest Hits (Capitol, 1943–47 [1965])
  • 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 No. ST1078 (1945–1973)
  • Street of Dreams – Creative World No. 1079 (1979 vinyl; 1992 CD)
  • The Innovations Orchestra (Capitol, 1950–51 [1997])


Stan Kenton's compositions included "Artistry in Rhythm,” "Opus in Pastels,” "Artistry Jumps,” "Reed Rapture,” "Eager Beaver,” “Fantasy," "Southern Scandal,” "Harlem Folk Dance", "Painted Rhythm,” "Concerto to End All Concertos,” “Easy Go,” “Concerto for Doghouse,” “Shelly Manne,” “Balboa Bash,” “Flamenco,” and "Sunset Tower.”

Although several compositions are co-credited to Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo, Rugolo was the primary composer, with Kenton often times merely offering verbal suggestions. Some of these titles include “Minor Riff,” “Collaboration,” "Artistry in Boogie", "Theme to the West,” and “Elegy for Alto.”


  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 c d e f Scott Yanow. "Stan Kenton | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  3. ^ Spelvin, George (February 21, 1942). "Broadway Beat" (PDF). Billboard. p. 5. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Joseph Greene, Composer With Stan Kenton's Orchestra, Dies". Los Angeles Times. June 28, 1986. Retrieved November 13, 2015. 
  5. ^ Barry Ulanov in Metronome magazine, 1948, cited at John S. Wilson (August 27, 1979). "Stan Kenton, Band Leader, Dies; Was Center of Jazz Controversies". New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2016. 
  6. ^ Sparke 2011, p. 50.
  7. ^ a b c John S. Wilson (August 27, 1979). "Stan Kenton, Band Leader, Dies; Was Center of Jazz Controversies". New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Will Friedwald (January 28, 2011). "A Restless Soul Revealed". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  9. ^ "University of North Texas Libraries". Retrieved 2013-09-16. 
  10. ^ "Stan Kenton Orchestra". Retrieved 2013-08-01. 
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b Boleman-Herring, Elizabeth (February 18, 2012). "Stan Kenton & His Daughter Leslie's 'Love Affair'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 21, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b Duerden, Nick (February 19, 2010). "Leslie Kenton: 'I was angry, but never hated my father'". The Guardian. Retrieved December 21, 2016. 
  14. ^ Sparke 2011, p. 279.
  15. ^ a b Singh, Anita (January 30, 2010). "Jazz great Stan Kenton raped his daughter, she claims in new book". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved June 10, 2016. 
  16. ^ Kenton, Leslie (2010). Love Affair. Vermilion (Ebury Publishing). ISBN 978-0312659080. 
  17. ^ Wolff, Carlo (February 20, 2011). "Stan Kenton's daughter opens door to their dark past". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved June 11, 2016. 
  18. ^ Morgan, Alun (June 24, 1998). "Obituary: Benny Green". The Independent. Retrieved October 4, 2016. 


  • 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]