Alon Marcus

Stan Kenton - City of Glass

84 posts in this topic

Just finished a refresher listen to this disc, and what I was most struck by this time was how much rhythm there is in Graettinger's music. Not "swing" rhythm (usually), but rhythm nevertheless, and strong, pulsating rhythm at that, multi-layered/leveled rhythms that play off of each other, that exist as seperate entities yet connect to a larger whole. Pretty amazing stuff, actually, and totally original, I think. How much of this was a direct, literal result of his system of graphic notation (a system I've yet to see delved into to any satisfactory degree, unfortunately), or how much of it was a result of his using the notational system as a means to a to some degree predetermined end, I can't even begin to speculate. Not that it really matters...

Another thing that struck me was the arrangement of "You Go To My Head". I'd had this for years on the old THE KENTON ERA Capitol LP Box set, which was a collection of live recordings and studio "leftovers", and in that context, it struck me as a refreshing oddity of sorts. But heard in the context of an all-Graettinger program, I find it to be a somewaht sly "serious joke", at least in terms of the relationship between the song title and the arrangement. That creep-crawly sax section figure is obviously going to somebody's head, and it's fascinating to hear how it recedes into the subconscious for the second A-section, only to re-emerge in a different, more fully-blown & troublesome manifestation in the second half of the bridge, threatening a full-fledged takeover of the head in question. The end of the melody offers no happy endings either, other than that creepy-crawly figure never really gets the upper hand.

In a prior post, I mentioned how Stan Kenton's music often lacked an "organic" quality to me. By that, I meant that too often I hear it as either a superficial grafting of elements of an exaggeration of otherwise normal, mediocre even, elements, elements that can be found in more natural (and dare I say, "healthy") manifestations elsewhere. Such is not the case with Bob Graettinger's work, however. This cat might have be a loner, an eccentric, a genuine freak for that matter, but by god, he was in his world all the way, and there was no room inhis world for compromise, cheapness, "career moves", or anything else that interfered with his vision. If it was a vision that ultimately had a built-in limitation of scope, so be it. It was his vision, and he pursued it undauntingly in his writing.

The usual criticisms of this music is that it's "cold", "mechanical", or best/worst of all, that it "isn't jazz". "Cold" is a matter of perception, I suppose, but I hear/feel it as more "detached", the product of a observational mind presenting portraits of what he sees than somebody attempting to find and define themselves through their music. If anything, this music is extremely "self-less" in many ways (along those lines, I'd love to hear what Lee Konitz has to say about playing this music, and about Graettinger himself...).

"Mechanical" might well be an issue of interpretation - this music was difficult then, and it reamins difficult today. The original difficulty, though was not just technical, it was conceptual. How do you play a piece of music for which there is no real stylistic precedent? What is it supposed to sound "like"? To that end, though, I think that Kenton's bands gave these pieces as good a reading as possible at the time, and in the case of John Grass's amazing work on "A Horn", better than could have been hoped for by any reasonable mind. Still, a piece like "Incident In Jazz" (or as it was apparently originally, and more intriguingly, titled, "Incident In Sound") virtually BEGS to be played by a band that has had the luxury of digesting the concepts of Tristano, Braxton, etc. Someday, perhaps... Still, I think that the band(s) play this music remarkably well and organically. Contrast their readings of these pieces to the Herman band's somewhat stilted reading of Stravinsky's "Ebony Concerto", and I think the difference should be apparent.

Now for the big one - Is It Jazz? I say that if you feel the need to ask, you're missing the point. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. To me, that's like not seeing the forest for the trees. Forget about the "labels", this is music, period, the product of a unique mind in a unique set of circumstances. It is what it is, period, and you take it or leave it entirely on its own terms. A higher mark of artistic integrety I'd be hard-pressed to come up with.

To that end, and to possibly fan the flames of controversy just a little, I find it interesting that in The World Of Stan Kenton, a world where words like "Innovations", "Progressive", "Adventures", and "Creative" were too often used, in my opinion, as answers to questions that had never really been asked and/or examined in the first place, that the music of Bob Graettinger still stirs up so much ambivalence and outright dislike. Here, for once, was a music that was truly innovative, progressive, adventurous, and creative, and it still sends many of the Kenton camp running for cover. Even Kenton himself admitted to not having a clue as to whether or not it was "good". Well, DUH!

It just goes to show you - be careful what you ask for. You might just get it! :g

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An interesting dicussion.

Is there any reason not to consider "City of Glass" a classical composition for brass orchestra?

I say that because, despite its many musical virtues, I don't really understand why it should necessarily appeal to a jazz fan, or, alternatively, why jazz fans would want to listen to that and ignore the rest of 20th century classical music.

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it's a jazz interpretation because of the way Kenton's orchestra plays it - classically trained musicians would not have made it sound like it does on that recording; that's a prime reason it appeals to jazz people - same, in my opinion, for Ebony Concerto - I like the Herman band's reading -

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A discographical question - are there any recordings known to exist of the 1948 live premiere of "City Of Glass", of of any other live Kenton performances of Graettinger's work other than the Innovations Orchestra's performance of "Reflections", which is found on a Laserlight CD?

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I say that because, despite its many musical virtues, I don't really understand why it should necessarily appeal to a jazz fan, or, alternatively, why jazz fans would want to listen to that and ignore the rest of 20th century classical music.

A silly response, but in my case I ignore "the rest of 20th century classical music" because the last thing my budget needs right now is to discover more music to love! :(

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I say that because, despite its many musical virtues,  I don't really understand why it should necessarily appeal to a jazz fan, or, alternatively, why jazz fans would want to listen to that and ignore the rest of 20th century classical music.

Would it be a fair assumption that most jazz fans who really dig Graettinger probably do enjoy/explore 20th Century classical music to one degree or antother, and that those who don't, don't?

And another thing - is anybody besides me at least a little bugged that they couldn't find room for at least one photo of Graettinger somewhere in the CD package?

Here's one from the aforementioned KENTON ERA set, an apparent "peer review" by Johnny Richards, Frank Marks, Kenton, and Rugolo.

Edited by JSngry

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A closeup:

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The Capitol 12" printed a moody "glam" photo on the back.

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They also used some of the graphic notation on the cover, iirc.

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I guess that many of you have not checked out Chris Blackford's site I noted earlier. Here is a classic photograph of Bob Graettinger ....

Edited by garthsj

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Discographies list a live version of Thermopolae from Philadelphia, early 1948 and two more from June 1952, one from August 1952. Reportedly also Gregory Bemko, from the same Innovations concert as Reflections. Then a live City of Glass from 11/25/51 in Seattle, issued on Mark Records and another from 8/26/52 in Cincinnati, issued on Joyce, also on Natasha Imports.

I don't have a specialized Kenton discography, so there may be more info there.

Mike

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Thanks for that info, Mike. Some things to be on the lookout for, definitely.

Here's a pretty neat Kenton site, by former Kenton publicist/insider Noel Wedder: http://home.comcast.net/~noel_wedder/wsb/reflections.htm

His comments about City of Glass are provocative, frustrating, and representative, I suspect, of the way that many in the Kenton circle viewed Graettinger:

graettinger.jpg

John Mannheim wrote:

'I have never been able to understand 'City of Glass' and I considered this to be a total failure on my part.'

You're not alone! 

Even some of the arrangers had a hard time deciphering just exactly what Graettinger had in mind. More so than any of the other composers who passed through the ranks Bob continually had his mind's eye in the stars. It was terribly important to him -- remember he was only 34 when he died -- to leave his mark. If that meant reaching far beyond the applied & acceptable rules of composition then that was the way it must be.

Buddy Childers was undoubtedly being charitable when he described his opinion of Graettinger's work. Others were a bit more blunt.

However . . .

No one dared cast a derogatory remark about 'City of Glass' or 'This Modern World, which was only recorded because Stan made a death bed commitment to Graettinger to record it Stan's way. To criticize this decision was was to invite professional suicide, accompanied by an icy glare from the Old Man, followed by: 'You don't know jack shit!'

It was generally agreed among the members of the Band that 'City of Glass' was not only an uncommoningly complex piece to execute, it was so atonal it was beyond the scope of mere mortals. Stan claimed to understand what Bob had done. But we knew he knew he was deluding himself. Truth was even Stan didn't know what in god's name Graettinger was striving for.

However . . . and this is a very critical 'however' . . .

Bob Graettinger was a classically trained composer possessed with a finite grasp of theory, counterpoint & harmony. He was no slouch when it came to fully comprehending all the composition rules (and then some) so he could break them with abandon.

More to the point, he was a crackerjack writer who tried just a wee bit too hard to escape the boundaries.

Wedder's full site here: http://home.comcast.net/~noel_wedder/wsb/kentonindex2.html

Edited by JSngry

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I just picked this up. My first impression was "this guy likes Stravinsky" (sorry if this is superficial or "wrong" -- my knowledge of 20th century classical music is primarily Debussy, the Stravinsky ballets & Bartok's work). But the more I hear it, the more I'm digging it. And the jazz links become more obvious with each listen.

I'd be interested to read some discussion about this music's relation to both 20th century and jazz of the time.

Also, the version of "Everything happens to Me" is quite freaky.

Guy

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I see that the 1947 version of City of Glass was recorded fairly recently by Gunter Schuller, as discussed here: Graettinger Has anybody heard this? The other thing notable about this page is how angry the author is that Cuscuna reordered the tracks from This Modern World. Yes, this might have been a case where the suite should have been ordered together, but, dude, that's why you can program CD players.

I can sort of see how bewildering this must have been for the Kenton orchestra to play. It sort of swings, then it goes off in a different direction and then there's dissonance. Unfortunately, I don't have anything profound to say about it. I'm glad it was recorded (mad props to Kenton), but I have listened to it three times in the last few days, but nothing really sticks with me. There isn't (to me) a particularly memorable through line or even a phrase that jumps out at me. Well, let me take that back, I do like the opening of the Second Movement, Dance Before the Mirror, with Shelly Manne on tympany. But I doubt I'll remember it much after a couple of hours.

It is always interesting to hear jazz bands really stretched this way. I probably should seek out Woody Herman playing Ebony Concerto. Any thoughts on whether the Columbia or the Everest recording is the one to look for? Also, people might be interested to hear Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Suites (1st and 2nd) which are collected on Cuban Blue's (Verve).

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I probably should seek out Woody Herman playing Ebony Concerto.  Any thoughts on whether the Columbia or the Everest recording is the one to look for?

The Columbia has better "excitement", the Everest better "execution". They're different enough to warrant having both, I think.

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Just FYI, when I was on the band we made a recording of Ebony for RCA with Richard Stoltzman playing the clarinet part (this was in 1987).

d99648yyku7.jpg

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Yes, I've got that one - and the bastards at RCA neglected to include the personnel details (OK, they do list Joel Weiskopf on the back cover and Tiberi and Riekenberg are mentioned on the insert). Could you supply?

Mike

Edited by Michael Fitzgerald

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Just FYI, when I was on the band we made a recording of Ebony for RCA with Richard Stoltzman playing the clarinet part (this was in 1987).

d99648yyku7.jpg

David Brenner has another career? :)

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Just FYI, when I was on the band we made a recording of Ebony for RCA with Richard Stoltzman playing the clarinet part (this was in 1987).

Hey Paul, what's your honest opinion of Ebony? Did the guys in the band enjoy playng it? I can hardly imagine that. You know I love Woody, but I've never really gotten into that piece. One of the most un-Herman-like charts I've ever heard. It fact, it's long been my suspicion that because it was Stravinsky, Woody's critical faculties became a bit clouded when it came to including that piece in the band's repetoire. Personally, I would have deep-sixed it, Stravinsky or not. The things Ralph Burns was writing for the band were miles ahead of this. Even Graettinger's charts for Kenton had more swing and jazz content than Ebony.

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Several things about Ebony Concerto. On the Everest recording, the clarinet part is played (uncredited) by John LaPorta, according to LaPorta's autobiography "Playing It By Ear" (Cadence). Also, Ebony Concerto is not a jazz work; to judge it on the basis of whether it has or lacks "jazz content" is going to deflect you from hearing how it goes about its business. The same is true of Stravinsky's Ragtime and his Piano Rag-Music versus actual ragtime pieces. As Pieter C. van den Troon says in his "The Music of Igor Stravinsky" (Yale), "From Petroushka onward...Stravinsky remained aloof, strangely unaffected by the music of his immediate predecessors and contemporaries. Even the early jazz influence ... seems almost incidental when supposedly most conspicious (e.g in Histoire du soldat, Ragtime, and Piano Rag-Music), on in the later Ebony Concerto, so distorted, so completely enveloped is this 'influence' by accomodation" (i.e. by S.'s drive to accomodate "certain, practices, conventions, or idiosyncracies" of other musical traditions to the "consistency, identity, and distinction of his own music." Finally, while I haven't listened to it in some time, I recall that the most effective recorded performance of Ebony Concerto was Boulez's on DG (on LP, don't know if it's made it to CD). I would think that jazz musicians will always find this music too damn awkward, too alien to the idiom. But, again, it's not a piece in and of the idiom.

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Hey Paul, what's your honest opinion of Ebony? Did the guys in the band enjoy playng it? I can hardly imagine that. You know I love Woody, but I've never really gotten into that piece. One of the most un-Herman-like charts I've ever heard. It fact, it's long been my suspicion that because it was Stravinsky, Woody's critical faculties became a bit clouded when it came to including that piece in the band's repetoire. Personally, I would have deep-sixed it, Stravinsky or not. The things Ralph Burns was writing for the band were miles ahead of this. Even Graettinger's charts for Kenton had more swing and jazz content than Ebony.

Larry's post explained it very well. It's not a "jazz piece" in any sense of traditional big band music. It doesn't swing and it's not supposed to- it's almost cartoon music at times. There are elements of jazz in it, but really nothing you wouldn't already find in any other Stravinsky composition. It's a weird example of "when worlds collide", but Stravinsky's persona emerges unscathed with few if any "Woody" elements assimilated into the piece, other than the clarinet being featured.

That being said, I think the band eventually really enjoyed playing the piece. We did a tour with Stoltzman, playing in several orchestral venues that we would otherwise have never set foot in. After playing Ebony night after night the band started to settle in and relax a bit and the piece really started to make sense. It was an odd tour since Stoltzman isn't really a jazz player- the idea for the tour was his and he made a lot of the gigs happen. He had been hanging out w/Woody and I expect the idea came up, probably much in the same way that Woody and Stravinsky decided to collaborate after many nights of hanging out and drinking in Hollywood (Woody was at a peak of popularity at that time, and I think Stravinsky had a fascination with hanging out with the "beautiful people" of the moment). Although, as I said, it wasn't really much of "collaboration"- it was Stravinsky all the way.

When the 40s Herd started to learn the piece they were doing a long-term gig at the Paramount in NYC, and they would rehearse between sets. I don't think reading music (especially Stravinksy's!) was that band's strongest point, and I guess the rehearsals progressed very slowly (Stravinsky himself was rehearsing the band!).

BTW, I like Ebony a lot. It's wacky and quirky and contains Stravinsky's typical attention to detail and the marvelous grasp of orchestration that I associate with Gil Evans. Around the time we did the tour, I was finishing up a Master's degree and had to write a paper on a Stravinsky piece, so I chose Ebony. I think doing an analysis and gaining a general understanding of the music helped me to appreciate it a lot more when it came time to perform it.

Yes, I've got that one - and the bastards at RCA neglected to include the personnel details (OK, they do list Joel Weiskopf on the back cover and Tiberi and Riekenberg are mentioned on the insert). Could you supply?

Yeah, Mike, we were pissed that there were no band credits on the RCA recording. I need to double check on the personnel to be sure.

Edited by Free For All

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Paul -- I heard one of those Stoltzman-Herman tour Ebony Concerto performances, at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, I beleive, but certainly in some Chicago concert forum.

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Larry's post explained it very well. It's not a "jazz piece" in any sense of traditional big band music. It doesn't swing and it's not supposed to- it's almost cartoon music at times. There are elements of jazz in it, but really nothing you wouldn't already find in any other Stravinsky composition. It's a weird example of "when worlds collide", but Stravinsky's persona emerges unscathed with few if any "Woody" elements assimilated into the piece, other than the clarinet being featured.

That being said, I think the band eventually really enjoyed playing the piece.

Thanks, Paul. I can see why the trumpets might like to play the chart, as it gives them a break from all the hard-blowing stuff.

I have to tell you in all honesty, that from a jazz listeners' perspective (especially one who values hard-driving swing), this is not a very satisfying piece. It's reported that Stravinsky spent many nights listening to the Herd in person. But to me it sounds like he never really got what the Herd was all about, or jazz in general, for that matter. I have to tell you that when I'm listening to the studio Ebony on disc (and I've given it a number of spins), I feel a tremendous sense of relief when the chart finishes and the band roars into Sidewalks of Cuba.

Of course, it was a big deal because Stravinsky did this piece for Herman for free. But several months after the Carnegie performance, Stravinsky was low on funds and his manger suggested to Woody that he might pay Igor for the chart, which Herman apparently did.

Edited by John Tapscott

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Paul -- I heard one of those Stoltzman-Herman tour Ebony Concerto performances, at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, I beleive, but certainly in some Chicago concert forum.

Yes, we did play in Orchestra Hall in Chicago, which was fun because I've attended many great CSO concerts there, including my first time in the 70s when I heard them play Holst's Planets, which needless to say left quite an impression.

We also played orchestra venues in Boston, Cleveland and some other cities.

It was interesting to observe the audiences' reaction to Ebony. They frequently seemed stunned after hearing this odd little piece in the midst of a swinging big band concert. And yes, there was a palpable sense of relief when the band returned to the traditional big band format. I'm sure most would say they enjoyed it (although for many probably because it wouldn't be "hip" to not like Stravinsky) but I think many people's impression of the piece was neutral. I think even though Stravinsky did listen to the band, the end result was a Stravinsky piece that just happened to be performed by Woody Herman and the Herd. It really could have been done by any of the bands at the time. I would have liked to have heard Artie Shaw's band play it.

Edited by Free For All

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I have to tell you in all honesty, that from a jazz listeners' perspective (especially one who values hard-driving swing), this is not a very satisfying piece. It's reported that Stravinsky spent many nights listening to the Herd in person.  But to me it sounds like he never really got what the Herd was all about, or jazz in general, for that matter. I have to tell you that when I'm listening to the studio Ebony on disc (and I've given it a number of spins), I feel a tremendous sense of relief when the chart finishes and the band roars into Sidewalks of Cuba.

Of course, it was a big deal because Stravinsky did this piece for Herman for free. But several months after the  Carnegie performance, Stravinsky was low on funds and his manger suggested to Woody that he might  pay Igor for the chart,  which Herman apparently did.

That's a fair assessment, John. I also think the piece is in many ways less than satisfying, almost incomplete, and if I may speculate for a moment I'd guess that Stravinsky maybe didn't spend a whole lot of time on this "freebie". That being said, even half-assed Stravinsky is pretty good stuff!

It's an anomaly, a historic event to be sure, a simultaneously bizarre and endearing little piece, but most likely not one that will ever be considered a great example of "third stream" experiments.

I think City of Glass kicks its ass in that respect (OK, back on topic now :) ).

I think a general thread on these types of pieces might be interesting given the knowledgeable and articulate experts in the house.

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