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remembering the monstrous stan kenton

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remembering the monstrous stan kenton

from the dec. 9 new republic

us Stan Kenton

  • David Hajdu
  • December 9, 2011 | 12:00 am

Kenton.jpgIt takes a special awfulness for an artist to be worth remembering not for the value but for the faults of his work. In American music, few well-established figures went quite so wrong as Stan Kenton, the pianist and orchestra leader whose centennial on December 15 will be recognized by concerts at Jazz at Lincoln, the Manhattan School of Music, and the University of North Texas, which houses an archive of Kenton’s papers and scores. The events are well intentioned, I have no doubt, and Kenton, through the musicians he hired—the arrangers Bill Holman and Gerry Mulligan, the saxophonists Art Pepper and Lee Konitz, the singers Anita O’Day, June Christy, and Chris Connor, chief among them—can legitimately be credited with some responsibility for at least a dozen significant contributions to the history of “cool jazz.” The bulk of his output, however, was blighted by ostentation, gimmickry, and bloat. Stan Kenton gave pretentiousness a bad name.

Desperate to be taken seriously and ambivalent about the legitimacy of jazz as a style, Kenton conflated originality with novelty and importance with scale. In the early ’50s, he gussied up his big band, incorporating symphony instruments, until he was conducting 39 pieces, including 16 strings, woodwinds, and French horns. He named the ensemble the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra, and he had it play overwrought emulations of the early postwar avant-garde—pieces such as “Opus in Pastels,” “Dance Before the Mirror,” and “Trajectories.” I recommend the music highly to any contemporary artist inclined to monstrosity and susceptible to self-aggrandizement. In fact, I should send a CD to Kanye West.

Bitter about being overshadowed by his African-American superiors in the Down Beat magazine critic’s poll, Kenton sent the editors a now-notorious telegram, grousing of his status in “a new minority, white jazz musicians.” He was something less than sensitive— personally as well as professionally, according to his daughter Leslie Kenton, who, in a memoir published last year, detailed what she described as an incestuous relationship with her father. One need not be concerned with that controversy to see the problem with Stan Kenton. Kenton’s music was monstrous enough.

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Be that as it may, he still left us with gems like these:

61EHvDgqwjL._SL500_AA280_.jpg

51bEtCMUhpL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

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Aw well, another one who still has an axe to grind after all these years. :shrug[1]:

Yes, some of Kenton's music was pompous and overladen, sometimes he wanted his music to be what it did not turn out to be.

But he was not alone in that field. Other name artists had shortcomings of their own in what their musical output strived to be and never was. Such as musical dilettantism in certain "New Thing" emperors' clothes disguise or utter "Third Stream" pompousness, to name just two.

And Kenton's Downbeat rant rightfully caused some controversy and sharp reactions but for the world of it overall I cannot see it being any worse than what others had to state the other way in rather a categorical and therefore caricaturesque way at that time, nor any worse than that whole "Crow Jim" business that at roughly the same time was not exactly uncommon either (not to mention wholesale blasts at West Coast Jazz that were fired as if they earned the scribes extra writing credit if they followed that fad of put-downs). Makes you wonder which was first - the hen or the egg ... ;)

And after all these years it's rather pointless. There are artists who are pet hate objects to some ... so what ... Can't love 'em all, and don't have to. And in the end it all boils down to personal tastes.

So I for one will rather stick with the Kentonia I like and mercifully skip over what I don't like. Nothing extraordinary about that in my opinion. Happens with many artists. ;)

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You know, there are still some very elderly guys round here whose supreme musical experience remains seeing Kenton in Ireland or England in 1953 or 56.

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You know, there are still some very elderly guys round here whose supreme musical experience remains seeing Kenton in Ireland or England in 1953 or 56.

Judging by the writeups in the press of the times (I have those from the German and Swedish jazz press on hand) and by the reissue LPs, it must have been quite a blast (well, almost literally, though not too much of a pun intended ;)).

Maybe I REALLY ought to have bought the amateur reel to reel tapes of some 1953 Kenton concert in Germany that a now elderly jazz fan (who sold me all his jazz mags dating back to 1953 a couple of years ago) recorded for himself as a teenager at one of the concerts of that 1953 tour that he attended. :blush:

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I love Kenton - and so does Anthony Braxton, if that helps.

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That piece "Art Pepper" with the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra is one of the great moments in Pepper's recorded output. Tailoring such a huge ensemble around one voice, as he did with several key soloists using that band, turned up some unforgettable show pieces. His early bands, especially, mid-1940's to the mid-50's had some great musicians in them, jazzers, and the tug between the concert stage and the dance band imperative that's going on in the music, either between the soloists and the band or the arrangers and Kenton's vision, made for some interesting "tension and release."

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Posted (edited)

That piece "Art Pepper" with the Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra is one of the great moments in Pepper's recorded output. Tailoring such a huge ensemble around one voice, as he did with several key soloists using that band, turned up some unforgettable show pieces. His early bands, especially, mid-1940's to the mid-50's had some great musicians in them, jazzers, and the tug between the concert stage and the dance band imperative that's going on in the music, either between the soloists and the band or the arrangers and Kenton's vision, made for some interesting "tension and release."

i just finished 5 hours of drinking in the orgasmic laz lake kenton fest from the other night.

i'm going to repeat the exercise, if the booze, my heart, and liver hold out.

the solo taborn was to DIE for.

Edited by alocispepraluger102

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Posted

I think Graettinger is amazing. And Davey Schildkraut plays a great solo on Edgon Heath.

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The little bit I've read suggests his musicians loved him.

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Is that piece all that Hajdu wrote or just the top of it? In any case, it has, to coin a phrase, a special awfulness.

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Yup.

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Is that piece all that Hajdu wrote or just the top of it? In any case, it has, to coin a phrase, a special awfulness.

that was the whole piece--

i didn't post it because i necessarily agree with it.

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A moronic article, full of bile and hate. You would think a magazine like this would employ editors or sub editors to oversee their riffraff contributors. Stan certainly had his weak moments, but on the other hand he made some excellent recordings and employed some superb musicians. And, the musicians respected him. He does not deserve this. The writer would not know jazz or decency if it was approaching his navel from way down on the inside. I wanted to reply direct, but it seems to comment one has to sign up for a lifetime - of this crap? No Way. Never. Monstrous article.

Q

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Is that piece all that Hajdu wrote or just the top of it? In any case, it has, to coin a phrase, a special awfulness.

that was the whole piece--

i didn't post it because i necessarily agree with it.

Wow -- the whole piece! That's insane. On what other topic would a general interest publication like the New Republic print something that tendentious and that brief? Given that, it strikes me as fueled by unjustified self-righteousness insult that's designed to puff up the credentials/protect some flank of the writer. Yuck.

Also, Alocis, I didn't assume that you agreed with it.

Further, FWIW, Joe Henderson was a great admirer of much of Kenton's music, Holman and Russo's stuff in particular.

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It just occurred to me -- that piece is the inside-out apotheosis of Kenton. He now has, at least in Hajdu's eyes, the status of Stepin Fetchit, someone whose very name is supposed to justify righteous moral outrage on the part of those who need to get off that way.

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Posted (edited)

Further, FWIW, Joe Henderson was a great admirer of much of Kenton's music, Holman and Russo's stuff in particular.

Yes, as warmly acknowledged in the notes to Joe Henderson Big Band. He says he particularly liked the two Kenton albums that I posted above in #2.

Edited by BillF

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Bird was a Kenton admirer too.

Hajdu-- though he's had better moments among the worse-- is often an idiot; check out his inane moralizing in the Dylan/Farina/Baez book for ample evidence.

Stan Kenton-- or the Kenton Project, if you will-- is fantastic, a high point of American popular ** and ** art music 1940-196x... not sure when the cut off point is yet.

For

* Pete Rugolo

* Bill Holman

* Bill Russo

* Johnny Richards

* Lennie Niehaus

* Bob Graettinger

* Gene Roland (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the late '70s)

alone Kenton would be a giant; that he supported ALL of those and dozens upon dozens of terrific-- sometimes brilliant-- musicians-- is astonishing.

The anti-intellectual criticism of Kenton is nauseating but plainly ignorant-- is everything by Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Ellington equally achieved, even given vagaries of performance practice? But it is nearly all interesting, though I think we can agree the jazz/pop guys spun their wheels more than composers had to because exigencies of gigs, radio, records, show biz... So perhaps Milhaud is better comparison.

Kenton/Christy "Duet" is no small masterpiece either.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftypZJpZ_Kw

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Hajdu is exhausting and is at his best when he's writing about someone/something he actually likes, which is exceedingly rare (and usually is directed at middling contemporary pop stars and hip-hop, such is the vogue for a certain brand of aging white male critic). More often than not, though, he's contented to shoot fish in a barrel. As this piece shows, he's also prone to fits of bizarre invective.

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thanks for mentioning Gene Roland, Moms (Dan Morgenstern first hipped me to him). I know Jsngry disagrees, but I think Lonesome Train is the most effective jazz-roots piece ever written.

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Hajdu is exhausting and is at his best when he's writing about someone/something he actually likes, which is exceedingly rare (and usually is directed at middling contemporary pop stars and hip-hop, such is the vogue for a certain brand of aging white male critic). More often than not, though, he's contented to shoot fish in a barrel. As this piece shows, he's also prone to fits of bizarre invective.

It isn't bizarre at all, I think. Rather, as this sentence proclaims -- "Bitter about being overshadowed by his African-American superiors in the Down Beat magazine critic’s poll, Kenton sent the editors a now-notorious telegram, grousing of his status in “a new minority, white jazz musicians" -- whacking the Kenton pinata is a handy, calculated way for a white writer to cover his flanks in the game of racial-cultural politics.

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So, Kenton didn't send the telegram?

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So, Kenton didn't send the telegram?

Of course he did, but that doesn't invalidate what I said: "...whacking the Kenton pinata is a handy, calculated way for a white writer to cover his flanks in the game of racial-cultural politics."

But you knew that already, right?

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