To Stan Kenton’s Yesterday’s 100th Anniversary: MY REPLY TO A KENTON NEWBIE

Preface —

Here’s the source for Stan Kenton’s theme song Artistry In Rhythm; it is part of Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis And Chloe:

Suite #2.

Yesterday was Stan Kenton’s 100th anniversary. This article is the repost of a repost; I have updated the links to the tracks, and have altered a few words here and there.


Prologue: I have written the below article some years ago. I tried to insert music, related as close as possible to the original 10″. Now here the little essay:

I guess you’re referring to the 10″-album “a presentation of progressive jazz” (sic!), arranged by Pete Rugolo in 1948. Am I right?

I got it twice: a very crackling (like home fire) original Capitol-US- and a smoother UK-pressing.

The tunes are:

Lament, Impressionism, Elegy For Alto, Monotony, Fugue For Rhythm, Lonely Woman (June Christy, vocal), Cuban Carnival, This Is My Theme (June Christy, vocal).

So, why “progressive”? Since there were jazz-arrangers and -composers, they all tried to be “progressive” compared to the common Tin Pan Alley songs, novelty-, corn-, sweet- and dance-music. (Today we would call the last four musical genres “easy listening”.)

Kenton’s early stylistics can being clearly put into that tradition of advanced jazz women and men, folks like Mary Lou Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Red Norvo, Sy Oliver, and a bit later Billy May, Eddie Sauter, and Tadd Dameron. You can see this at some titles of Stan’s repertoire.

Stan Kenton, respectively his arrangers/ composers Gene Roland, Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, or Johnny Richards were audibly inspired by those greats. Bill Holman named Fletcher Henderson being a first big influence.

They all used many of the ideas of their predecessors. Intermission Riff for example is clearly leaned on Gerald Wilson’s Hi Spook which he wrote for the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra.

Intermission Riff

Now back to your question about probably the “progressive” album:

Lament is a guitar feature for Laurindo Almeida. It is a lament, a sad song.

Okay, it’s not exactly a “song” like It’s Been A Long, Long Time, but if you listen closely it will show you its beauty.

Impressionism is an example for orchestral jazz-writing without improvisation.

The title hints to the great impressionistic European composers like Debussy or Ravel, of whose Daphnis & Chloe Stan Kenton “stole” (or better: quoted!) a bit for his radio theme Artistry in Rhythm.

Artistry In Rhythm (1944)

Elegy for Alto is exactly what the title means. Not more, no less. What about that as a real great melody you can clearly follow and hum along with after a while?-! George Weidler is the featured soloist.

Elegy For Alto (1947)

Monotony and Fugue For Rhythm also tell you in their titles on what the focus is being laid. I admit that there are no hook-lines or catching themes.

These are obviously no songs as such but great examples for a kind of music which would some time later be labeled “third stream”. (I would name it differently, because if you call something a 3rd stream, where are the other two “streams”, the 1st and the 2nd. I would call that style “Europish Jazz” …)

Lonely Woman is the only standard song from that album. It’s kinda depressive, and it describes the feelings of the forlorn June Christy who expresses that emotion with intense credibility. There is nothing more I would like to say about it. I’m simply listening in wonderment. That’s all.

Willow Weep For Me (’cause I couldn’t find Lonely Woman — Update: Feel free to click on the title.)

Cuban Carnival anticipates Stan Kenton’s later albums Cuban Fire or West Side Story (both by Johnny Richards).

There you can hear the great percussionists, a boppish solo by Art Pepper and some biting lead trumpet by Al Porcino. Unfortunately doesn’t the album tell us the names of the percussionists. Again is there admittedly no theme as such but a descending harmonic structure (based upon “Lover” perhaps), riff-like executed by the whole orchestra.

This Is My Theme anticipates the pathetic (also somehow funny) Prologue we can find on the 12″-issue of the “New Concepts”-album (1952).

Here we have the rare chance to listen to June’s lovely, yet fragile speaking voice.

This is an early example for “Lyric & Jazz”, a concept which was presented with some success through the 1960’s into the 1970’s.

What strikes me a lot is the ever present percussion group which can be heard throughout the whole album.

In my opinion is this some of the finest orchestral jazz in history. It’s different from the Duke of Ellington who started all this with his early suites or symphonies.

It’s different because it belongs to another cultural heritage. I would file it under “Great Americana” (to quote Woody Herman at Carnegie Hall, 1976, as he introduced “Blues in the Night”).

Jam Bo

The music on this album contains a huge variety of moods and emotions. It is very passionate, and it is reflecting the strong will of a visionary artist who wants to express his deep musical ideas: Stan Kenton. He seemed to be sort of a romantic as well.

Maybe it’s sometimes difficult to follow his later works like “… plays Wagner” or “Hair” or that kinda stuff which I admittedly don’t appreciate too much because of its lack of jazz as such. I have my difficulties with “fusion” anyway.

I learned later that Stan Kenton was very frustrated and tired or burned out at the very end *). There was no place for his kind anymore. This is sad and reflects the condition of the US-American society then, in the late 1970’s.

How would it be now for people like Stan Kenton? I don’t know. What I can see and feel nowadays is a growing superficiality and an “I-don’t-wanna-know-anyway”-attitude.

And we can’t really love what we don’t know. Right?

I guess this was my longest one … all the best,


ⓒ Bruno Leicht (2005)

*) Serious note: Stan Kenton was an alcoholic, and he has apparently abused his daughter Leslie.

Brew – to solve the riddle of the Latin Pecussionists –
Mosaic Records strives for completeness and accuracy, (and so do I), so I pulled out my copy with the discography and lo and behold – these are the guys in the Cuban Carnival Latin Rhythm section:
Jack Costanza….. Bongo
Carlo Vidal……… Conga
Jose Mangual…… Timbales & Cow Bell
Machito…………. Maracas
Rugolo wrote Cuban Carnival
Happy to be of service 

A discographical addendum for the ones who wanna learn even more can be found HERE.

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