In the later years of the great Stan Kenton Orchestra, Stan had gotten away from his roots in the big band era. An evening with the Kenton band was about as far musically from the Balboa Ballroom as it usually was geographically.
Kenton was into his own musical statement and his dance band days were well in the past. Still, the necessity of making a living caused him to take gigs he didn’t really want …gigs for which the modern Kenton band wasn’t very well suited. Money, however, is money and Stan would play the occasional show that held him out as a hero of the big band era, and not as a leader of the most avant garde ensemble of his time.
Sometimes, however, even our heroes break down and show that they are human, particularly if they have hit their limit. Stan was in Atlanta with his band performing for a big band appreciation group. Needless to say, every Kenton fan in the area was there and our witness was on the front row. His table was literally touching the foot of the bandstand, and Stan himself was seated less than four feet away!
The emcee, who was hosting the event for the appreciation group was effusive to the point of obnoxiousness, but didn’t know a swing band from a sweet band or a sharp from a flat for all that. It quickly became obvious that Kenton had had enough.
At a pause near the end of the show, the emcee gushed forth with: “and next month gang we’re gonna swing and sway with Sammy Kaye!”
It was just too much. Stan laid his head down on his folded arms and in full earshot of the fans at his feet, muttered, “F*** Sammy Kaye!”
The puzzled emcee, who was over at the side of the stage, never did figure out the reasons for the guffaws from the front row table and those of Stan’s guys who were close enough to hear!
A P.S. comes from Mr. Mason:
Stan was something else.. there is another great story about how the bone section would occasionally start a feature piece like “Rainy Day” in the wrong key. They were all such great players that transposing something up or down a half step “on the fly” was nothing to them. At the end of 16 bars or so the unsuspecting Stan would come in for a piano solo in the “wrong” key.
BUT: Do *NOT* click on the above dancing balloon!
3rd P.S. — Dancing permitted also here:
The 4th P.S. is by drummer Peter Erskine who joined Stan Kenton in 1977: