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8.120684 - KENTON, Stan: MacGregor Transcriptions, Vol. 3 (1941-1943)

STAN KENTON “Reed Rapture”

STAN KENTON  “Reed Rapture”

The Complete McGregor Transcriptions Vol.3

Original 1941-1943 Recordings, including the Decca Sessions


Throughout his lengthy career as a bandleader (1940-1979), Stan Kenton always stood apart from the crowd.  Rather than heading a swing-oriented big band that played for dancers, Kenton’s goal was to lead a progressive jazz orchestra that performed at concerts.  He encouraged adventurous arrangers to write for his band, enjoyed dissonant chord voicings and extreme sounds (including high-note trumpeters and thick-toned tenors), and prized originality over swinging although his band generally did swing too.  A major force on the music scene for nearly four decades, Kenton gained a cult following early on, one that helped him survive the early struggling years.


Stan Kenton was born on 15 December 1911 in Wichita, Kansas.  He played piano as a teenager and his main influence was Earl Hines although he was never a virtuoso on Hines’ level.  Living in Los Angeles in the 1930s, Kenton worked with several dance bands including those of Everett Hoagland (1934), Russ Plummer, and Gus Arnheim (1935-37), and he made his recording debut with Arnheim in 1937.  He also recorded the following year with tenor-saxophonist Vido Musso (who later became his sideman) and Herb Jeffries, did some studio work and worked with a pit orchestra at Earl Carroll’s Theatre in Hollywood.  In the autumn of 1940, Kenton began leading a rehearsal band for which he wrote the arrangements and played piano, recording some test pressings in November, the earliest documentation of the band.


Starting on 31 May 1941, the orchestra played five nights a week throughout the summer at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa near Los Angeles.  During this time the orchestra built up an enthusiastic following and began recording transcriptions for the McGregor company.  Although these sound like radio broadcasts since they often employ the announcing of Jimmy Lyons (the future founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival) and have boisterous applause from invited guests and fans, these are essentially studio performances.  Due to its success at Balboa, Kenton’s band generated enough attention to be signed to the Decca label, resulting in four titles on 11 September 1941 and five others on 13 February 1942 but none of those records sold that well.


After the Balboa engagement ended, the Kenton orchestra performed throughout Los Angeles at various venues including five weeks at the Hollywood Palladium, heading East for the first time in early-1942.  The band toured the East Coast for eighteen months with ups and downs along the way but gaining new fans.  After returning to Los Angeles in June 1943, Kenton’s orchestra became the house band for Bob Hope’s radio series but this association ended up being unsatisfactory with Kenton stuck playing straight man to Hope and his orchestra not being featured very much.  However on 18 November 1943 Kenton recorded for the first time for the Capitol label (an association that would last 25 years) and the four songs cut that day included Kenton’s theme Artistry In Rhythm and his first hit, Eager Beaver.  The Stan Kenton orchestra was now on its way.


On five CDs, of which this the third, Naxos is reissuing all of Kenton’s MacGregor transcrip-tions in chronological order.  This set begins with the final ten MacGregor titles of 1941-42.  Stan Kenton fans expecting to hear the band’s trademarks of screaming trumpets, brassy trombones and cool-toned saxophonists will be surprised because the early Kenton Orchestra had a different sound altogether.  While the rhythm section swung lightly, the emphasis was on the reed section, particularly the altos of Jack Ordean and Bill Lahey.  The key soloists were the swing-oriented trumpeter Chico Alvarez and tenor-saxophonist Red Dorris, with the latter also contributing ballad vocals.  A quick verbal introduction by Jimmy Lyons precedes a brief version of Kenton’s theme Artistry In Rhythm from November 1941.  Popocatapetl is a medium-tempo dance band number, Dorris’ sentimental vocal dominates Cancel The Flowers and Underneath The Stars is an instrumental ballad.  Ralph Yaw contributed some arrange-ments to Kenton’s early book including his medium-tempo original Low Bridge.  Take The ‘A’ Train (which has Alvarez sticking close to Ray Nance’s original recorded solo) and Flamingo (with Red Dorris emulating Herb Jeffries) are similar to the famous recordings of Duke Ellington.  Blues In F Minor and particularly Take It From The Oven feature the band swinging in its own fashion.


Cuts 11-19 are the band’s Decca studio dates and, with the exception of Joe Rizzo’s writing on El Choclo and This Love Of Mine, all of the arrangements are by Kenton.  Preceding by nearly six years the orchestra’s pioneering efforts in performing Afro-Cuban jazz, Taboo and Adios (the latter a hit for Glenn Miller) features the band performing Spanish melodies although without Latin rhythms.  This Love Of Mine is a likable ballad vocal feature for Red Norris while The Nañgo is an intriguing and advanced instrumental.  The second Decca date begins with Gambler’s Blues, an adaptation of “St. James Infirmary,” a piece that would remain in Kenton’s repertoire for the next fifteen years.  Howard Rumsey’s prominent bass playing hints at the virtuosity that would be heard when Ed Safranski was in the band in 1945; Alvarez’s trumpet solo is one of his best.  Lamento Gitano has the band playing another Latin-flavored number.  Reed Rapture is an atmospheric work-out for the sax section; no brass instruments appear on this track.  Concerto For Doghouse puts Rumsey in the spotlight during an era when bass features (other than Jimmy Blanton with Ellington) were extremely rare.  El Choclo gives the band an opportunity to stretch out a bit although, even on this swinging piece, the harmonies are dense, moderately dissonant and mildly unsettling.  Clearly, Stan Kenton did not want to have a conventional swing band.

The final four selections on this release are from 3 November 1943, sixteen days before the band’s breakthrough Capitol session.  The trumpet section had grown from three to five and only four musicians had survived the upheavals of the past two years: trombonist Harry Forbes, Red Dorris, baritonist Bob Gioga and Kenton himself.  Paper Doll is swung with spirit, Shoo Shoo Baby is a feature for the band’s first female vocalist, Dolly Mitchell, and Liza is what used to be called a “killer diller.”


Of greatest interest is the earliest existing version of Eager Beaver, the song that first made Stan Kenton into a household name and a jazz legend.  36 years of musical accomplish-ments lie ahead, but it is clear from hearing the music in this valuable series that Kenton was an original from the start.


Scott Yanow

– author of seven jazz books including Classic Jazz (which covers the 1920s), Swing and Trumpet Kings

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