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Stan Kenton and his Orchestra

Pianist Stan Kenton – born in Wichita, Kansas on December 15, 1911 - was not only one of the last great bandleaders to emerge during the big band era, he was also one of the most controversial, consistently going against the musical grain of the day. Although many jazz purists dismissed his work as an aberration of the popular swing bands of the day, the wrought emotional power of his bands with their strident walls of brass made others consider him a visionary, who changed perceptions of jazz. Growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of Bell, he was taught piano in his teens by local musician Frank Hurst. By his mid-teens he was already leading his own group, the Bell-Tones. It led him to play with various local bands in Southern California, notably Everett Hoagland and, later, Gus Arnheim. Stan Kenton formed his first big band orchestra in 1940, although the group did not include any ‘name’ musicians at the time. While hopes were high for this ensemble, Stan Kenton and His Orchestra’s first few years were difficult. His contract with Decca Records didn’t include any substantial hits and his time backing Bob Hope on his radio show during the 1943-44 season was not a good experience. However, things turned around when he signed with Capitol Records and had his first hit in 1944 with the single “Eager Beaver”. The ensemble’s first album was Artistry in Rhythm, released in 1946. Recording for Capitol Records for the next 25 years, Stan Kenton and different variations of his orchestra would feature many jazz icons including musicians such as Art Pepper, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and Lee Konitz plus vocalists Anita O’Day and June Christy amongst many others. As the big band sound died out in the late 1940s, Stan Kenton took his orchestra into innovative directions including progressive jazz. Stan Kenton’s orchestra would grow to a 39-piece ensemble to tackle the more progressive elements of his music, but he’d also continue to work with smaller ensembles to fulfill his more commercial leanings. He continued to release albums credited to Stan Kenton and His Orchestra throughout his lifetime including Kenton in Hi-Fi (1956), Kenton Climax (1961), Artistry in Bossa Nova (1963), National Anthems of the World (1972), and many others including a plethora of compilations. Stan Kenton died on August 25, 1979.

©Copyright Music Story Stephen Schnee 2023


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