Kenton, Standey Newcomb)

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Kenton, Standey Newcomb)

Kenton, Standey Newcomb), highly influential jazz bandleader, composer, pianist; b. Wichita, Kans., Dec. 15, 1911; d. L.A., Aug. 25, 1979. Many musicians hated his band because it was so big and loud and brassy and bombastic; many audiences adored him and he inspired a kind of cultism. He was also criticized for rarely hiring black musicians; a letter he wrote to Down Beat protesting the paucity of awards to white musicians did not help his case. Yet it is undeniable that he encouraged and recorded innovative works by Bob Graettinger, Pete Rugolo, Bill Russo, and others that no one else might have dared to present, and that he was a key figure in the birth of modern jazz education in the 1960s.

Kenton’s family moved to Calif, when he was six. He began on piano in his early teens, and at 14 took lessons from local pianist Frank Hurst. He played in a quartet at Bell H.S. (L.A.). He earned a living playing piano in local saloons and speakeasies. He did a six-week tour with the Flack Brothers’ Sextet in 1930, then worked in Las Vegas prior to working with a territory band in Ariz. From 1933-39, he worked with a number of L.A.-based bands, beginning to take on leadership roles and also arranging for them. In 1940, he formed his own rehearsal band—Jimmie Lunceford’s orch. was a prime influence—which obtained bookings a year later at Huntingdon Beach, quickly followed by a summer season at the Rendezvous Ballroom at Balboa Beach. In November 1941, the band played their first date at the Hollywood Palladium. Since then Kenton continued to lead highly successful big bands, despite several bouts of serious illness. He suffered nervous breakdowns, and at one time decided to abandon music and become a psychiatrist; he gave up the idea when he realized that he would have to learn Greek-derived words and unpronounceable German terms. He married frequently; one of his sons was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder (he put a snake in the mailbox of a bothersome attorney). When Pete Rugolo joined as staff arranger in 1945, the band began to dominate jazz popularity polls. Kenton’s band in 1947 was a pioneer in Latin jazz, adding to the rhythm section Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida; one Latin hit was an exciting arrangement of “The Peanut Vendor” His appearance at N.Y.’s Carnegie Hall with his Progressive Jazz orch. (1949) gave the name to that genre; after touring the country with his 40-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orch. (1950–51), he led various big bands. In 1954 he toured with guest soloist Charlie Parker. He made many recordings, garnering Grammy awards with his albums West Side Story and Adventures in Jazz (both 1961). He made many international tours, and in 1956 his became the first American big band to work unrestrictedly in Britain since 1937. From 1959 he devoted much time to music education, founding jazz clinics or Stage Band Camps at many institutions of higher learning. He founded his own publishing and recording company, Creative World, in 1970. His 1970s tours included Europe and Japan. During that decade he devoted a great deal of time and energy to taking his band to jazz clinics at various colls, and educational centres. Though inactive following a serious operation in 1977, Kenton sufficiently recovered to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival’s Silver Jubilee concert at Saratoga, N.Y. in June 1978, but died just over a year later. The list of distinguished Kenton alumni include instrumentalists Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Lee Konitz, Lennie Niehaus, Art Pepper, Kai Winding, singers June Christy, Anita O’Day, Chris Connor, composers Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, and Bill Russo. The band made a film short, Artistry in Rhythm, in (1947). His personal papers are collected at the Univ. of North Tex., Denton.


Balboa/Summer 1941 (1941); Uncollected S. K. & His Orch. (1941); Artistry in Rhythm (1945); Some Women I’ve Known (1945); Presents Claude Williamson (1946); Concert in Progressive Jazz (1947); Artistry in Jazz (1950); Innovations in Modern Music (1950); City of Glass (1951); Live in 1951 at the Hollywood Palladium (1951); Portraits on Standards (1951); Concert in Miniature (1952); New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm (1952); Prologue: This Is an Orch. (1952); European Tour: 1953 (1953); K ’53: Concert in Weisbaden (1953); Paris (1953); Sketches on Standards (1953); This Modern World (1953); S.K. Radio Transcriptions (1953); Music of Bill Russo and Bill Holman (w. Parker, Gillespie; 1954); Cuban Fire, Vol. 1, 2 (1956; arr. Johnny Richards); In Concert (1956); In Stockholm (1956); Live at the Macumba Club: Pt. 1, 2 (1956); Standards in Silhouette (1959); Viva K (1959); Adventures in Blues (1961); Adventures in Jazz (1961); Adventures in Standards (1961); West Side Story (1961; arr. Johnny Richards); Adventures in Time (1962); Artistry in Bossa Nova (1963); K./Wagner (1964); 7.5 on the Richter Scale (1973); Solo: S.K. without His Orch. (1974); 50th Anniversary Celebration: Balboa (1991; reunion groups and talks); Back to Balboa (1991).


Carol Easton, Straight Ahead: The Story of S.K. (1973); H. Dietzel and H. Lange, S.K (Berlin, 1959); D. Schulz-K hn, S. K. (Wetzlar, Germany, 1961); W. Lee, S.K: Artistry in Rhythm (L.A., 1980); L. Arganian, S. K: The Man and His Music (East Lansing, Mich., 1989); C. Garrod, S. K and His Orch. (Zepby-rhills, Fia.); M. Sparke, ed., The Great K Arrangers (Whittier, Calif.); Anthony J. Agostinelli, S.K.: The Many Musical Moods of His Orchs (Providence R.I., 1986); Paul D. Bauer, The Trombones in the Orchs. of S.K. (Thesis, Music, North Tex. State Univ., 1980); Dick Bauman, A Dissection of the History and Musical Product of S.K., Jazz Education in the Public School Program, and the Third Stream (Thesis, Education, Northwest Mo. State Univ., 1970); Carol Easton, Straight Ahead: The Story of Stan K. (N.Y., 1973, 1981); Milton Lindskoog, An Analysis of the Style of the S.K. Orch (Thesis, Music, Eastman School, 1948); Christopher A. Pirie, with Siegfried Meiler, Artistry in K: A Biodiscography of S.K. and His Music, Vol. I (Vienna, 1969); Idem, Artistry in K: A Biodiscography of S.K. and His Music, Vol. II (Vienna, 1973).

—John Chilton, Who‘s Who of Jazz/Nicolas Slonimsky/Lewis Porter

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Kenton, Standey Newcomb)

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