Stan Kenton - piano, arranger, conductor; Gabe Baltazar - alto sax; John Bonnie - tenor sax; Bill Trujillo - tenor sax; Richie Kamuka - tenor sax; Jack Nimitz - baritone sax; Billy Root - baritone sax; Bud Brisbois - trumpet; Bill Chase - trumpet; Joe Burnett - trumpet; Rolf Ericson - trumpet; Frank Huggins - trumpet; Roger Middleton - trumpet; Jim Amolette - trombone; Don Sebesky - trombone; Kent Larsen - trombone; Archie LeCoque - trombone; Bob Olson - bass trombone; Bill Smiley - bass trombone; Bill Mathieu - arranger; Gene Roland - arranger; Carson Smith - bass; Jimmy Campbell - drums; Mike Pacheco - percussion; Special guest - Charlie Mariano, alto sax
Coming off their brilliant Capitol recording, Live at the Las Vegas Tropicana, which was released earlier that year, Stan Kenton and His Orchestra took Newport by storm to open Sunday evening, the final star-studded night of the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival. The 21-piece ensemble under the direction of Kenton (the first master of ceremonies at the 1954 Newport Jazz Festival) opens with Bill Holman's buoyant, lightly swinging "Theme and Variations" to, as Kenton put it, "get a little blood circulating." A mellow midtempo swinger, it cruises along luxuriously while showcasing the intricate counterpoint and lush harmonies of the horn section, gradually building to a dynamic brassy crescendo with Bill Chase's high-note trumpet work sailing over the top. Scaling the tempo up a couple of notches, they next launch into Bill Holman's energized, uptempo swinger "Kingfish," which is brimming with potent Basie-styled swagger and features a series of spirited, extended solos from alto saxophonist Gabe Baltazar, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, trumpeter Bill Chase and baritone sax ace Billy Root.
Kenton opens his theme song, "Artistry in Rhythm," with a stirring piano solo before the full ensemble enters at the one-minute mark with the Latin flavored theme, which is underscored by Mike Pacheco's Afro-Cuban percussion and drummer Jerry McKenzie's salsafied approach to the kit. Marty Paich's "The Big Chase" is an exhilarating, aptly-named romp that proceeds at a breakneck pace as the brass and reeds seem to be playing a game of cat-and-mouse on top of McKenzie's surging swing groove. Trumpeter Rolf Ericson breaks loose for an exuberant solo here, and is followed in turn by bari ace Billy Root, who summons up blast furnace intensity on his hard-swinging solo. Trombonist Kent Larsen enters the fray with a wild and woolly solo of his own before the giddy piece culminates in some fiery call-and-response between percussionist Pacheco and drummer Campbell.
Special guest soloist Charlie Mariano, a superb Charlie Parker-influenced alto saxophonist from Boston, is featured singing beautifully through his horn on a dramatic Bill Holman arrangement of the jazz standard "Stella by Starlight." The swirling harmonic movement of the horns on this number in support of Mariano is an indication of just how inventive this ensemble can get. The piece radically shifts moods mid-song from an evocative ballad to runaway bebop romp with Mariano wailing over the top, culminating in a bracing cadenza by the guest soloist before returning to the lush theme. Mariano also appears on a super-charged version of Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me" (a Broadway show tune turned jazz standard introduced in the 1953 musical Can Can) with the horns offering audaciously punchy call-and-response to the altoist's remarkably fluid statements. (Catch his nimble Charlie Parker-inspired turns on alto sax at the tag of this jazz standard).
From bebop burner to the easy going swinger "Intermission Riff" to the Latin flavored "Mexican Jumping Bean," this big band shows its remarkable range and flexibility from track to track. Trombonist Larsen wails on top of the clave groove on "Mexican Jumping Bean," with several band members picking up hand percussive to contribute to the densely polyrhythmic percussive undercurrent. Pacheco's timbales solo adds to the authentic Latin jazz flavor of this infectious flag-waver and Baltazar contributes a burning alto sax solo that fits nicely on top of the churning groove. From danceable to semi-classical, the Kenton orchestra next tackles Marty Paich's hauntingly beautiful arrangement for the poignant and melancholy torch song, "My Old Flame," which Mariano solos over with pungent alto tones. And they close out their ambitious set with Johnny Richards' exotic "Les Suerte de los Tontas," one of six pieces from Kenton's experimental Cuban Fire from 1957. This was Kenton's third appearance at Newport (he emceed in 1954 and performed with this orchestra in 1957). He would make other appearances at the festival with his highly original outfit through the '60s and '70s.
Born on December 15, 1911 in Wichita, Kansas, Kenton was raised in Colorado as a child when he began playing piano and later during his high school years in California. He came up during the 1930s playing in the dance bands of Vido Musso and Gus Arnheim. By 1941, he formed his first orchestra, which he patterned after Jimmie Lunceford's band. By late 1943, Kenton had experienced some success on the strength of his popular Capitol recording, "Eager Beaver." During the war years, principal soloists in the Kenton band included saxophonists Art Pepper, Stan Getz and Boots Mussulli and the featured singer was Anita O'Day. By 1945 the band continued evolving and gaining a larger following with June Christ as the singer. Pete Rugolo became the chief arranger (extending Kenton's ideas), Bob Cooper and Vido Musso offered very different tenor styles, and June Christy was Kenton's new singer; her popular hits (including "Tampico" and "Across the Alley From the Alamo") made it possible for Kenton to finance his more ambitious projects. By 1947, Kenton's band took a more progressive path with the input of modern jazz trombonist Kai Winding, trumpeters Buddy Childers, Ray Wetzel, and Al Porcino, and Latin percussionist Jack Costanzo.
In 1950, Kenton assembled his 39-piece Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra that included 16 strings, a woodwind section, and two French horns along with star soloists like trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Shorty Rogers, saxophonists Art Pepper, Bud Shank and Bob Cooper, guitarist Laurindo Almeida and drummer Shelly Manne. Following two tours in 1950-1951, he reverted to his usual 19-piece lineup and began performing the charts of such accomplished arrangers as Marty Paich, Johnny Richards, Bill Holman and Bill Russo. The ranks of players during this time included alto saxophonists Lee Konitz, Richie Kamuca, Zoot Sims, Sam Noto, Bill Perkins and Charlie Mariano, trumpeters Conte Candoli and Jack Sheldon, trombonists Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, guitarist Sal Salvador and drummer Mel Lewis.
Kenton's mellophonium band of 1960-1963 was another successful experiment and 1964's Kenton Plays Wagner was one of the more ambitious projects during the latter years of his career. He continued leading his big band up until his final performance in August, 1979, a weak before he suffered a stroke while on tour. She died shortly thereafter at age 67 on August 25, 1979. (Milkowski)