STAN KENTON was no stranger to controversy, and he was always trying new things. One story goes that during a band meeting when Stan was contemplating the next direction his orchestra should take - a band that had already experimented with various "Adventures" in a dozen different musical forms, as well as "Innovations," and the avant-garde as conceptualized by Bob Graettinger, plus the fusion of Cuban music and jazz, etc. - lead trumpeter Al Porcino volunteered from the back of the room: "How … about … swinging, Stan?"
The Kenton orchestra was no stranger to swinging, either, though Stan's band was not known for that attribute. According to Porcino, Stan "always said he'd leave the swinging to Woody and Basie." Since a jazz musician's first desire is to swing, it's easy to imagine that the multitude of young sidemen passing through Kenton's band would forever be clamoring for Stan to call any number of the terrific Bill Holman, Gerry Mulligan, or Lennie Niehaus charts in the band's expansive book. It's all too easy to think that Kenton was anti-swing simply because of all the other things that he did. Woody's and Basie's bands did nothing but swing; not a bad thing, mind you! Stan always was looking beyond that, and his reach extended to the classical, to the noble, to the experimental and the off-beat. Porcino recalled that "one night Stan would be standing in front of the band, and he'd look up, and suddenly he'd realize it wasn't his band any more. It was swinging. And then we'd quit playing the swing charts and start playing something far out, or start playing Intermission Riff and those goodies…"
As part of the Hollywood Bowl's Big Band Bash, the Kenton Orchestra 2006 will set out to represent both the swinging nature of Stan's legacy as well as the explorative side, honoring as much of the variety of the "Creative World of Stan Kenton" that 50 minutes will allow. A tall order, but one well met by longtime trombonist and arranger for the Kenton band, Bob Curnow. Joining him as musical director for this evening is former Kenton drummer and bandcamp student Peter Erskine (who was seven years old when he first met and played for Stan). Between them and the handpicked rhythm and horn sections is a Kenton band that Stan would have loved. The fact that most of the musicians are either veterans of Stan's band, Stan's summer jazz camp program, or (most importantly) alumni of any music school in the U.S. where jazz is taught - they are all part of the Kenton story. Stan helped to pioneer jazz education in America's schools in the late 1950s and early '60s. Thanks to his passion, interest, and efforts, "jazz" is no longer a forbidden word in academia, and the outpouring of prodigious talent year after year from our schools is a testament to Kenton's musical vision. But these are real pros tonight, playing what we feel is the best of the best of the Kenton library, "those goodies" and all. From all of us: ENJOY!
- Peter Erskine
Biographical note: Stan Kenton celebrated his birthdate as February 19, 1912, though he was born on December 15, 1911 (Wichita, Kansas), and he died on August 25, 1979 in Los Angeles.
PETER ERSKINE met Stan Kenton in 1961 at the National Stage Band Camp that was held at Indiana University. His parents drove him all of the way from Atlantic City, New Jersey, and even though Peter was discovered to be too young to officially attend, Stan allowed him to stay at the camp. Other camp students that summer included Keith Jarrett, Don Grolnick, Randy Brecker, Lou Marini, and David Sanborn. Faculty members included another one of Peter's future bosses and colleagues: Joe Zawinul. Eleven years later, Peter would assume the drum chair in the Kenton band, a position he held for three years.
Erskine has played the drums since the age of four and is known for his love of working in different musical contexts. He appears on over 500 albums and film scores, and has won a Grammy as well as an honorary doctorate. He has played with (among others) Stan Kenton, Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, Steps Ahead, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Diana Krall, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Pat Metheny & Gary Burton, and has appeared as a soloist with the BBC Symphony and the London, Los Angeles, and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras.
Erskine currently teaches at the University of Southern California. Peter Erskine plays Drum Workshop drums, Zildjian cymbals, Evans drumheads, and Vic Firth sticks. He dedicates tonight's music to the legion of Kenton alumni and fans whom have helped to keep Stan's music so very much alive.
BOB CURNOW (born in Easton, PA) was a trombonist with The Stan Kenton Orchestra. In 1973, he became A & R Director, arranger, composer, record producer, and general manager for Kenton's Creative World Records and he produced over 30 LPs for Kenton. His arrangements and compositions can be heard on six Stan Kenton albums. A renowned jazz educator, conductor, arranger, and composer, he is the owner/president of Sierra Music Publications, the exclusive publisher of the Stan Kenton Orchestra Library (being used for tonight's performance), the Oliver Nelson Library, the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, the Yellowjackets, the Maynard Ferguson "Birdland Dream Band" Library, the music of Bill Holman, Shorty Rogers, Les Hooper, and many other great jazz composers. www.sierramusic.com