Stan Kenton

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About Stan Kenton

Stan Kenton was the last major leader to emerge during the big band era of jazz, forming his protean orchestra in the early 1940s before going on to define a more technical, brassy iteration of the tradition that had as many detractors as adherents. Kenton was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1911, and was already playing the piano by the time his family resettled in suburban Los Angeles in 1924. After spending much of the 1930s touring the Southwest in various bands, he formed his first band in 1940, working in a swing style and releasing a series of records for Decca that eventually found an audience. Many future stars worked in Kenton’s orchestra—which recorded for Capitol from the late 1940s until the end of the 1960s—including saxophonists Art Pepper, Bud Shank, and Stan Getz; singer June Christy; and trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Conte Candoli. He forged a dense, brass-heavy sound articulated through complicated arrangements with fiery intensity and blaring volume. He also worked with a variety of arrangers including Pete Rugolo and Bob Graettinger, who experimented with form, pushing the music away from the dancefloor and toward the concert hall. Kenton achieved peak popularity in the 1950s, toggling between rhythmically driven excursions informed by swing and Cuban tradition. By the following decade, the group’s general popularity had waned even as it consolidated a fervent big band following, echoing the format’s decline within jazz. After being dropped by Capitol, Kenton launched his own Creative World label in 1970 and recorded prolifically for the new imprint, continuing to tour regularly until 1978, when failing health led him to disband the group. Kenton died in 1979 aged 67, shortly after suffering a stroke.

Wichita, KS, United States
December 15, 1911
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