Friday, October 9, 2009

An Hour With Stan Kenton

During my early days as an educator, I made a point of learning as much as I could about what we call "popular "music, as it was not a part of my pursuit; namely, what we call "classical" music - I have always had a curiosity about the great artists in the pop field, and continue to learn about this form of music through personal research and as much listening as there is time for.
As my readers know, I have already discussed my personal encounters with such giants in the popular field as Thelonius Monk and George Shearing; however, today I realized that I have never written about my meeting with one of the pioneers of Big Band history, Stan Kenton.
For those of you not familiar with Kenton, he was one of the developers of new approaches to the so-called "big band" sound after the great bands of the World War II period. He dealt in experimentation with large string sections and French horns in many of his arrangements, and used the mellophone, a kind of "bastardized" variation of French horn and trombone, let alone trumpet, all in one instrument, used primarily in military music. He was intrinsically involved with an admixture of both pop and classical forms in many of his compositions; for instance, one of his works is a "Passacaglia and Fugue", which is one of his lasting works, recognized by the Kenton cohorts even to this day.
One can, I'm sure, find much material on Kenton on the internet.
Well, one day, while he was appearing not far from where I live, I arranged to meet him, and, once again, he was another example of powerful and singular musicians with great humanity and a large capacity to listen to others less gifted than him.
He appeared, I well remember, in a very informal manner, wearing a white shirt with open collar and no tie. This was in the morning, just a few hours after his performance the night before. He could have slept in, but most graciously greeted and welcomed me, making me comfortable immediately. We discussed music in general, and I asked him many questions concerning his particular philosophical tactics concerning the fusion between pop and classical forms and styles, and he was simply quite wonderful in his eloquence and quiet manner.
After about an hour, I took leave, and I will never forget his final words; namely "bless you, for being a teacher in this field".
A most fulfilling experience in my young years - for all the controversy which still surrounds his approach to the art, he was, at least to me, an unassuming and empathetic gentleman who had a world of knowledge to share.

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