Konitz And Kenton

Following up on the piece in the next exhibit, below is a poster for an edition of Stan Kenton’s Festival of Modern Jazz that played in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 7, 1954. Kenton was a busy fella in the fifties and put together concert packages that included a variety of artists in the days when jazz was a major factor in popular music. Except for Kenton’s band and Candido, the lineup seems considerably different from the one reader Jon Foley mentioned—in yesterday’s comments—that he heard in Worcester, Massachusetts, in February of ’54. In the early part of 1954, the Kenton saxophone section included the alto sax triumvirate of Charlie Mariano, Davey Schildkraut and Lee Konitz, all influenced by Charlie Parker. From the beginning of his professional career, Konitz managed to absorb the lessons of Parker’s style without being ruled by it. (Pictured, Konitz and Parker on tour.) He was, and remains, one of the instrument’s great individualists. Konitz toured with Kenton as a featured soloist in 1952 and ’53. In March of ’54 he recorded “Lover Man” and “In Lighter Vein” with the band. The pieces, arranged by Bill Holman, were parts of nearly every concert Kenton played during the period Konitz was with him.

(Thanks to Joe Mosbrook’s Jazzed In Cleveland website for “loaning” Rifftides the Kenton poster)

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit


  1. Jon Foley says

    That poster shows the exact lineup I saw in November, 1954, when the second edition of the Festival of Modern American Jazz came through Worcester, MA (as I mentioned in my second comment on Doug’s previous post on this subject). There were two versions of the tour in ’54 – the first featured Kenton/Christy/Konitz/Parker/Gillespie/Erroll Garner; the second edition featured the artists noted on the poster above. I was lucky enough to see both.

    For those familiar with Shorty Rogers’ Giants of that era, and their Atlantic album The Swinging Mr. Rogers, I can attest that Shelly Manne’s famous “spinning half-dollar” four-bar break on “Martians Go Home” was real—because he reproduced it exactly on this Kenton concert. Anybody who’s heard that album will know what I’m referring to.

    And concerning the February ’54 tour: As impressive as it was for my teenage self to hear Parker and Gillespie live, for me, the star of the concert was Lee Konitz. He was just brilliant with Kenton’s band; I’ll never forget it. Doug’s examples above can give you an idea of what it was like.

    • Fred says

      Jon Foley says:
      “There were two versions of the tour in ’54 – the first featured
      Kenton/Christy/Konitz/Parker/Gillespie/Erroll Garner; the second
      edition featured the artists noted on the poster above. I was lucky
      enough to see both.”

      It was that 1st tour in the fall of ’53, not ’54, that suffered a
      disaster on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, when the 2nd bus carrying the
      Kenton Band musicians & wives,smashed into a transport truck, in the
      wee hours of Nov.12, 1953 and injured just about everyone on the
      bus, the worst being Peggy Candoli, Conte’s wife who suffered serious
      back injuries! Both Konitz & Russo flew into Pittsburgh, which was the
      next date on the tour, to help fill out a very skeleton Kenton crew for
      that evening’s concert!

      • Jon Foley says

        While I agree that the November, 1953 bus crash was a near-disaster for the Kenton band, you’re confusing two separate time periods. There was a tour called the Festival of Modern American Jazz in the fall of ’53 – the one which suffered the bus accident. That tour ended on December 1, 1953. Another tour commenced in the last week of January, 1954, with almost the same personnel as the ’53 tour, except that Charlie Parker replaced Stan Getz, who by that time had been arrested on drug charges. That version lasted through February, 1954. Then in the fall, there was another version of the FoMAJ tour, starting in September and lasting through November, featuring the personnel on the poster shown above in Doug’s original post.
        So, to sum up, there was a FoMAJ tour in the fall of ’53, another in Jan./Feb. 1954, and yet another in the fall of 1954 – three different tours. Trust me – I was there.

  2. Dave Berk says

    Your post of Holman’s arrangement of “Lover Man” stimulated some research on my end, as “Lover Man” remains my favorite Konitz/Kenton coupling. Lee recorded both arrangements on January 28th 1953:

    (1) the version you posted from the Kenton Showcase album arranged by Willis; and, (2) the Sketches On Standards LP that featured a Bill Russo arrangement of the tune for Konitz.

    Call me crazy, But I’ve always preferred the Russo/Konitz effort. BTW I heard the Kenton band several times in person in those days and, as I recall, it was the Holman arrangement that was played……not the Russo vehicle. Do you remember that?

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Not to get into an enervating discographical dispute, but three discographies that I trust confirm that the “Lover Man” and “In Lighter Vein” tracks we hear in the Rifftides piece are Holman arrangements recorded on March 1, 1954. Kenton featured Konitz in a recording of the Russo arrangement of “Lover Man” on January 28, 1953. I find no evidence of Konitz recording “In Lighter Vein” with Kenton more than once. Yes, to my knowledge, the Holman chart was the one the band most often played

    • Jon Foley says

      I have an NBC aircheck from 9/30/52 on which Kenton and Konitz play the Russo version of “Lover Man”; another aircheck from the Blue Note in Chicago, recorded on 3/29/53, on which they also play the Russo chart; the 3/1/54 version mentioned by Doug, with the Holman chart; and a 3/12/55 concert using the Holman chart, but this time featuring Lennie Niehaus. So it seems that they used both charts on the road and in the studio, but starting in ’54 they seemed to favor the Holman version (as do I, I must say).

    • says

      Bill Russo’s chart on “Lover Man” is the more effective one when it comes to concert performances. Bill Holman’s is the quieter, more chamber music-like arrangement.

      Lee sounds equally inspired at both. Of all the great alto players in Kenton’s various aggregations – Art Pepper, Charlie Mariano, Dave Schildkraut & Lennie Niehaus – for me personally, Lee’s sophisticated playing fitted best to the linear, though sometimes also quite bombastic style of this brass-weighted orchestra.

      When I’m listening to his improvisations in this context, I’m always relieved when it’s Lee and rhythm only. It’s like taking a deep refreshing breath when the other horns leave him alone for a while.

      I’ve featured two versions of Russo’s “Lover Man” – framing a live-rendition of “In Lighter Vein” – in my newest blog post.

  3. says

    Gosh, how this takes an 80 year old back. I was amongst those then ‘crazy’ fans who travelled from the UK to Dublin to see and hear what we only knew from recordings. Many things stand out but none more so than having Lee Konitz in the band, and of course Zoot Sims. It was all staggering, especially the famous “Wall of Sound”. We were much later able to get what was my first 12″ LP “Showcase” I still have it, well worn though it is. For me Kontiz and Russo were a terrific combination, and I remember reading that Bill had found working with Lee transformative. Whatever, I of course gape at “Lover Man”, but even more so at “My Lady”. It was such a surprise to have Ice-Cream Konitz in such an aggregation, but I thought the contrast in tonality was perfect and have longed ever since for the chance to ask Lee what he felt about it. Perhaps he will read these. God bless the genius anyway.

    • Alan Jones says

      I was there too!. On the Melody Maker Express train from Yorkshire where I was doing my National Service in the Signals Band. The whole concert was a complete knockout and I went to both shows. I’m only a year off 80 myself and that trip was certainly a highlight.

      Alan Jones, now in Woy Woy, NSW, Australia.

  4. Bob Godfrey says

    Many years ago I read an interview with Lee Konitz, who said the main reason he went with Stan Kenton was to pay off some outstanding bills.

  5. says

    In the fall of 1954 I was a high school senior in Houston, Texas. (Stephen F. Austin). The Stan Kenton tour came through (The one with Shorty Rogers. Unfortunately, the one with Charlie Parker didn’t come to Houston, or if it did, it wasn’t in 1954.) I will never forget it. Pete Jolly was the pianist with Shorty, Curtis Counce the bassist. Charlie Ventura had Dave McKenna, Bob Carter, and Sonny Igoe. Art Tatum was ailing and did not appear, much to my disappointment then and especially all these years later. He passed away soon after. Anyway, it was a fantastic experience for me and I’ll never forget it. I kept thinking all during the concert…Wow !! Maybe I could do that too!.*

    Thanks so much for bringing back some very cherished memories.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      *And he did. To visit Charlie Shoemake’s website, click on his name in the upper left corner of his comment.

    • says

      I also won’t forget the concert Charlie mentioned. Charlie and I were both products of Austin High School in Houston in the ’50s and we both loved jazz when everyone around us seemed to be turning to rock & roll. I rememeber vividly going to that concert with Charlie in Houston. He went on to an illustrious career in jazz and I continued with a career in journalism and later real estate. Charlie’s now based in Cambria, California, on one coast and I’m based in Washington, DC, on the other, but we have kept in touch all these years and see each other every now and then. Once, the George Shearing Quintet, including Charlie (but not George), stayed in my house in Washington when they payed Georgetown many years ago. What a blast that was! My relationship with Charlie was founded on a mutual love of jazz and will keep us togeher as long as we live.

  6. Jack Kenny says

    Konitz was interviewed about his time with Kenton in the book “Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser’s Art” by Andy Hamilton: “It was a fine band……..The spirit was good, and I got a chance to make some records with him that I like. We did many radio shows and lots of traveling……..for about fifteen months it was a very vital experience musically and personally.”

  7. Jim Brown says

    The thing that stands out for me is that Konitz in 2012 is as much a creative force as he was as a soloist in Kenton’s finest band nearly sixty years ago. I most recently heard Lee early this year in Santa Cruz with his wonderfully creative European trio. Not only did they spur him to new heights of creativity, but it was clear that Lee has not missed a step.

  8. Bob Lorenz says

    I was at the Kenton Festival of Jazz on October 9th, 1954 at Carnegie Hall in New York. The altos were Charlie Mariano, Lennie Niehaus and Boots Mussulli. Tenors were Bill Holman and Jack Montrose. Boots also on baritone. On trombone, Bill Russo and Frank Rosolino that I remember. Probably Bob Fitzpatrick and Kent Larson as well. Ralph Blaze, Max Bennett and Mel Lewis along with Stan round out the rhythm. I remember only Sam Noto on trumpet.