Correspondence: On Stan Kenton

Rifftides reader Fred Augerman writes:

Stan KentonHi Doug, I was kind of surprised that there was no mention of the passing of Stan Kenton, which was on August 25, 1979!

Here’s Shelly Manne’s very poignant tribute at the time of Stan’s passing.Shelly Manne
He was a friend to all musicians.

He was like a Father.

He was like a psychiatrist.

He was the guy next to you on the bus.

He ate the same lousy food you did at a rest stop.

He waited with you for the room to be made up at the hotel after 300
miles of road.

He was the guy that taught you to make the job at any cost.

He taught you responsibility.

He was the guy that braved the elements in shirtsleeves

He was the guy who was first to fix a flat tire in the rain.

He was the guy in K.C. who held a busted water pipe with his hands, to
keep clothes and music from getting ruined until help came.

He was understanding to wives on the road.

He was a dedicated musician, composer, arranger.

He was a developer of talent.

He wrote to show off the ability of all his men.

He treated all equal.

He remembered everyone’s name, fan and musician alike.

He could go without sleep for days.

He was loyal.

He was dynamic.

He was vital.

He would lift his arms and make you want to play.

He would laugh at himself.

He could reach a whole audience with a smile.

He could enter a room and you would know he was there without

He invented charisma.

He was an innovator.

He was a gambler with music.

He was an explorer.

He was a living monument to music.

He was a great educator.

He was a great leader.

He was loved by all.

He loved all.

He was a friend to all.

He was indestructible.

Stan Kenton is dead. He will never be forgotten, and we will miss

——Shelly Manne

Manne’s drumming is an essential ingredient in Kenton’s hit record “Viva Prado,” recorded in September of 1950. The composition and arrangement are by Shorty Rogers. Soloists are Milt Bernhart, trombone; Bud Shank, alto saxophone; and Maynard Ferguson, trumpet.

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


  1. Joe Lang says

    At the 1991 “Back to Balboa” event in Newport, and some subsequent Los Angeles Jazz Institute events devoted to Stan’s music, the comments of most musicians who had been on the band reflected Shelly’s comments. Some disagreed with parts of his musical approach, but most revered him as a person.

    I saw the band many times, but only had one personal contact with Stan, and it left a lasting positive impression of him as a person. In the 1970s, the band appeared at a club on 86th Street in NYC called Barney Google’s. When my wife and I arrived, there was no seating available, so we stood for the first set. The seating was on two levels, and we got seats for the second set on the lower level right next to the wall for the sides of the second level. Not long after being seated, Stan sat at the table right above us with some friends of his. When I looked up at him, one of the people at the table asked me if I would like Stan’s autograph. I have never been an autograph collector, but i agreed that it would be nice to have one from Stan. I did not have a piece of paper with me, so I passed a paper cocktail napkin from my table up to him, he signed it with a grin, and passed it back down to me. I set it on the table, and before I realized it, the waiter took the napkin and gave me a fresh one. I was too embarrassed to ask for another autograph, but about 30 seconds later i saw out of the corner of my eye a piece of paper attached to a large hand. I looked up to see a grinning Stan proffering another autograph to me. I took it with a few words of thanks, and needless to say was really impressed with his kind consideration on my behalf.

    I love the Kenton sound, but my most lasting memory of Stan is that incident delineating the kind of individual he was.

  2. Jim Brown says

    Stan was quite accommodating to those like me wanting to document the band with live recordings. Although I had no personal contact with him in that regard, several of my colleagues did, and their work documents a band with both leader and musicians hewing to a high standard, whether in a high profile gig or in Podunk. One of my favorite examples is one of Wally Heider’s always fine recordings at a state fair sort of venue, with a piano of the “we just painted it” caliber (after a few chords at the top of the recording, there’s no piano for the rest of the night), and during a late set, Stan makes an announcement inviting his audience to visit the booth where cakes and pies can be purchased.

    In addition to all of the things Shelly pointed out, Stan was the father of the college clinic, which supported college music programs, and educated and encouraged thousands of young musicians over the years.

  3. John Putnam says

    At sometime during my 2nd year at Phoenix Tech (AZ) HS in 52/53…where I majored in music…my classmate (and still good friend, Jim Miller) went to the Riverside Park Ballroom about 2 hours before the band was to play. An acquaintance of ours let us in and Stan was at the bar. We bravely (and presumptuously) walked up and introduced ourselves to him. He was very gracious and we had a nice conversation. He asked us about our school and we explained what we had been learning and both told him that we had some arrangements that we would like him to take (which he did) and, at his leisure, look them over and send us some comments and suggestions. After the band took their 11 PM break, Stan came to the mic and gave this long intro about meeting Jim and me…what we were doing in school…and the arrangements. Then he said something like, “…they asked me to look them over for comments and suggestions but I have a better idea. Let’s bring them up and we’ll have the band play them right now, with them directing…” Talk about living a dream…and that’s what Jim and I did! But it was so like Stan to take that chance by having the band play 4 arrangements by two 16 year old HS students, whom he had just met and the Ballroom was, of course, packed!

    After the gig, Stan was very complimentary and encouraging and Jim and I kept in contact with him, in various ways, over the years. Jim went on to a musical career with various Navy Band assignments and played professionally after he retired (including owning the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra) and is now retired in Florida. I also did some professional playing and touring, then became a HS and Community College music eductor and am now retired in Nebraska. We both continue to occasionally write and arrange charts and Stan was…and still is…a tremendous influence in my musical life. (I remember one quote from him when we were talking. He said, “When in doubt, make it simpler!”).

  4. says

    When Kenton played Seattle in the late 1940s, I attended the concert and was very impressed by Shelly’s playing. He pulled the band together with sound and time in such a skilled way. I think Mel Lewis learned a lot of his way of playing for a big band from Shelly. Shelly also kept the band and the audience entertained that day with a lot of spontaneous comedy. He just couldn’t resist a joke, and he made that whole evening so special for me. I’ve carried the memory of it around happily for over 60 years.

  5. says

    A few years after Stan passed away, I was asked to write a remembrance of him. I don’t remember the exact year or even who it was originally for, but it has been published quite a few times since then. I updated it a bit a few years ago by adding the Jazz Education Network in place of the International Association of Jazz Educators. I hope you readers of Rifftides might enjoy my thoughts.


    Stan Kenton was a grandiose person, both in stature and in the aura that he exuded to everyone who came in contact with him. He could enter a room full of people and even the ones who didn’t know him by sight would turn their heads to see this impressive man and wonder about him. He was the greatest leader of people that I have ever known. I truly believe that, if he had been a politician, he would have become President of the United States. He had that “something” that made you believe in what he believed. We are so lucky that he chose to become a big band leader and jazz educator. He changed the face of jazz and big band music, as well as becoming the Father of jazz education. It was his vision that helped create the National Association of Jazz Educators (now a new organization called The Jazz Education Network) and his lead that convinced other band leaders to go into schools to create a whole new audience for big band music.

    He changed my life completely in 1960 when I went to the 2nd National Stage Band Camp. I got to play in the faculty band (at 17 years old) and at the end of those two weeks, I knew that I wanted to play on his band – not become a classical player as I had intended originally. At the end of the camp, I told him that I was going to play first trumpet on his band someday and his answer was so typically “Kenton.” He said “If you want to bad enough, you probably will.” For Stan Kenton to say that to me at that young age was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I told him about that incident 10 years later when I had taken over the lead trumpet chair, and he REMEMBERED our conversation from the camps. (Although, he hadn’t realized that I was that skinny, short little guy that had talked to him back in 1960.) He seemed amazed that his words had meant so much to me.

    On the bus, he was a playful and overseeing “road father.” He loved to go to the back of the bus, start some sort of political or ideological argument and then come back up to the front and watch his handiwork. If anyone had a problem, they could sit and talk with him and he listened intently and many times gave fatherly advice. I really believe that in some ways, his frustration and unhappiness with his own family life, was eased by his relationship with the musicians in his band.

    On the bandstand he was a caring, but forceful leader who wanted perfection and didn’t accept excuses. The music had to be right, no matter what! He knew when his musicians were ready for the “next step” in their performance with the band, even before they did. He knew when a jazz player was ready to be a featured soloist, or a section player was ready to become a lead player. I am a perfect example of that. He made me the lead trumpet player out of the blue, when I had no inkling that he was going to place me in that most responsible position. I am happy to say that I lived up to his expectations. But then he wouldn’t have put me there unless HE knew I was ready.

    I will always cherish my time with Stan as one of the best and most important periods in my life. Everything I have done musically and educationally in all these years since his passing was influenced by him. I think of him most every day in one way or another.

  6. Jack Kenny says

    Anyone who enjoys Kenton’s early 1950s band might be interested to know that composer Terry Vosbein has prepared a unique archive of most of Kenton’s Concert in Miniature broadcasts, which ran weekly from April 1952 to November 1953. It is a unique record of that great band’s evolution. The band featured Konitz, Zoot, Candoli and Rosolino as well as the writing of Russo, Holman and Mulligan.