802 Bookshelf: The Kenton Kronicles

by Steven D. Harris. Dynaflow Publications, Jan. 2000, oversize hardcover, limited edition, no price listed

Volume C, No. 12December, 2000

Bill Crow

Many Kenton fans on the internet have complained about the arch spelling of the title of this fascinating book, but everyone seems to want a copy. It is a biography, scrapbook, transcribed oral history and photo album rolled into one.

Harris has meticulously researched his subject, the musical career of Stan Kenton, and provides the history of the Kenton orchestra in fascinating detail. He tracked down historians, fans, management people and hundreds of the musicians who played with Kenton, and sprinkles the book with over 60 well-rendered interviews. The historical passages are interspersed with newspaper clippings, ads, flyers, and extended quotes from Kenton interviews.

The personal recollections of musicians like Pete Rugolo, Howard Rumsey, Milt Bernhart, Eddie Bert, Shorty Rogers, Bob Cooper, Bud Shank, Bill Holman, Bill Perkins, Buddy Childers, Chris Connor, Lennie Niehaus, Don Bagley, Max Bennett and many others create an image of Kenton and his musicians that would be difficult to achieve in a different form.

The musicians’ opinions of Stan, each other and the music, mixed with career adventures and road stories, provided me with hours of interesting reading. Harris says he tried to contact many other Kenton musicians over a 15-year period, but some were unavailable and others were too ill to be interviewed. But the ones he has included tell the story very well.

I liked a story that occurs in an interview with saxophonist Ted Varges, who is speaking of doubling on the clarinet. “A personal anecdote I have for this instrument comes from Zoot Sims: ‘I’ve tried countless times to bury my clarinet in the back yard, but my dog keeps digging it up!’ He hated the damn thing.”

Sax player Richard Torres added a story about Zoot that Kenton used to tell: “Stan said they were outside Dallas when Zoot had the bus driver pull over. He gets out and goes to the side of the bus, but not for the reason everyone thought. He opens the hatch and grabs the band book. Zoot found the chart he was looking for, whatever it was, and proceeded to light it with a match. He burned the entire parts to this song and casually got back on the bus. ‘We won’t have to play that damn thing anymore!’ he told the guys.”

The many photographs in this book are selected from several archives and from the private collections of many of the musicians. At the end of the volume are two chronologies that should be valuable to music scholars. One is a listing of existing film and videotape of Kenton’s appearances, with and without his band, including movies, television, club and concert appearances. The other is an itinerary of all the jobs played by Stan Kenton & His Orchestra from 1940 through 1978.

I found it interesting that Kenton’s will, upon his death in 1979, stated: “It is my wish that after my death the Stan Kenton Orchestra be disbanded. I have not authorized anyone to use my name in connection with an orchestra, and I direct my Executors to take any necessary action to prevent such use of my name.” The will also directed that all the orchestra’s original scores and manuscripts be given to North Texas State University, Denton, Texas.

A copy of this book is in the Local 802 library.