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ClassicsOnline Home » KENTON, Stan: MacGregor Transcriptions, Vol. 5 (1944-1945)
The Complete McGregor Transcriptions Vol.5
Original 1944-1945 Recordings
It is strange to think that there was a time when record
labels did not want their releases to be played over the radio. The companies did not see any benefit
to offering their music to the general public for free, so they discouraged
radio stations from playing their 78s until they changed their minds in the
1950s, finally realizing that it was really free advertising. Because radio stations had a great deal
of time to fill, an agreement was reached in which radio transcription
companies could record the top bands of the era. These performances were made specifically to be played on
the radio and were not for sale to the public. The result was that the discographies of many orchestras
were doubled or tripled and, in addition to alternate
versions of selections cut for the record labels, many other otherwise
undocumented arrangements were recorded.
The radio transcriptions are also of great value because they fill in
the gap caused by the musicians union’s recording strike against the record
labels during 1942-44.
The Stan Kenton Orchestra recorded an extensive series of
radio transcriptions for the MacGregor company during 1941-45; this is the
final of five CDs that reissue all of the performances.
At the time of the December 1944 transcriptions that open
this release, Stan Kenton had just turned 33 and his band was not yet four
years old. Born 15 December 1911
in Wichita, Kansas, Kenton had picked up important early experience playing in
Los Angeles in the 1930s with several different orchestras and dance bands
including that of Everett Hoagland, Russ Plummer and Gus Arnheim. He started leading a rehearsal band in
late 1940 but it was a part-time affair until the summer of 1941. At that point, Kenton landed a
five-night-a-week engagement at the Rendez-vous Ballroom in Balboa near Los
Angeles. The successes of that
summer resulted in the Stan Kenton Orchestra developing its own original sound,
starting to record transcriptions for the MacGregor company, and gaining a
contract with the Decca label, with nine songs being recorded during 1941-42.
After that initial triumph, Kenton and his big band
struggled for a couple years. They
toured the East Coast for much of 1942 and became the house band for Bob Hope’s
radio series for a year, a job that Kenton ended up hating because it gave his
band little to do. Much more
satisfying was signing with the new Capitol label in the fall of 1943. “Eager Beaver” from the initial 18
November 1943 date was a hit and Kenton stayed with Capitol for 25 years. The steady stream of recordings helped
Kenton to build up an audience for his group, even as he hoped to progress from
being a swing dance band to a concert orchestra.
The Kenton Orchestra at the time of its December 1944
McGregor transcription session lacked any big name soloists but its ensemble
sound was distinctive, featuring passionate brass, screaming trumpets and
thick-toned saxophonists. Kenton’s
early music was swing-oriented (particularly the vocal pieces) but stood apart
from the other orchestras of the swing era.
The familiar classical melody Pizzicato has a brief spot for
altoist Boots Mussulli (the band’s most impressive soloist during this period)
and trumpeter Karl George. Gene
Howard was the orchestra’s ballad singer during 1944-46 and he is featured on
Our Waltz. Anita O’Day was
Kenton’s biggest attraction at the time, still riding on her success with Gene
Krupa’s band during 1941-43.
She sounds exuberant on the novelty Tabby The Cat. Boots Mussulli wrote the arrangement
for The Man I Love and is the solo star.
After Howard sings the obscure Stars In My Eyes, Sergeant’s Mess
features the early Kenton big band at its best. This romp has a boppish trumpet solo from John Carroll,
brief spots for Mussulli and trumpeter Karl George, and an early statement from
the young tenor-saxophonist Stan Getz, who was still three years away from
joining Woody Herman’s Second Herd where he found his initial fame. O’Day had one hit during her period
with the Kenton band, And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine, and this version compares
favorably with the commercially released rendition.
On an uptempo Blue Skies, Mussulli takes one of his best
solos, sounding like a mix of Benny Carter and Willie Smith. O’Day returns for I’m Going Mad For A
Pad. Blow Jack has spots for John
Carroll, Kenton’s piano, Emmett Carls on tenor and Mussulli. Gene Howard takes an encore on She’s
Funny That Way and then the band plays their standard full-length version of
Kenton’s dramatic theme song, Artistry In Rhythm.
During the year that separates the December 1944 session
from the final set of radio transcriptions, the Stan Kenton Orchestra grew in
individuality, popularity and power.
June Christy replaced Anita O’Day and immediately had a big hit with
Tampico. Other popular records for
the band included Southern Scandal, Artistry Jumps and Just A-Sittin’ And
A-Rockin’. Pete Rugolo was just
beginning to contribute arrangements to the band (often extending Kenton’s
ideas), the rhythm section had the benefit of including the superb bassist
Eddie Safranski, and both the tough-toned Vido Musso and the cooler sounding
Bob Cooper were very capable soloists on tenor.
My Guy’s Come Back has a particularly cheerful vocal from
June Christy, who quickly developed into the most beloved of all Kenton
singers. Gene Howard has a warm
vocal on It’s Never Too Late To Pray while Vido Musso on Elegie shows why he
was so highly respected by bandleaders despite his weak sight-reading
abilities. Got A Penny, Jenny, a
novelty that was recorded by the King Cole Trio, features both Christy and
Musso while Howard makes his last appearance on Summertime. Kenton starts Baby Won’t You Please
Come Home a bit like Count Basie before Musso and Mussulli get their spots. June Christy sings the blues on Fine,
Fine Deal during an arrangement that quotes both Blues In My Heart and Salt
Peanuts. Kenton begins More Than
You Know, sounding like his original idol, Earl Hines. Both this release and the MacGregor
Kenton transcriptions conclude with the catchy and swinging Painted Rhythm
which has solo space for Kenton and Musso.
As 1945 ended, Stan Kenton was getting ready to start his
Progressive Jazz era. He still had
34 more years of accomplishments ahead of him. But, as the MacGregor transcriptions show, his big band was
already in its own musical category, creating jazz history.
– Scott Yanow
author of 8 jazz books including Jazz On Record 1917-76,
Bebop, Swing and Trumpet Kings
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