Stan Kenton

Perhaps the founding father of avant-garde jazz, Kenton’s experimental big-band arrangements had more in common with modern classical than swinging bop.


  • Sketches on Standards (1953) A-
    • Makes a strong case for Kenton being a better arranger/conductor than he is composer. The decision to play the main theme of “Sophisticated Lady” on electric guitar will forever be one of his finest moments. Nevertheless, the atonalism is sorely missed.
  • Portraits on Standards (1953) A-
    • Example #2 of why Stan Kenton may be a better arranger/conductor than composer. This collection of covers features soft and subtle arrangements, which make the brass climaxes all the more volcanic.
  • Contemporary Concepts (1955) B+
    • A sterling rendition of “Yesterdays” saves this LP from being a run-of-the-mill placeholder set. By this point in his career, Kenton had retired his early avant-garde experiments in favor of a back-to-basics approach of controlled, syncopated swing. The material is far from essential yet the Kenton Orchestra close to peak form.
  • Duet (1955, with June Christy) A-
  • Kenton with Voices (1957) C
    • Post-1953, Stan Kenton left behind the experimentation of his early days for conservative, big-band pop. The arrangements are unimaginative and the “voices” flat-out suck. Avoid Kenton post-1956.
  • Rendezvous with Kenton (1957) C+
    • I hated City of Glass for not being jazzy enough. I hate Rendezvous with Kenton 1,000 times more for being too jazzy. This is big bland big band that belongs in a trash bag.
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