June 14, 2024


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CD review: Stan Kenton – Salute! – 1958 – 2023: Video, CD cover, Photos

Stan Kenton conducting: Milt Bernhart, Archie Le Coque, Kent Larsen (tenor trombones); Bob Olson, Bill Smiley (bass trombones); Bud Shank (flute) Israel Baker, David Frisina, Ben Gill, Dan Lube, Alfred Lustgarten, Erno Neufeld, Lou Raderman, Nathan Ross, Eudice Shapiro, Felix Slatkin, Marshall Sosson, Gerald Vinci (violins); Sam Boghossian, Virginia Majewski, Paul Robyn, David Sterkin (violas); David Fillerman, Victor Gottlieb, Edgar Lustgarten, Eleanor Slatkin (celli); Laurindo Almeida (guitar); Red Kelly, Red Mitchell (basses); Shelly Manne, Larry Bunker (drums/percussion)

The Story: Stan Kenton was a man of many contradictions. He had personality traits that were strong, very strong. Yet often, those traits were in direct contradiction with each other. Although he had a large, well-nourished ego, he was essentially a modest person. Although he willingly went along with the sometimes absurdly hyperbolic promotions his various handlers over the years created for him as a man of modern music whose “…influence on contemporary musical thinking is tremendous. It stretched from composers of symphonies in Europe to writers of mood and movie music…” (1) he basically strove for his entire career to create and perform only music that he thought had merit.

Often Kenton’s music, both within and outside of the jazz idiom, was brutally reviewed, especially by jazz critics who invariably measured all of Kenton’s music using various jazz criteria, even when it was not jazz, and was never intended to be jazz. Jazz critics have had difficulty fairly evaluating music that is made by jazz musicians that is somewhat outside of accepted parameters for jazz. Similarly, critics of “classical” music have struggled to fairly evaluate music that edges toward the sacred precincts occupied by symphonic composers, when it is made by jazz musicians.These critics, who are busy trying to shove round pegs into square holes, seem to be unaware of the deeply profound expressions of musical giants as diverse as Arturo Toscanini and Louis Armstrong that there are fundamentally only two categories of music: good and bad. All other arbitrary categorization ultimately leads into a pointless morass of confusion.

If Stan Kenton was aware of the negative criticism often heaped on his music by jazz critics, and I think he was, at least to some degree, that criticism had little to no effect on the music he made. Kenton had enormous confidence in his musical taste, and that confidence frequently led him to make music that was sometimes good and sometimes bad. But good or bad, Kenton believed in the music he made. Like many bandleaders during and after the swing era, Kenton was a musical idealist. And his idealism was understood and reflected by the musicians who worked with him. This was usually the first step in the relationships Stan had with most of his orchestra members. It very often led to positive personal relationships, based on Kenton’s genuine concern for the welfare of his supporting musicians. Although Kenton was a most demanding leader in matters musical, he was never cruel or insensitive toward his orchestra members. Instead, kindness was his modus operandi. Stanley was not a saint. He just understood how to get the music out of his musicians at a virtuoso level.

Portrait of Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo, 1947 or 1948

Pete Rugolo (1915-2011) arranged this version of  “Salute,” which features a large string section, five trombones, one flute, and a rhythm section. Earlier, in 1950, Rugolo composed this piece for Stan Kenton’s “Innovations in Modern Music” Orchestra, which included sixteen strings. Rugolo had worked very closely with Kenton in the post World War II years. Their musical relationship then, epitomized in their joint composition “Collaboration,” evolved into something very similar to the charmed musical collaboration Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn had. (Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo are shown together above left, 1947 or 1948.)

But Rugolo, though very well-equipped as a musician, sought to branch out in the music business. For a substantial part of the 1950s, he was a much respected producer for Capitol then Mercury Records. In the mid-1950s he began to lead various musical groups on record himself, and provide arrangements for a wide variety of popular and jazz singers. Starting around 1960, Rugolo began creating music for television shows and feature films. That effectively removed him from the jazz and pop music scene for the next 25 years.

Pietro “Pete” Rugolo was born in San Pietro Patti, Sicily, Italy at the end of 1915. His family emigrated to the United States in 1920 and settled in Santa Rosa, California. His father and two sisters were musicians. He began his career in music playing the baritone horn, like his father, but he quickly transitioned to other instruments, most notably the piano. He received a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State College, then continued his studies with legendary teacher and composer Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he earned his master’s degree. (A later student of Milhaud’s was Dave Brubeck.)

All of Rugolo’s formal musical education took place before World War II. Before entering military service durng the war, Rugolo worked with west coast bandleaders Jimmy Grier and Johnny Richards. Rugolo was in the Army, and served in a military band, where he met alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. After his discharge, Rugolo soon became Stan Kenton’s chief arranger.(2)

Rugolo later recalled how “Salute” was composed: “At the start of 1950, Stan called me in New York about forming the new Innovations Orchestra, and I came out to help organize it. We didn’t have much time until the first L.A. concert at Philharmonic Hall. In one week I wrote “Mirage,” “Conflict,” “Lonesome Road” and “Salute,” staying up night and day. When I look back I think, if only I had time to write more. I was traveling with the band and Stan wanted me there almost every night. At that time, I decided to come out to California with the intention of writing for the studios—that was my big ambition. But it wasn’t easy getting work out here. Because of my reputation, people were afraid to use me; they thought I was too wild. I was very low on money until I got a call from Mickey Goldsen, who was publishing all of our music—Stan’s and mine. He said my royalties were coming in nicely, which was good news for me. Instead of a lump sum, he offered to give me a monthly check on a regular basis. I truthfully don’t remember how much I received, but this went on for at least a year until I got settled here.”

“Some years later, Mickey confessed something to me. He said, ‘I have to tell you something about all those royalties…Stan was responsible for a lot of that.’ Stan secretly paid me out of his own pocket to help me out. I returned the favor shortly before Stan’s passing. When he had his long illness in the hospital, Audree Coke (Kenton’s companion then) contacted me. I gladly offered to assist in his medical expenses by relinquishing all my publishing rights to Stan and Creative World. I should have renewed them, but didn’t give it another thought. After 28 years, all publishing rights come back to the com­poser. I wrote over 100 pieces and would have owned everything by now, over a million dollars worth.” (3)

The music: 

In this performance of “Salute,” Pete Rugolo makes good use of the large string section, comprised of the best Hollywood session players of the time. He utilizes the two basic string performance techniques, arco, meaning “bowed,” and pizzicato, meaning “plucked,” to create contrasts in melody and rhythm. The lovely, floating introduction, played by the strings arco without the rhythm section, is warmly melodic and richly harmonized.

Laurindo Almeida’s guitar provides a brief transition to the pizzicato stings, setting forth (with Almeida’s guitar) the syncopated Italianate rhythm and chords that are the background for Milt Bernhart’s open trombone statement of Rugolo’s sultry, chromatic melody. (Bernhart is shown at left.)

The next transition, with the syncopated rhythm continuing, is provided by Bud Shank’s flute. The music that follows is played by the soaring arco strings, once again out of tempo and without rhythmic accompaniment. In this sequence, Rugolo shows his great ability to write provocative music for strings: notice how he blends the instruments, uses different registers, and harmonizes the music.

The third transition begins even before the string sequence ends, with an upward figure in Almeida’s guitar, the straight-muted trombones, and Shelly Manne gently caressing a cymbal with mallets. This brings a return of Milt Bernhart’s trombone against the rhythmic, pizzicato strings, abetted by Almeida’s guitar. Bold chords from the trombone choir, a gentle burst of drums and some eerie wafting strings create the finale.

This is modern music that is above all, warm. It evokes Italian sunsets at the Mediterranean shore, with romance in the air.

What’s in a name? I have often wondered if the title to this tune is an English word, or an Italian word. The English word “salute,” means to make a gesture of respect or homage. The Italian word “salute” is pronounced sa-lu’-tay, which means “health.” The Italian version is one which I’m sure Rugolo heard as a toast at his family gatherings for dinners, holidays and special occasions.

Stan Kenton: Salute! album review @ All About Jazz

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