From The Creative World Of Stan Kenton Website
Stanley Newcomb Kenton was born in Wichita, Kansas on December 15, 1911, and grew up in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from high school, he played in several small groups in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
He studied piano and composition, first with his mother, Stella, who sparked his profound interest in the impressionists; then with Frank Hurst, a theater organist; and with Earl "Fatha" Hines, whose piano lessons were often conducted in Hines's hotel room, using a cane-backed chair with a Masonite seat for a keyboard (both had good enough sense of pitch that they didn't need the actual piano).
In 1933 Everett Hoagland offered Stan the piano chair in his band, which played at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, California, and whose book included charts by another youngster, Gil Evans.
Hoagland, realizing audiences would respond more lucratively to a society band sound than to his current progressive sound, changed course and went on the road. Stan stayed behind with Hoagland's successor, Russ Plummer.
After piano jobs with Gus Arnheim, Vido Musso, the NBC house band, and the orchestra for Earl Carroll's "Vanities", he decided the only way to realize his creative ambitions was to start his own band. In 1941 he holed up in a cabin in Idyllwild in the San Jacinto mountains with his wife Violet, and wrote the arrangements and compositions (including the song that would become his band's theme, "Artistry in Rhythm") that became the core of the book for his own band.
Kenton's bands, or orchestras, as he perferred to present them to the public (privately, they were always "The Band"), produced a string of alumni whose influence on jazz is incalculable, from folks everyone knows as alumni (June Christy, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Maynard Ferguson, Kai Winding) to folks who you'd never associate with Stan Kenton's music (Stan Getz and Laurindo Almeida).
Indeed, Kenton is so well known for his alumni and for the arrangers who wrote for the band that it's often forgotten that his own compositions and arrangements were the cornerstone on which all his arrangers built. As Noel Wedder remarked, "At no time could any of the material written for the Band in the 60s & 70s be attributed to any other group than Kenton's." And, though the very best musicians in the world sat in his band, Kenton's playing was good enough that he could have easily won the audition for his chair. His modesty and desire to show off the other musicians in the band seldom permitted him to play up to his abilities, but every now and then he let it slip out, and we pianists treasure those moments.
It's significant that Stan's music is found in the jazz section, and not the "big band" section of most record shops even today. By constantly pushing audiences to accept more challenging music, and by hiring the very best musicians and pushing them even harder, Kenton made it clear that his heart was always in the future of jazz, not in its nostalgic past. And in the process, he reaffirmed something too few musical directors, from rock through classical music, understand: audiences like good music.
With only the occasional years off to regain his health or his bankroll, or when he became fed up with the state of music (declaring at one point "Jazz is dead") and the 12 months when his final illness forced him to disband his orchestra for good, Stan kept a band on the road, pursuing and largely attaining his artistic visions, until his passing on August 25, 1979.
A personal reminiscence:
In 1972 we were hosting the Kenton band in a Jazz Orchestra in Residence
program. I sat down next to some of the kids from my YMCA that I'd got
to help my wife Kelly run the affair to hear the band play their opening
song. I'll never forget the expression on the face of a tough little 12-year-old
street kid as Mike Vax went for that high E in "Here's That Rainy Day".
Truly, Stan was reaching out and influencing new generations of musicians
and fans to the very last.