Mike Vax and the Stan Kenton Alumni Orchestra - New York City Article
Mike Vax and the Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra
349 W 46th St, 212-262-9554
Thursday, April 19
The music of Stanley Newcomb Kenton (1911-1979) was as bold, daring, innovative, exciting - and more often than you might suspect, swinging - as it was controversial. Kenton, who led one of the most popular jazz orchestras from the height of the WW2 period until long after the so-called big band era, was a sonic visionary who came up with a whole new approach to large-ensemble jazz, based on brilliant orchestral colors, inspired and highly original writing, and outstanding soloists. Kenton himself famously favored a kind of classical bombast, and swinging was never his priority - you would never confuse him with Count Basie, or even his colleague Woody Herman. (When, in 1964, Kenton finally let the other shoe drop, and recorded a whole album of his take on Richard Wagner, more than a few listeners chided that he had been already playing a kind of Wagnerian jazz all along.) But most of the many specific editions of his long-running orchestra swung mightily just the same, especially when different arrangers (like Bill Holman and Gerry Mulligan) were able to bring out the band’s swinging side. Kenton himself was opposed to the existence of any kind of a so-called “Ghost Band,” which explains why his music has been less frequently heard lo these last 40 years. Kudos, however, to trumpeter Mike Vax, for realizing that the best of Kenton’s music is too great not to be kept alive in concert and club performances, and for assembling this first-rate touring group of Kenton veterans.
Hot Tip: Make a reservation and get there early. As far as I know, this is the first NYC appearance of the Vax-Kenton aggregate, and because Swing 46 is comparatively small, and I’m certain the city's many Kentonians - who approach their subject with all the fervor and dedication of Trekkies - will surely be out in full force.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)