Appellate Judge James A. Stewart was just hired for a gig at the Rendezvous Ballroom. He's still looking for it.
"Everything he did went farther than everybody else."
Anyone who sits back and listens to jazz can thank Stan Kenton for that, since his experiments changed the chemistry of the dance music of the Big Band Era. If not for him, you'd have to do a jitterbug—and jitterbugging alone isn't hip.
Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm, a release tied to the century mark on Kenton's birth, features historian Ken Poston, members of Kenton's bands, and two of the three women who were married to him talking about the bandleader and explaining how he made the transition from swing to progressive jazz. It also features his music, including "The Peanut Vendor," "Tampico," "Malaguena," and "Limehouse Blues."
The music permeates nearly every moment of the 117-minute documentary, even if the focus is on the discussion of Kenton's contributions to jazz. A typical segment shows Kenton concert footage as he and his band start a piece, and then leaves the rest of the song in the background as talking heads combine with vintage photos and film clips to tell Kenton's story. My favorite section concerns a grueling 1960s bus tour, with footage of the band on the road, including a supermarket stop and a breakdown which forced them to get out and push. You could just listen to this one for the music, even if there's much more going on.
The documentary full of musicians talking about a great's music will probably resonate best with musicians, but there's lots of detail that'll interest a general audience, such as the stages of Kenton's career takeoff: a gig at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California, followed by a contract with the Palladium, followed by the strange fortune of being on the radio on December 7, 1941, a day when listeners were tuning in for a certain important news story. Fans of Maynard Ferguson, Keith Jarrett, David Sanborn, Pat Metheny, and Lalo Schiffrin, among others, will note that these music greats were among the many who worked with Kenton.
The tone is mostly worshipful, although there's an occasional suggestion that Kenton's musicians weren't always thrilled by experimental works. Brief coverage of his personal life toward the end reveals that he liked vodka a lot and wasn't a great husband.
The best part is that you'll hear lots from Kenton himself, including a clip in which he stands on the ground where the long gone Rendezvous once stood, discussing the club where he first got music lovers' attention.
Picture quality isn't great, except in the talking head bits. There's flaring in a Seventies concert, and earlier black-and-white footage is full of flecks and marks. It sounds good, though. Extras are nonexistent. The documentary's rather thorough, but a few performances without comments would have been a nice bonus.
Anyone who likes jazz should give Artistry in Rhythm a look.
Not guilty. I wouldn't enjoy jitterbugging alone.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Jazzed Media
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