In 1942, the rising star in the world of big bands was Stan Kenton. Kenton’s popularity would steadily increase throughout the 1940s, and his music would be loved, even revered, long after his death in 1979. While Kenton and his music would always generate considerable controversy within the jazz community, none of this is hinted at in this Soundie, a short that shares in picture and sound the band’s rise to fame.
The actual story is told in a creative manner, with cuts between the band performing and those “grooving” to the music. The third sequence features vocalist Helen Huntley, who was only with the band shortly helping to pave the way for Anita O’Day.
The music played in this short is identified in the Soundies production files as “Kenton’s Theme,” although it is clearly not the actual theme that the band used for decades, “Artistry in Rhythm.” The tune is identified as a Kenton composition, although I am less sure that it is his arrangement; the lack of staccato phrasing in the brass and reeds suggests someone else, perhaps Ralph Yaw.
Kenton made two series of Soundies and the first, from January 1942, had the band largely in a supporting role, backing vocalists and dancers. Stan returns to the Panoram screen in September 1945 with a set more focused on the band per se, and we will share some the shorts from that series in the near future.