DVD Review: “Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm: Portrait of a Jazz Legend”

By Tony Gieske

Graham Carter’s Stan Kenton documentary, out this month, pits the emptiness of the Kenton sound against the emptiness of the recorded interviews, and lasts two hours.

It’s a DVD called Stan Kenton: Artistry in Rhythm, Portrait of a Jazz Legend. Carter’s JazzedMedia label records such deserving artists as Irene Kral, Marvin Stamm and Bill Mays, and he’s the president of the Los Angeles Jazz Institute.

Those speaking include Kenton alumni such as Peter Erskine, Carl Saunders and Bill Holman. I say interviews, but narrator Ken Poston just seats his subjects on a yellow couch and lets them ramble. They’re musicians and they talk nice about their old boss.

Competing with these voices —Herb Wong and Howard Rumsey toss a few bouquets as well — are the eerily familiar sounds of various Kenton big band recordings and films. In their bullying, overweight mass, the monstrous brass cataracts prefigure heavy metal.

But when someone is talking, the band and its many outstanding soloists mist off into the distance.

I spotted Conte Candoli in one trumpet section, and I think I saw Lee Konitz come down; Maynard Ferguson had a few seconds. Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, June Christy and Bill Russo appeared. What they played was hidden behind the merry remembrances of Jack Costanza, Kenton’s answer to Chano Pozo, and the stories of other Kenton alumni.

Kenton wives Audree and JoAnn flash by, but – in this “documentary” — there is a blackout on Kenton’s daughter Leslie Kenton.

Her book Love Affair, published last year, spotlights a three year period beginning in her tenth year, when Leslie’s father, greatly intoxicated, submitted her to sexual interludes nightly. This was only when the bandleader wasn’t out on the road innovating.

She refers to that period in her book as their “forbidden honeymoon.” She and her father were passionately in love, she recalls with seemingly undiminished — and certainly unashamed –ardor.

“Breaking the taboo of incest had breached the boundaries of acceptable reality,” she writes in Love Affair, “forcing us to journey into unknown territory. We turned our backs on the rules and regulations of the world. Sometimes we faced each other with the kind of raw ­presence soldiers in trenches must experience as, together, they face the enemy’s assault.”

You gotta read a lot of Daddy’s liner notes to write like that.

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