I sometimes think that everything in classic jazz connects to something else in classic jazz, which is probably about like everything else in life. Today’s presentation is offered in both video and in audio and brings together all of the disparate elements in the title into a single
I love old jazz and also love vintage movies and television. Just as there are eras when music makes big changes there were eras when visual entertainment made big changes too, which includes the beginnings of television.
Early TV was usually live but some of it was captured via the kinescope – a device that filmed the live broadcast, making it available for replay – and for those of us many decades later to enjoy.
I am old enough to remember the tail end of the Ed Sullivan show on television. But for some reason it was never the choice of anyone in my family. A little research tells me that the show ran at 8 pm eastern every Sunday night from 1948 to 1971. A litte more research makes it clear why we never watched Ed Sullivan – 8 pm Sunday night was also the time slot for Ephram Zimbalist Jr. in The F.B.I., to which we tuned in without fail.
But back to Big Ed. Ed Sullivan is famous for introducing many emerging musicians to wider fame in America. His broadcasts of Elvis Presley in 1956 and The Beatles in 1964 are well known. But here is another I came across – a 1950 broadcast that featured Stan Kenton and his band.
There is so much here. First, a 1950 television broadcast – this may be one of the oldest tv broadcasts I have seen, at least in anything approaching the entirety of an entertainer’s performance of multiple songs. And from a time when The Ed Sullivan Show was also called The Toast Of The Town.
Second – Of course there is Stan Kenton – whom we have featured here a couple of times before. In 1950 Kenton was at the forefront of a “Third Way’ of jazz that was to music what Picasso was to art or what I M Pei was to archetecture. Kenton put together a 40 piece orchestra that included a full string section. Much of it was extremely “out there” – an experimental approach that was more about dissonance and a cerebral experience than about the visceral, rhythmic experience that jazz had usually given its listeners.
Even Kenton himself eventually concluded that the music of his “Innovations In Modern Music” orchestra was either the most brilliant stuff he ever played or the most terrible. Don’t worry, I am not going to play any of it for you, as it is an acquired taste (that I have not yet acquired).
But in the middle of it all, the band was still capable of a more popular style of jazz, which Ed Sullivan surely required if he was to book the Kenton band on the show (or “shoo” in his way of pronunciation).
Third – The style of the television production seems to me to have been quite well produced – the visual effects seem far more interesting than later such productions that switched between 1) full bandstand, 2) close up of the leader and 3) close ups of soloists as they do their thing. It is a shame that the big video counter takes up so much room. And who doesn’t love those plaid uniforms? The Stan Kenton orchestra was never one to hide in the background, and those plaid suits worn by all the players fit this band perfectly.
Fourth – In the intro, Ed and Stan discuss that the band was in the middle of an engagement at The Rustic Cabin. That was a restaurant and nightclub on Highway 9W in Englewood Cliffs, NJ that had a long history of booking musical acts. The Rustic Cabin is most famously the place where a young singer (and occasional waitor of tables) named Frank Sinatra was discovered by bandleader Harry James via a late 1930’s radio broadcast from that locale.
The original Cabin caught fire in 1941 but was rebuilt and still apparently packing in the customers in 1950. I have been unable to find just when the Cabin met its final demise, but Englewood Cliffs eventually became a bedroom community of corporate headquarters, leaving the old rural ambiance of the 1920s (or 1950) far behind.
Fifth – and finally – this performance features Stan’s newest “young gun” trumpet player, Maynard Ferguson – whom we briefly highlighted a few weeks ago from a much later point in his career. Maynard was just 22 years old when this show went on the air and had been with the band for just a short time, after a couple of other gigs after coming to the US from his native Canada. Maynard Ferguson would be forever associated with the Kenton band, although his stay there was brief, ending in 1953 as he went to do session work in Hollywood. Starting in 1957 Ferguson led a band of his own before moving abroad in a number of colorful pursuits, both musical and otherwise. Ferguson would come back to the States in the early 70s to lead a band that was active in jazz education and thus cultivated a young fan base that would sty with him until the end of his career early in this century.
Oh, let’s go for a Sixth – Stan Kenton is probably one of the most vigorous proponents of Latin jazz of any of the (more or less) mainstream bands of his time. Stan fronted many different groups that played many different things, but almost all of them were good for a few memorable Latin-flavored numbers. Here, Viva Prado celebrates Perez Prado, the Cuban bandleader who popularized the Mambo in the US, but was just becoming known at the time of this broadcast. The mambo would be a dance craze that would last for several years in the 50’s, and this broadcast was right at the start of it. In another six years the Kenton band would put out one of his best and most famous albums, an entire album of latin jazz called Cuban Fire (1956). Prado would become famous for a 1955 release of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.
If you watch this, you will immediately see Ferguson’s claim to fame – his playground was the high, higher, highest registers of the trumpet, a place where most musicians cannot physically enter or where many who can are afraid to. Ferguson could go up high, stay up high and exhibit amazing feats of control up there in a way that few others have been able to do.
I have not been the biggest fan of Maynard over the years, mainly becuase my early tastes in jazz hewed to the more traditional. And Ferguson was anything but traditional (as his 1970s foray into rock and funk jazz showed). But this early performance of a young kid who fearlessly goes for and hits those high notes on live television are really hard to resist. Who doesn’t love watching a young guy demonstrating what makes him special?
So a short video clip, three songs, of a powerful big jazz band that featured one of the most iconic trumpet “squealers” of them all.
For those who may want to go more in depth, each of the songs performed on this 1950 Sullivan broadcast had a well-known studio version. Lover was a relative “classic” in 1950, both because it was a well-known song by Rogers & Hart, and because Stan had recorded this spirited and popular version in 1947.
The second piece, actually entitled Maynard Ferguson, was from a 1950 album of six songs, called Stan Kenton Presents. The album was released as either a ten inch LP or as a traditional album consisting of three twelve inch 78 rpm records – because 1950 was still early in the “album era” and a time when only the “early adopters” owned the equipment that could play LPs. It was later re-released on a 12 inch LP with the addition of a couple of additional tracks.
Finally there is Viva Prado. Each of these may be just a touch longer than the live version and provides a bit more polish and a lot better sound quality. However, the live version has a spontenaity that gives a little extra something too, so each has something to offer.
This performance says “1950” to me all over it. It was the opening years of that great period of post-war America where anything was possible, and where a bold band full of bold players could reach for the stars on live television. Before Elvis or the Beatles, this was just the thing that Ed Sullivan thought America was ready for. Indeed, a Really Big Shoo.
1950 Ed Sullivan Show broadcast – From the YouTube page Maynard Ferguson Remembered
1947 Stan Kenton recording of Lover – from the YouTube page of The 78Prof
1950 Stan Kenton recording of Maynard Ferguson from the YouTube page of 60otaku4
1950 Stan Kenton recording of Viva Prado (from the Capitol Album Easy Go) – From the YouTube page of 60otaku4
Opening photo of Ed Sullivan in 1955 from jazzwax.com
Photos of The Rustic Cabin from allthingskenton.com (rebuilt) and NJ.com (original)
Photo of Perez Prado from discogs.com