Jazz Connections – Wherein Ed Sullivan, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Frank Sinatra, The Mambo and The FBI All Somehow Meander Into The Presentation of a Single Thirteen Minute 1950 Video Clip

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.

MediaCredits

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

15 thoughts on “Jazz Connections – Wherein Ed Sullivan, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Frank Sinatra, The Mambo and The FBI All Somehow Meander Into The Presentation of a Single Thirteen Minute 1950 Video Clip

  1. I’m a nerd for vintage TV and have seen a fair number of Ed Sullivan clips in my time. I’ve seen few this early in the show’s history, however, and it’s remarkable how loose and personal it was. The show became much more stiff and formal as the years passed.

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    • That is an interesting observation – I have not seen a lot of Ed Sullivan clips, so I cannot comment on that. But I can imagine that television was a new and exciting thing in 1950 (I think I Love Lucy was still 2 years in the future) so the people in it were probably having more fun than in later years when it had become more of a normal job for those working in it.

      And I just looked it up – a little under 20% of American homes had television sets in 1950. I would guess that a high-income/early adopter demographic drove quite a few early programming decisions. But that would be a guess because it appears that info on the show’s guests is really thin before 1955.

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  2. A friend of mine had a lot of Ed Sullivan Show films/tapes and he edited together all the Lincoln/Mercury commercials from 1949 to 1958 onto 2 VHS/DVDs. (The commercials have been cut from this clip). There were the actual car commercials, and then Ed’s (or Julia Meade’s) off-the-cuff comments on them (before and after the actual ad–a practice never done today). Both the ads and the commentary on them are really interesting. You can find some of these ads on YouTube.

    As for the jazz, this is not my favorite stuff. We’re starting to get into that kind of jazz that gets so random that, as my father puts it, “If someone makes a mistake, you’ll never notice!” We’re more into Dave Brubeck, especially “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk”.

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    • I will have to look for the Lincoln commercials. I guess Lincoln made sense as a sponsor given the high incomes of early television watchers.

      I get what you mean about the styles, but I still see enough structure in the big band format to act as a guardrail. And I must confess that Brubeck never really lit my candle. But perhaps I need to give him another try.

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    • Thank you, sir. I spun down into this hole while researching my last music piece, which involved Maynard Ferguson in the 70s. I think I have decided that I like Maynard best when he is counterweighted by the kind of “heavy” band that was a Kenton signature. From my sampling I think some of Maynard’s 1950s efforts had a lot of Stan Kenton influence.

      You may appreciate this aside – my first exposure to Kenton doing “Lover” was from a 1956 album called Kenton in Hi-Fi. When I first heard it I thought it was modern stuff for the era. In fact, it was a more-or-less recreation of a handful of 1940s arrangements re-recorded in a then-modern studio. The personnel was mostly new, but Vido Musso was brought back to do the sax solos with his trademark rough, raggedy sound. The power that came through on the 1956 record was amazing and I can see how the 1940s equipment (both recording and playback) just couldn’t handle what that band was putting out. Otherwise, the only difference is that the newer version is a little looser with a slightly more modern “accent” in the playing, and having listened to all of them in both versions I can find something to like in all of them. And of course, both the late 40s and the 1956 records are pre/post Maynard.

      I found that one online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZCa0sAPNwU&ab_channel=StanKenton-Topic

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  3. Wow Ed Sullivan looked really young. I remember occasionally watching him on Sunday nights, but also Walt Disney which came on earlier, and Bonanza which came on at 10pm. I’m not sure re the jazz, but those plaid jackets were really wicked…..I wonder what color they were?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, I tried. But if you’ve taught me anything it’s that I’m not a Kenton fan. And I already knew I didn’t appreciate squealing trumpets.

    Now the jackets on the other hand, I wish I was wearing one right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I figured I had already used up your supply of patience with this band. I wish they had left the Lincoln/Lincoln Cosmopolitan commercial in, though.

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