Jazz at 100 Hour 35: Big Bands of the 1950s (1950 – 1957)

Paul Gonzalvez with Duke Ellington at Newport 1956

Woody Herman disbanded the Second Herd in 1949 and, while Stan Kenton and Duke Ellington managed to keep a big band on the road through the 1950s, Count Basie disbanded his band at the start of the decade but assembled a new one in a few years. Generally this was a tough period for large ensembles. This, however, didn’t dampen the urge for musicians and composers to hear music in large forms and find ways to make it real. In this hour we will survey the 1950s contributions of Stan Kenton and his orchestra, Count Basie and his New Testament Band, Duke Ellington at Newport, Gil Evans studio band, Quincy Jones and the adventurous Dectet of Teddy Charles.

A major technological change occurred in 1948 – Columbia introduced the long-playing record. Jazz benefitted significantly, especially as its period a hit-making popular genre had passed. No longer were jazz records primarily released as singles, but increasingly whole collections of songs, or albums, were conceived and delivered. Going forward, much of the music we present should be seen as excerpts from collections, from LPs.

Stan Kenton & his Orchestra.
“True, there was a trademark Kenton sound—brassy, extroverted, pseudosymphonic, grandiloquent. But Kenton also delighted in undermining this very style by hiring writers and soloists with contrasting musical perspectives… Bill Russo’s writing for the band… was more firmly rooted in the Kenton/Rugolo tradition. His ‘Halls of Brass’ pushed Kenton’s horn obsession to an extreme in a virtuosic exercise that reportedly garnered begrudging admiration from symphony brass sections.” – Ted Gioia

Halls of Brass. Stan Kenton & His Orchestra
(Alfred “Chico” Alvarez, Buddy Childers, Maynard Ferguson, Don Paladino, Shorty Rogers-tp, Milt Bernhart, Harry Betts, Bob Fitzpatrick, Bill Russo-tb, Clyde Brown-btb, John Graas, Lloyd Otto-frh, Gene Englund-tu, Art Pepper-as/cl, Bud shank-as/fl, Bob Cooper-ts/ob/enh, Bart Caldarell-ts/bcl, Stan Kenton-p, Jim Cathcart, Earl Cornwell, Anthony Doria, Lew Elias, Jim Holmes, George Kast, Alex Law, Herbert Offner, Carl Ottobrino, Dave Schackne-vln, Stan Harris, Leonard Sclic, Sam Singer-vla, Gregory Bemko, Zachary Bock, Jack Wulfe-clo, Laurindo Almeida-g, Don Bagley-b, Shelly Manne-d, Carlos Vida-cga). From Stan Kenton Presents. 5/18/1950.
Composed by Bill Russo.

“No, Kenton’s music doesn’t sit comfortably amid the jazz tradition these days. It sounds like an artifact from a very hard-assed and rather pretentious planet. The second Basie big band really dominated the sound of American orchestral jazz; in the end, Americans will take jocularity, warmness, generosity, and shared cultural roots over Kenton’s exercises in anxiety and holding the audience at bay” – Ben Ratliffe

Count Basie and the New Testament Band.
Count Basie disbanded his big band in 1950. The band he formed two years later, known as the “New Testament” band was more an arrangers’ band than a free-wheeling soloists’ band. Ben Ratliff cites The Atomic Mr. Basie as “good proof of why the Basie New Testament band became the most influential large group in jazz history…”

“Although Basie stocked his bands of this period with outstanding young talent versed in the bebop idiom, the ethos of this latter-day unit shared many similarities with his various Kansas City and Swing Era ensembles. Basie, old or new, would swing his band to perfection—achieving the comfortable sense of forward motion that jazz musicians describe as ‘in the pocket.’ Basie’s unsurpassed instinct for the right tempo was never more inspired than on his hit recording of ‘Li’l Darlin’.’ Rather than playing this piece at the medium tempo that composer Neal Hefti envisioned, Basie slowed it down to a pace only slightly faster than a ballad but somehow maintaining the finger-snapping momentum of a groove tune. The result was magical.” – Ted Gioia

Li’l Darlin’. Count Basie Orchestra
(Wendell Culley, Snooky Young, Thad Jones, Joe Newman-tp, Henry Coker, Al Grey, Benny Powell-tb, Marshall Royal-cl/as, Frank Foster-ts, Frank Wess-ts/fl, Charlie Fowlkes-bs, Count Basie-p, Freddie Green-g, Eddie Jones-b, Sonny Payne-d). From The Atomic Mr. Basie. 10/1/1957.

Duke Ellington at Newport 1956.
“…[W]hile other bandleaders (Stan Kenton, Gil Evans) sought out exotic instruments to add color to their orchestrations, Ellington appeared content to remain within the confines of the traditional swing band. In this light, it comes as little surprise that the turning point for Ellington in the 1950s was spurred by his revival of a composition almost twenty years old: ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.’ Ellington’s raucous performance of this piece at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival electrified the audience… [I]t was tenorist Paul Gonsalves’s showboating twenty-seven-chorus solo, filled to the brim with blues clichés and occasional snatches of inspiration, that brought the crowd to its feet. Ellington’s career now had a second wind. Only a few months before Newport, interest in his band had sunk so low that Duke had resorted to playing background music for the Aquacades, a water show staged outside New York City. Better bookings were now coming his way. Ellington’s picture graced the cover of Time magazine. His band was again recording for a major label.” – Ted Gioia

Diminuendo In Blue And Crescendo In Blue. Duke Ellington Orchestra
(Cat Anderson, Willie Cook, Clark Terry, Ray Nance-tp, Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman-tb, John Sanders-vtb, Russell Procope-cl/as, Jimmy Hamilton-cl/ts, Johnny Hodges-as, Paul Gonzalves-ts, Harry Carney-cl/bs, Duke Ellington-p, Jimmy Woode-b, Sam Woodyard-d). From Ellington at Newport 1956. 7/7/1956.

Gil Evans Orchestra.
Unlike Kenton, Basie and Ellington, Gil Evans primarily assembled large ensembles around recording projects, such as his work through the 1950s with Miles Davis. He scope included several significant projects under his own name like the LPs New Bottle, Old Wine in 1958 and Out Of The Cool in 1960.
“Evans’s reinventions of classic jazz pieces stimulated a revival of interest in jazz history. Like Monk and Mingus, Evans did not subscribe to the idea that modernism had trumped all that preceded it… In 1958, Evans adopted classic jazz themes for an album, New Bottle, Old Wine, featuring alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. The instrumentation is pure Evans, featuring nine brasses (trumpets, trombones, bass trombone, French horn, and tuba). Other than Adderley, he uses only two woodwind players, and assigns them atypical jazz instruments: flute, piccolo, and bass clarinet.” – Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux

King Porter Stomp. Gil Evans Orchestra
(John Coles, Louis Mucci, Ernie Royal-tp, Joe Bennett, Jack Rehak, Tom Mitchell-tb, Julius Watkins-frh, Harvey Philips-tu, Cannonball Adderley-as, Jerry Sanfino-reeds, Gil Evans-p, Chuck Wayne-p, Paul Chambers-b, Art Blakey-d). From New Bottle, Old Wine. 4/9/1958. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)

Quincy Jones and his Orchestra.
“These are classic cuts. They leap out of the speakers with a freshness and alertness that banish the intervening years. Who couldn’t stir to the brasses, perfectly weighted on ‘Stockholm Sweetnin’’ (perhaps the quintessential Quincy track), or the gospelly edge of ‘Sermonette’. The charts were by Jimmy Giuffre, Lennie Niehaus and Herb Geller, top-of-the-range work from the hottest talents of the moment.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Stockholm Sweetnin’. Quincy Jones and his Orchestra
(Art Farmer, Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Joe Wilder-tp, Jimmy Cleveland, Urbie Green, Frank Rehak-tb, Phil Woods-as, Jerome Richardson-fl/ts, Bunny Bardach, Lucky Thompson-ts, Jack Nimitz-bs, Hank Jones-p, Paul Chambers-b, Charlie Persip-d). From This Is How I Feel About Jazz. 9/29/1956.

Teddy Charles Tentet
Vibraphonist Teddy Charles, a composer and arranges of note, chose a large ensemble of ten players as a vehicle for expression in the 1950s. Smaller than big bands, the larger number of voices than the typical quintet or sextet of the era allowed for complex and rich arrangements.

“[Teddy] Charles is usually respected as a harbinger of Ornette Coleman’s free music; his early records aim for an independence of bebop structure which still sounds remarkably fresh… It’s full of pungent music from various hands. The record is a showcase for some of the sharpest arranging minds of the day: Giuffre…, Brookmeyer, Waldron, Evans and especially George Russell… Charles’s own ‘The Emperor’ and a transfigured ‘Nature Boy’ stand as tall as the rest. It all swings too hard to be dismissed as longhair music, but it was certainly out of the ordinary during the hard-bop/cool era.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Nature Boy. Teddy Charles Tentet
(Art Farmer-tp, Don Butterfield-tu, Gigi Gryce-as, J.R. Monterose-ts, George Barrow-bs, Teddy Charles-vib, Mal Waldron-p, Jimmy Raney-g, Teddy Kotick-b, Joe Harris-d). From The Teddy Charles Tentet. 1/6/1956.
Lydian M-1. Teddy Charles Tentet
(Art Farmer-tp, Don Butterfield-tu, Gigi Gryce-as, J.R. Monterose-ts, Sol Schlinger-bs, Teddy Charles-vib, Mal Waldron-p, Jimmy Raney-g, Teddy Kotick-b, Joe Harris-d). From The Teddy Charles Tentet.  1/17/1956.

Gary Giddins wrote that “The radical who doesn’t continue to fan the flames of revolt will soon be consigned to the limbo of “living legend.” This was the potential fate of the bebop pioneers during the 1950s, yet the prescient Coleman Hawkins, and the pioneers – Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Max Roach all contributed compelling music in that decade.  We will feature that music in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins. W.W. Norton 933796.
Stan Kenton Presents (The Innovations Orchestra). Capitol P248.
Count Basie – The Complete Atomic Mr. Basie. Roulette LP 52003.
Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport 1956. Columbia CS 8648.
Quincy Jones – This is How I Feel About Jazz. ABC-Paramount ABC 149.
Teddy Charles – The Teddy Charles Tentet. Atlantic LP 1229.

Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 3. Jazz Composition in the 1950s.
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Chapter 6. Modern Jazz
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Stan Kenton – The Innovations Orchestra.
Count Basie – The Complete Atomic Mr. Basie.
Duke Ellington – Ellington at Newport 1956.
Quincy Jones – This is How I Feel About Jazz.
Teddy Charles – The Teddy Charles Tentet.
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 49. Count Basie, The Complete Atomic Mr. Basie (1957 – 1958)

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Become a Sponsor

Underwriting WTJU is a way to broadly share information about your business. It’s also a way for your business or organization to gain community-wide recognition for your support of WTJU’s community mission.

Underwrite a Program


Your gift nourishes our community and helps bring people together through music.

Underwrite a Program