UK Jazz Scene by Al Merritt

Stanley Newcomb Kenton (1911­79) would have enjoyed the celebration of his music and musicians in the heart of Surrey organized by the indefatigable Murray Patterson and Arnie Chadwick.

Friday commenced with a panel designed to introduce the guests to the members of the audience. TV celebrity Bob Holness presented former Kenton Stars Charlie Mariano, Bill Perkins, Buddy Childers, Conte Candoli, Milt Bernhart, Jiggs Whigham, Eddie Bert, Jerry McKenzie, and special guest Vic Lewis, who has long been regarded as Britain's own Stan Kenton, and gave the audience the opportunity to ask interesting questions. A similar panel occurred on the Saturday with Jazz writer and broadcaster Steve Voce presenting Charlie, Bill, Jiggs, Eddie, and Jerry, plus Rob Pronk as a special guest.

There were presentations on various Kenton subjects, such as "The Mellophonium Band," "June Christy," "Kenton's Altos," a forthcoming book by Steven Harris entitled The Kenton Kronicles, as well as two sessions of rare film footage of different Kenton bands.

Three midday concerts were arranged to feature Conte Candoli with Buddy Childers (backed by John Fearce, Leon Clayton and Martin Drew), Charlie Mariano (with the same rhythm section), and Tommy Whittle (with Barbara Jay backed by Dave Newton, Dave Green, and Martin Drew). Each of these concerts gave the American guests a good opportunity to show their magnificent talents whilst enjoying the first-class rhythm sections. Tommy Whittle's appearance was justified not only by his world-class ability but also by his having appeared with the Stan Kenton Orchestra back in 1956.

Two discussion programs took place, one with Bob Holness talking to Milt Bernhart and the other with Milt giving a discourse on the Kenton singers. Although Milt was unable to treat us to his phenomenal trombone playing, he more than made up for it with his hilarious conversations which he delivered in a Groucho Marx style. He could start a new career as a stand-up comedian.

The Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra with Conte and Buddy as featured guests appeared at the conclusion to Friday's program. The Saturday highlight concert was given by the All-Star Rendezvous Orchestra (the American guests supplemented by members of the BBC Radio Big Band) playing arrangements from the 1950s and concluding with three pieces from Kenton's Cuban Fire suite.

On Sunday the Aylesbury Music Centre Big Band gave a concert at 10 a.m., and later that afternoon the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra followed with a spellbinding program. Even later that evening the star musicians split into varying quintets with the superb backing of Dave Newton, Dave Green, and Martin Drew. On Monday afternoon the final gala concert featured the BBC Radio Big Band with the star guests in a program of Kenton favorites introduced by Sheila Tracy and Milt Bernhart.

Throughout the weekend the musical standard remained high with even the the youth orchestras surprising the seasoned stars. Drummer David Wilkes, tenorist Martin Williams, and the exuberant trumpet section scored with the Midland Band: Jules Buckley on fluegelhorn with the Aylesbury Band and drummer Guy Walsh, trumpeter Phil Nicholas, and trombonist Alistair White (winner of the Young Jazz Musician of the Year 1998 award) ranking the honors for the Wigan Band.

All the Kentonites naturally played to the highest artistic standard, but special mention should be made of the ailing Bill Perkins, who blew up a storm in the final concert; Buddy Childers, who was a model of consistency throughout; and Conte Candoli, whose amazingly stylish playing was an absolute gas, with both open and muted trumpets. Drummer Jerry McKenzie was powerful and explicit, showing the way on "Reuben's Blues" (he was the drummer on the original LP Adventures in Blues), and he was totally accurate on Bill Holman's "Stompin' at the Savoy," which preceded the final number, Stan the Man's signature tune, "Artistry in Rhythm."

There were no disappointed faces in the crowdthey were all getting ready to book for the next festival two years from now in the year 2000.

Congratulations to Murray and Arnie on a job well done.

by Al Merritt

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