Stan Kenton & Tito Rodriguez: Anatomy of an Orchestra

In 1952, Stan Kenton recorded a piece called “Prologue: This is An Orchestra.” In the 10 minute work he introduces all the members of his jazz orchestra: the drummer, bassist, saxophonists, trumpet player, trombone, and bass trombone player. In the bass trombone part he tells George Roberts to go lower, to the bottom of the instrument’s capability, which he does. Kenton also talks about being the old man his musicians go to for encouragement, support, advice, and…money. The work highlights all the great musicians who were living in L.A. at the time, including a young Maynard Ferguson, tenor sax man Richie Kamuca, bassist Don Bagley, and many others who are not with us anymore. The work was written and arranged by Bill Russo. It is as good a portrait of a big band as any I know of.

Here are the members of Kenton’s band in “Prologue:  This is An Orchestra” from the album New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm:

Sixteen years later mambo king Tito Rodriguez repeated this feat with a big band on his album Big Band Latino, called “Este es Mi Orquesta,” no doubt inspired by the Kenton work. The musicians on the date were the creme de la creme of the Latin music world, including Cuba’s super bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Cuban pianist Rene Hernandez, New York City’s Bobby Porcelli on alto sax, Mario Rivera on baritone sax, Puerto Rican timbalero Miguel Collozo, Puerto Rican saxophonist Ray Santos,  Mexican trumpeter David Gonzalez, Panamanian trumpet virtuoso Victor Paz, and others. Unfortunately I couldn’t find complete personnel credits in the CD booklet of Big Band Latino, which is a shame. I listened again to hear him name these great players.

Thanks to Guido Herrera-Yance, host on KXLU’s long-running Latin radio program Alma del Barrio (Saturday & Sundays, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.), I have the complete personnel of Tito’s big band:

What I love about Tito’s big band album is how he explains tropical Latin music–that it’s both written, arranged, tightly organized, but also has room for plenty of improvisation. It’s the genius of jazz music, both rigorous and free, a democratic outfit where creative expression is valued.

On both tracks, Kenton and Tito introduce the musicians, who then take their solos to showcase their art. Rodriguez, like Kenton, jokes about being the old man with the money to pay the band. Kenton is very straightforward in his presentation, whereas Rodriguez speaks with a softer, rounded voice as he presents his men. Don’t forget that Tito was one of tropical Latin music’s greatest singers.

You learn something from listening to these two recordings–the melding of many instruments into a galvanized whole, the mutual cooperation of musicians in a big band, and of course the brilliance of the improvising soloists.

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Rhythm Planet Playlist for 8/12/16:

  1. Stan Kenton / “Prologue: This Is An Orchestra” / New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm / Capitol Records
  2. Tito Rodriguez / “Esta Es Mi Orquesta” / Big Band Latino / Palladium/Fania


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Tom Schnabel