Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stan Kenton's West Side Story (1961)


The album cover reads: "from the creative world of Stan Kenton comes...Kenton's West Side Story.  Driving, exciting instrumental version of Leonard Bernstein's fabulous score!"  Here is one of those rare occasions when the recording actually lives up to the hype.

Nothing beats the original, but this comes close.  After a very successful big band career in the '40s and '50s, pianist Stan Kenton took the bold step of adding a new instrument to the standard 18 piece big band instrumentation.  From the liner notes:
The incorporation (in a 4-man section) of this unusual horn called a mellophonium - developed by the Conn Instrument Company at Stan's request - added an alto voice with a French horn-like quality to the brass section, and was intended to bridge the gap between the low-to-middle range of the trombones and the often stratospherically-directed trumpets.
This mellophonium came to be known as simply a mellophone and became popular in marching bands in the '60s-'80s as a replacement for traditional French horns (whose backward-facing bells don't readily lend themselves to marching band).  Take this augmented big band (now at 22 members), add in-your-face arrangements by Johnny Richards, and you've got versions of classic show tunes that are like nothing you've heard before - part big band, part marching band. I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like to hear this group live; they seem loud on this recording no matter where I place the volume knob.

In 1962, this album won the award for Best Jazz Performance - Large Group (Instrumental) at the 4th annual Grammy Awards.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #16

Tracks:  All 10 tracks are fantastic.  My favorite arrangements are of Something's Coming, Maria, I Feel Pretty, Officer Krupke, and Somewhere.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD:  As a 17 year old wannabe musician, my high school band director turned me on to this recording and I was hooked immediately.  For a couple of years, my mind raced with possibilities of arranging and performing music just like this (the term 'derivative' hadn't yet entered my vocabulary).  I almost had the opportunity to do some college marching band arrangements of West Side Story when I was about 21.  My plan, of course, was to "borrow" some of the ideas from this album.  I had all the arranging complete in my head and was ready to put pencil to paper when the band director nonchalantly told me he was getting a faculty member to do the arranging.  I suspect this was his plan all along and he was just getting back at me for putting a toilet on his front yard late one night.  It was all good college fun until he threw his back out trying to remove said toilet. Oops. His back eventually recovered, but our relationship obviously never did.  I listened to a dubbed cassette of this album throughout college then lost touch with the work until it was released on CD in the mid-'90s.

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