Stan Kenton, 67, the pianist and bandleader whose brassy brand of jazz, often marked by classical overtones, made him a major figure during and after the Big Band era, died Saturday in a Hollywood, Calif., hospital.
We was admitted to the hospital Aug. 17 after suffering a stroke. According to an associate, he had never fully recovered from a skull fracture two years ago which required brain surgery.
Known for an armswinging conducting style that became a personal trademark, the 6-foot 4-inch Mr. Kenton was one of a handful of 1940s bandleaders whose orchestras have continued to be active, touring as many as 50 weeks a year.
The best known jazzmen of several generations could be found in the Kenton orchestra, playing their leader's highly personal brand of music, which won Mr. Kenton a faithful army of fans.
Among the orchestra's best-known numbers were its theme, "Artistry in Rhythm," "Eager Beaver," "Intermission Riff," "Peanut Vendor," and in recent years a series of ballad treatments of "Here's That Rainy Day," "My Funny Vanentine" and "Send in the Clowns." All these were marked by sudden shifts in dynamics.
One of Mr. Kenton's innovations -- the fostering and encouragement of jazz in school music programs -- helped make it possible for Mr. Kenton's orchestra and those of others to continue to tour.
He was one of the founders of the summer jazz camps at which students could study with professional jazz musicians and sharpen their playing and arranging skills.
Stanley Newcombe Kenton was born in Wichita, Kan., Feb. 19, 1912, and moved to California with his family as a youngster. His mother's early attempts to interest him in piano lessons failed but he took up the instrument as a teen-ager when he became interested in jazz.
He became a professional musician at 18 and played with a succession of bands in the 1930s, attracting some attention as pianist with Everett Hoagland.
In 1940 Mr. Kenton was determined to start his own band and told of holing up in a rented mountain cabin with his first wife, Violet, to write arrangements for the group.
The orchestra caught the public's attention in 1941, playing at the Rendezvous Ballroom at Balboa, Calif. His early recordings also were successful and the Stan Kenton Orchestra came east for the first time in 1942.
Although Mr. Kenton built a loyal audience faithful to his music, critical opinion was divided.
Some called the massive brass sounds and deliberately slow temps "pompous" and lambasted the leader for some of his musical experiments. These included touring with a large string section (Innovations in Jazz) and recording Wagner operatic works.
Another of Mr. Kenton's projects was a Los Angeles-based concert ensemble, the Neophonic Orchestra that sought to combine jazz and classical influences in extended compositions.
Among the famous jazz names who played with him were drummer Shelly Manne, bassist Eddie Safranski, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, saxphonists Zoot Sims, Art Pepper, Lennie Niehaus, Vido Musso and Bud Shank, and trombonists Milt Bernhardt, Dick Shearer and Frank Rosolino and guitarist Laurindo Almeida.
Vocalists June Christy, Anita O'Day, Chris Conner, and Ann Richards, whome the leader married, came to prominence with the orchestra.
Arranger Peter Rugolo was credited with helping develop the orchestra's distinctive sound while in later editions of the band, the works of Johnny Richards, Baltimorean Hank Levy, Alan Yankee and Dave Barduhn were featured.
At one time the Kenton Orchestra featured the mellophonium, an instrumental cross between a French horn and trumpet, that the leader designed.It produced a blurry brass sound that was featured on ballads.
Long interested in encouraging young musicians, Mr. Kenton conceived a format of combining clinics for the student players with regular concert appearances by the orchestra.In the later years of the Kenton Orchestra, fully half of its playing dates were in schools as the nightclubs and ballrooms either disappeared or took up rock music or disco sounds.
The Kenton Orchestra also spent much of its summer seasons as a jazz orchestra in residence on campuses here and in Canada.
According to Mr. Kenton's personal manager, Audrey Coke, the bandleader had never completely overcome the effects of a head injury two years ago, although he was out on the one-nighter road within a year of the accident.
His recovery was considered remarkable since, as he told interviewers after the episode, "I didn't even know my name, let alone that I was a pianist and a bandleader."
While the bandleader enjoyed both musical and commercial success, buying his record masters from Capitol Records and issuing his own extensive catalogue, his personal life was less happy.
Associated described his as "deeply distressed" by the charges of attempted murder brought against his son, Lance, 21. The son is accused in the case of a Los Angeles lawyer bitten by a rattlesnake placed in his mailbox. The lawyer had been involved in legal battles with the Synanon organization of which young Kenton was a member.
Mr. Kenton's three marriages ended in divorce. He had a daughter, Leslie, by his first wife, and two children, Lance, and daughter Dana, by his second wife singer Ann Richards.