What a great and historic evening of jazz! Performing the music of Stan Kenton is a thrill for any big
band player, but this concert was extra special. Bringing together 4 decades of past Kenton
performers, including one of the greatest drummers in the world today, is an occasion worth
celebrating. The live 2 disc recording of this event proves it was worth all of the work. And what
better place to perform and record than the historic Music Hall Center For The Performing Arts in
Peter Erskine is one of the greatest drummers and musicians in history, and is perhaps the busiest
drummer and educator in the world. He is an amazing player with almost unlimited drive and energy.
That spirit is captured magnificently on these discs. Peter agreed to come to Detroit and perform
music he originally played and recorded with the Stan Kenton Orchestra starting at the age of 17.
We played some of that music, plus material that was written for the band after he left the group,
and several arrangements written for other bands that showcase his versatility as a big band
drummer and soloist. He also agreed to allow the concert to be recorded in order to preserve
this moment of living jazz history for generations to come. I can never thank Peter enough for his
unparalleled musicianship, his amazing professionalism and for the gift of his friendship.
In addition, lead trumpeter John Harner reunites with Peter for their first recording since their
days in the Kenton band. John is a remarkable lead trumpeter with an historic career, including
stints in Los Angeles and as lead trumpeter at most of the legendary venues in Las Vegas.
This recording features John’s knowledge and command of the Kenton sound, and revisits his
classic solo on “Send In The Clowns” from the Kenton ‘76 album.
Also featured was former Kenton drummer Jerry McKenzie, who played with Kenton from
1959 to 1962 and again in 1972. Jerry was the drummer on the Grammy winning Stan Kenton
records in back to back years for “West Side Story” and “Adventures In Jazz”. The concert
also showcased Bob Lymparis. Bob was a trumpeter with the Kenton band from 1945 to 1948.
He played on the original recording of his roommate Ray Wetzel’s famous composition
“Intermission Riff”, and joined us on this performance for both that tune and “Malaguena”.
This concert would not have been complete without Detroit trumpet legend Johnny Trudell. Johnny was
the trumpet sound of Motown, and has been a renowned big band leader in Detroit for over 50 years.
When I joined Johnny’s band in 1980, he had 4 former Kenton Band players playing full time with the
band - Dick Shearer, Carl Raetz, Mike Suter and Marvin “Doc” Holladay. Johnny came down front to
play the solo on “Pennies From Heaven”, the great Lennie Niehaus arrangement. The original Kenton
recording featured Conte Candoli on the solo making this the perfect vehicle for Johnny’s classic style
and sound. He also came back out to join the band on “Malaguena”.
This was a long awaited night for me. I studied at Wayne State University when Dick Shearer was the
original band director of the Jazz Studies program. Dick brought a strong Kenton tradition and
professionalism to the band. Dick was my teacher and my friend and I miss him a lot. Another
member of the band at that time was Tom Lacy, a trombonist from the Kenton band who also went to
school at Towson State where Hank Levy ran the band. Russ Miller played in that same Wayne State
ensemble,and I am elated to have included his arrangement of the Kenton hit “All Or Nothing At All”,
a song recorded with the Kenton band featuring one of Stan’s wives, Ann Richards. This thoughtful
arrangement features Rob Smith, the former trumpet soloist with Woody Herman’s band. An
additional member of the ensemble at Wayne State was Mark Berger. It was special for me to feature
Mark on Hank Levy’s “A Smith Named Greg”, a song he played with the Wayne band over 30 years ago.
I will end here with a quick note about “Happy Birthday”. A week before the concert, a friend asked
if I could wish his wife a happy birthday from the stage during the concert, which I readily agreed to do.
Later, I reflected on the Kenton “Birthday In Britain” record, and thought it would be a great surprise to
not only extend the birthday greeting, but to try and find the Bill Holman arrangement the band played
on the original recording in 1973. John Harner found and brought the arrangement to Detroit and the
band performed it for her that night. Peter had not played that particular chart since he played it for
Stand Kenton that special night 40 years ago! This was the icing on the cake for both the birthday
and the concert. We hope you enjoy our musical tribute to one of the greatest bandleaders of all
time, Stan Kenton.