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Mike Horsfall: Blog

Art Abrams Swing Machine's Tribute to the Music of Stan Kenton

Posted on May 17, 2013 with 0 comments

In Feb. 2013, I had the pleasure of playing piano in the Art Abrams Swing Machine big band in a tribute to the music of the late, great band leader, Stan Kenton.  We covered music primarily from his Artistry In Rhythm period.  We also featured Portland's world-class vocalist, Rebecca Kilgore, on several tunes, harking back to the recordings Stan made with Julie London. 


Art Abrams Swing Machine

Art's research was thorough, our rehearsals were serious, and the end result was a concert we were very proud of.  Hear is a review of the sold-out concert:


"Stan Kenton passed from the scene nearly 34 years ago, but Art Abrams and the Swing Machine Big Band brought him back to life in Portland.   To add to the evening, Rebecca Kilgore provided a delightful rendition of the vocals.  The entire program refreshed the memories of more than 500 enthusiastic fans that gathered in the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

Before his death, Kenton declared he did not want a “ghost band” to go on tour doing his music because, in part, he didn’t think anyone could maintain the standards he had set.  But he was wrong.  Art Abrams’ love of the music and the superb talents of his 17 musicians proved that the Kenton sounds could live again.  The labor of love was clear in every one of the tunes we heard.

I grew up following the Kenton band, going to the concerts and listening again and again to all the old LPs.  These are complicated charts, way ahead of other jazz composers.  My ear was tuned to how well the Abrams band and Rebecca Kilgore could capture the real spirit of the music. During the entire 90 minutes, there were hundreds of us in the audience who also listened critically to hear if the Abrams’ band could unleash the excitement they were expecting.   No one was disappointed.

Every section of the Abrams band is world-class.  Their improvised solos were both daring and well-grounded.  When the band joined into the familiar themes, one could feel the emotion wash over the audience.  Together with the vocals, it was like taking a bath in music we all loved.

People all around me were moving as they listened.  Sometimes their shoulders would lurch forward.  Other times their heads were bowed by an especially sensitive portion of a familiar tune.  The passion up on the stage was matched throughout the audience.  There was a common experience that is seldom felt in a concert hall.
Kenton fans can be brought to tears by some of the passages that that he has created.  His orchestra (and the Abrams band) could reach inside of heads of jazz fans.  It may sound unusual, but in many arrangements there are musical explosions that can unleash a cleansing reaction for the listener. I’m certain that every Kenton and Abrams fan knows what I mean. Even though there were 500 other people present, each of us could experience something unique within ourselves.  It was quite a night.

I know that a review is supposed to include some critical comments.  But how do you fault a perfect evening.  Perhaps my only reservation is that it is over.  The music will now linger in my memory along with all the other Kenton sounds.

Someone once said that “Jazz is how God talks to our souls.”  If that’s the case, this concert certainly was a spiritual experience. If Stan Kenton would have been in the audience he would have been moved by his own music."

Bill Meulemans"