The Stan Kenton Legacy Orchestra (“SKLO”) will make its first and only Berkshires appearance this year on Sunday, April 15, at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The 7pm concert will be a big band double-header, with the Monument Mountain Jazz Band opening for the Kenton Legacy band.
Kenton was one of the last of the real jazz “road bands,” touring for more than 37 years until the late 1970s. The band is directed by Mike Vax, who was the lead trumpeter with Kenton during the band’s later years.
Fresher than ever, big-band music in the style of Stan Kenton will be front-and-center at this one-time concert. The band performs some of the well-known music from the Kenton library, featuring both the original arrangements as well as modern adaptations. Additionally, they present new material written in the Kenton style, much of it composed by members of the band. The writing stable includes Kenton alumni Lennie Niehaus
, Dale DeVoe
, Joel Kaye
, and Kim Richmond
, among others.
Consisting of alumni from Kenton’s 1956–1978 bands as well as some fine younger players, the SKLO tours sections of the United States every year. This is their first-ever appearance in western Massachusetts.
Leader Mike Vax
has led a big band off and on since his days at College of the Pacific over 50 years ago. His credits include being first trumpet, soloist and road manager of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, as well as being co-leader while Kenton was recovering from surgery. Vax also played lead trumpet in Clark Terry’s Big Bad Band; led the Dukes of Dixieland in New Orleans; and produced and/or served as music director for more 50 jazz festivals. He has performed and presented workshops for more than 3,000 high schools, colleges and universities all over the world.
Sometimes referred to as “the Van Halen of big bands,” Kenton’s style ranged from the romantic to the raucous, the beautiful to the bold. Never one to stand still, his style evolved throughout his 37-year career. His music lives on through the SKLO. In one review of a performance, All About Jazz wrote that the band is “Sharp and smokin' from the outset, and there's never a letdown.”
Following a model pioneered by Kenton, many of the SKLO performances are in schools, with free afternoon workshops, such as the April 15 event in Great Barrington. The band workshop begins at 3pm, and is open to all students at no charge.
Under the direction of Michael Gilllespie, the Monument Mountain Jazz Band has performed in Virginia, Washington D.C., Toronto, New York City, The Massachusetts State House in Boston, The Mahaiwe Center for the Performing Arts in Great Barrington, and the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield. Previous concerts have featured vocalist Wanda Houston, soprano Maureen O’Flynn, singer Livingston Taylor and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. MMRHS jazz band students are regularly accepted into the Western Massachusetts and All State jazz honor bands. Overall, the band is made up of 31 students grades 8-12.
Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 on the day of the event. Student tickets are $10.
Support for program has come from Greylock Federal Credit Union, Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, School Center, Inc., The Berkshire Eagle, the Berkshire Plaza Hotel, and Lisa Loring. The program is also supported in by grants from the Stockbridge Cultural Council, the West Stockbridge Cultural Council, and the Great Barrington Cultural Council, local agencies which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.