For the last decade, the Toledo Jazz Orchestra has ended its concert season with a tribute to big band legend Stan Kenton. Every year, the show draws scores of fans who can't get enough Kenton.
"There are still a lot of Kenton aficionados wandering around and what this does is, it brings these people out," said Jerry McKenzie, a former Kenton drummer who returns as a featured artist with the TJO in concert tomorrow night.
McKenzie last appeared with the TJO in 2001 for a tribute to Kenton's "Cuban Fire" recordings. This time he'll provide the rhythmic power as the jazz group performs selections from Kenton's Grammy-winning version of West Side Story.
"The music is so exciting and there's all that brass sound coming at you. People who are Kenton fans just love it."
McKenzie played with the innovative bandleader in 1958-62 and again in 1972.
Kenton, who died in 1979 at age 67, was known as a musical iconoclast who created rhythmically complex, hard-charging compositions. He also was known for being a sharp talent scout, hiring such future stars as Art Pepper, Kai Winding, Maynard Ferguson, and Shelly Manne.
Tomorrow night, the Toledo Jazz Orchestra will beef up its lineup by adding a tuba and four French horns, jumping from the normal 18 to 23 instruments.
McKenzie, 65, who lives in suburban Detroit, said he was touring with the Glenn Miller Orchestra when he went to the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas to see Kenton's band perform in 1958. Miller's music was melodic and extremely popular, but the style was a bit sedate for an energetic drummer like McKenzie.
"We were playing 'In the Mood' and all the Glenn Miller stuff and it was time for me to get off the band," he said.
McKenzie had met Kenton previously and decided to stop by the Tropicana to say hello and to hear the band play.
"Stan said, 'I'm auditioning drummers. Come up and play the next set,'●" McKenzie recalled. "Stan Kenton's band is a whole different dimension than the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I'd been playing with a lot of brushes, not much with sticks. I went up and I want to tell you something, my friend, when I left that bandstand I was wringing wet."
McKenzie got the job and played drums on two of Kenton's Grammy-winning albums, a rendition of "West Side Story" and "Adventures in Jazz."
He said the music performed by Kenton's Artistry in Rhythm Orchestra was so propulsive that he often went through 15 to 20 pairs of drumsticks per concert, leaving a pile of splintered wood behind every night.
The Toledo Jazz Orchestra will play its final concert of the 2003-04 Harold Jaffe Concert Series at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Franciscan Theatre and Conference Center of Lourdes College, 6832 Convent Blvd., Sylvania. Tickets are $24, or $5 for students, from the box office, 419-824-3999.
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