“Southern Scandal” Stan Kenton (1945) /Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra (1970)

“Southern Scandal”

Composed and arranged by Stan Kenton.

Recorded by Stan Kenton and His Orchestra for Capitol on May 4, 1945 in Chicago.

Stan Kenton, piano, directing: Buddy Childers, John Carroll, Mel Green, Gene Roland and John Anderson, trumpets; Fred Zito, Milt Kabak, Marshall Ocker, tenor trombones; Bartolomeo “Bart” Varsalona, bass trombone; Bob Lively and Enrico “Boots” Musulli, alto saxophones; Joe Megro and Dave Madden, tenor saxophones; Bob “Jaggers” Gioga, baritone saxophone; Bob Ahern, guitar; Max Wayne, bass; Bob Varney, drums.

The story:

The subconscious operation of the minds of jazz musicians has always fascinated me. How the musical and indeed the everyday sounds they hear affects the music they themselves produce is something that is not clearly understood. A classic example of this is how the sounds made by steam locomotive trains inspired Duke Ellington to create many musical compositions. (“Daybreak Express” and “Happy-Go-Lucky Local” are but two examples.) But however that process works, it has been the basis of a lot of musical creativity.

Another aspect of the creative process that goes on in the minds of jazz musicians is the catholicity of their musical outlook. In other words, almost everything is grist for their creative mills. Critics and jazz historians were aghast when Louis Armstrong expressed admiration for the music of Guy Lombardo’s very stylized and un-hip dance band. The eccentric musical searcher Raymond Scott found inspiration in the sounds made by an electric generation powerhouse. Jazz titan Coleman Hawkins spent much of his non-work time listening to classical music and opera. As someone who played with the great saxophonist Benny Carter once remarked about his uncanny ability to instantaneously react to the sounds he heard:  “…he has ears like a vacuum cleaner.” Perhaps as good an explanation for this as any can be found in the inane lyric to that deathless novelty song from the early swing era, “The Music Goes Round and Round.” The inspiration comes from wherever, gets into the jazz musician’s mind, goes round and round, …and comes out of his/her instrument, or pen.

I have briefly discussed in another post here at swingandbeyond.com the great role composer Max Steiner (shown at left in 1942) played in the development of how music was used in Hollywood films.(1) Steiner’s music was everywhere in the Hollywood films made in the 1930s and 1940s. He was so busy writing music for films that he barely slept. From the standpoint of career advancement, Steiner’s work on the 1939 epic film Gone With the Wind was immense. If Steiner was busy before GTWW, he was crazy busy during the time he composed the massive amount of music that was eventually used in that film. Steiner was given only three months to complete that score. (He composed another twelve!! film scores in 1939, more than he would in any other year of his career.) Because the producer of GWTW, David O. Selznick, was concerned that Steiner wouldn’t have enough time to finish the score, he had another Hollywood film composer, Franz Waxman, write an additional score if Steiner didn’t finish. But Steiner finished. To meet the deadline, he sometimes worked for twenty hours straight, assisted by doctor-administered Benzedrine to stay awake.(2) The doctor who did this was undoubtedly Selznick’s own physician. Selznick was a notorious Benzedrine abuser. Hooray for Hollywood!

The music:

Like many musicians during the swing era, Stan Kenton enjoyed going to the movies. At some point in the early 1940s, he saw Gone With the Wind. The music of Max Steiner in that film washed over him like large waves crashing on a beach. Soon thereafter, Kenton found himself writing various minimalist reductions and melodic paraphrases of “Tara’s Theme” from GTWW. Eventually, he made an arrangement of them for his band, and called it, most appropriately, “Southern Scandal.”

After a bright ensemble fanfare, Kenton at the piano introduces a minimal abstraction of the “Tara Theme,” cleverly juxtaposed with notes from Max Wayne’s bass. This musical conversation proceeds for sixteen bars. There follows, as a bridge, a typically Kentonian (that is muscular) exchange between the various sections of the orchestra – reeds, trombones and trumpets, with Buddy Childers adding some scintillating high notes and then an exciting trumpet screech atop the ensemble. Stanley and bassist Wayne return for eight more bars of instrumental dialogue to end the first chorus.

The second chorus starts with a brass fanfare which leads into a robust improvised trombone solo (16 bars) played by Freddie Zito against churning saxophones, during which the “Tara Theme” is initially quite distinct, then gradually becomes more abstract. This solo is followed by tenor saxophonist (probably Joe Megro) and alto saxophonist Boots Musulli exchanging a singing snippet of melody. Then the band plays a bit of call and response with the sonorous saxophones being answered by the bold trombones to end chorus two.

The third chorus encompasses brilliant, dynamically intense ensemble riffing, building to a climax for 16 bars. A contrasting eight bars follow, provided by bassist Wayne improvising a bit against provocative piano chords. The finale comes with the mightily riffing brass and reeds being complemented by drummer Bob Varney providing an exciting mix of drumbeats and cymbal crashes. The two bass drum thuds at the very end were something swing era drummers in the 1940s sometimes added to performances of an up-tempo romp as a hip and humorous tag ending.

Trombonist Fred Zito, shown at right, appeared to be a very serious young man. Although he, like all other swing era musicians, was serious about his music, he was anything but serious as a person. In the link at the bottom of this post you can see the Kenton band in action a few months after they made the Capitol recording of “Southern Scandal.” Zito and trumpeter Buddy Childers ham it up (to the amusement of their bandmates) in front of the cameras as they mime playing the solos they had pre-recorded for the film.

“Southern Scandal”

Composed and arranged by Stan Kenton; the original score was used.

Recorded by Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra for Capitol on September 9, 1970 in Hollywood.

Billy May directing: John Audino, first trumpet; John M. Best, Clarence F. “Shorty” Sherock, Uan Rasey, Austin D. “Bud” Brisbois, trumpets; Francis “Joe” Howard, first trombone; Lloyd Ulyate, Dick Noel and Dick Nash, trombones; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, first alto saxophone; Les Robinson and Abe Most, alto saxophones; Justin Gordon and Plas Johnson, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Ray Sherman, piano; Jack Marshall, guitar; Roland E. “Rolly” Bundock, bass; Nick Fatool, drums.

The story continues:

I have been fortunate to have spoken with a number of musicians who started their careers during the swing era, and were able to continue working successfully in the music business for many years after the swing era. One such musician was the great trumpeter John Best. Best came to national attention as the jazz and first trumpeter in Artie Shaw’s first great band, then he went on to continuing high-profile work with Glenn Miller’s civilian band. During World War II, Best joined Conrad Gozzo, Frank Beach and Max Kaminsky to form the potent trumpet section of Artie Shaw’s Navy band. Immediately after the War, Best worked with Benny Goodman before settling in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. Best’s sterling musicianship and utter professionalism made him an always welcome addition to any trumpet section. He also had a wonderful sense of humor, which peeked out often in his conversations. (John Best – shown above right.)

One of the conductors who kept John Best very busy doing studio work from the 1950s through the 1970s was Billy May. May and Best met in Glenn Miller’s band in 1940, and remained friends for the next sixty years. Billy May was a very capable trumpeter himself, and a solid jazz soloist in both the Charlie Barnet and Glenn Miller bands. May understood just about everything about trumpet technique, and the subtle psychology that sometimes must be employed when directing trumpeters in the performance of a demanding piece of music. John Best told me about this once when we were discussing his work with May on the massive Swing Era series of recordings in 1970-72. “Billy passed out the music for one of those Stan Kenton things, I think it was ‘Southern Scandal,’ that had some very challenging trumpet parts in it. We looked it over for a minute then Billy looked at the guys in the trumpet section deadpan and said drily: ‘do you guys have your jock straps on’? We fell out laughing, and then started to rehearse it. After a couple of run throughs, we tried a take. Much to our surprise everything went perfectly on the first take. The play-back sounded great. When the play-back was finished, Billy again looked at the trumpet section and said, ‘I guess you didn’t need your jock straps after all.’ And then said to the entire band … ‘Great job everybody!’  We congratulated ourselves for a moment, and then went on to the next tune feeling pretty good.'” (Above left: conductor and psychologist Billy May.)

The music:

The performance of “Southern Scandal” John Best referred to is one where the spirit of the Kenton original is not only captured, it is enhanced. Specifically, this performance swings more than the Kenton original. (Stanley’s music, intentionally, always had an ambiguous relationship with swing.) The piano parts are played by Ray Sherman; the bass parts, with gusto, by Rolly Bundock. The high-register trumpet was handled with skill by Bud Brisbois (shown at left). The trombone solo, performed brilliantly by Dick Nash (shown at right), shows that he could handle a raucous romp every bit as effectively as the super-smooth ballad solos for which he was renowned. Drummer Nick Fatool is heard in the exciting finale. First trumpeter John Audino commands the brass throughout this performance.

Bassist Rolly Bundock not only plays the solo parts beautifully, he also plays with strong swing throughout the entire performance. (Below right: Rolly Bundock and Billy May at a Swing Era recording session.)

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Here is a link to some film music composed by Max Steiner: https://swingandbeyond.com/2022/08/05/theme-from-a-summer-place-1960-percy-faith/

(2) This information comes from the Wikipedia post on Max Steiner.

Here are other links to information about Max Steiner:

(*) Maximilian Raoul Steiner (1888-1971) was a pioneer in creating music for Hollywood films. Here are two links to worthwhile documentaries on his life and music:

https://www.torontofilmmagazine.com/post/watch-max-steiner-maestro-of-movie-music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZwPDd2N7yM

Here is a link that explains why Max Steiner was a transformative figure in creating music for Hollywood films:

https://www.npr.org/2000/12/17/1115631/-i-gone-with-the-wind-i-score

Here is a link to a wonderful “Soundie” short film presentation of the Kenton band performing “Southern Scandal.” It was made a bit after the Capitol recording presented in this post, with the sound track being done on September 22, 1945 and the video two days later. The personnel of the Kenton band had changed a bit since the Capitol recording was made. Here is the personnel of the band in the film:  Buddy Childers, John Anderson, Russ Burgher, Bob Lymperis, trumpets; Fred Zito, Milt Kabak and Jimmy Simms, tenor trombones; Bart Varsalona, bass trombone; Al Anthony and Boots Musulli, alto saxophones; Bob Cooper and Sam Allecia, tenor saxophones; Bob Gioga, baritone saxophone; Stan kenton, piano; Bob Ahern, guitar; Eddie Safranski, bass; Bob Varney, drums.

The bassist in this film is Eddie Safranski. The trumpet soloist is again Buddy Childers; the trombone soloist Fred Zito. The brief tenor and alto saxophone bits are played by Bob Cooper (tenor) and Boots Musulli (alto).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SxTBgfdkWA

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