“Interlude” Stan Kenton/Pete Rugolo (1947) / June Christy/Pete Rugolo (1957)

“Interlude”

Composed and arranged by Pete Rugolo.

Recorded by Stan Kenton and His Orchestra for Capitol on December 22, 1947 in Hollywood.

Stan Kenton, piano, directing: Milt Bernhart, first trombone; Harry Forbes, Eddie Bert and Harry Betts, tenor trombones; Bart Varsalona, bass trombone; Laurindo Almeida, guitar; Eddie Safranski, bass; Shelley Manne, drums.

The story:

Stan Kenton’s bands were very often among the largest ensembles of the swing era, and after. Kenton was continually seeking a greater sonic and harmonic palette for his music. With size comes volume. Kenton’s bands were capable of blasting, and that was definitely a part of the Kenton presentation over the years. But only a part. There was also a quiet, contemplative aspect to some of Kenton’s music. No piece demonstrates this more effectively than the lovely “Interlude,” composed and arranged by Kenton’s collaborator in the late 1940s, Pete Rugolo.

Rugolo gave a bit of context about “Interlude” to a researcher in 1971: “When the Kenton band would play hotels, people were always screaming that the band was too loud. I wrote this piece for Stan to play to still the screams. It was only five trombones, piano, guitar, bass and drums.” (1) Rugolo also commented on his working relationship with Kenton: “I guess that an arranger’s idea of paradise is someplace where he can write anything he wants to and still make a living. That’s why I felt like I was walking through the pearly gates when I went to work for Stan. Not only could I arrange the way I wanted to, but I could even compose originals and know they’d be heard. To make the situation even more unbelievable, Stan never said ‘ Don’t do it this way’ or ‘Don’t do it that way.’ He was willing to try anything so long as he felt the writer really meant what he was saying.” (2) (At right Pete Rugolo and Stan Kenton.)

I will also add that Kenton was one of the few swing era bandleaders who did not add his name to compositions others had written as a quid-pro-quo for recording and promoting them.

I have commented before here at swingandbeyond.com on the evolution of trombone sections in various swing bands starting in the mid-1930s. Benny Goodman used only two trombones in his band from 1934 to 1939. Thereafter, he used three. Duke Ellington’s trombone trio provided many delightful moments for Ellington’s music through the 1930s and into the 1940s. Tommy Dorsey used three trombones until 1938, when he expanded his section to four, and in the process, as a great lead trombonist himself, began to demonstrate how sumptuous the sound of a beautifully balanced trombone quartet could be.(3) Glenn Miller started out with three trombones, then expanded to four in late 1939. After that, he also occasionally featured his trombone quartet to good advantage. Artie Shaw started out with two trombones, and then added a third in the spring of 1938. His gifted arranger Jerry Gray almost immediately began using that trombone trio as a discrete section, adding much instrumental color to Shaw’s music in the process. Glen Gray’s Casa Loma band featured a trombone trio through the late 1930s, and via arranger Larry Wagner’s skillful use of them, especially in his swinging blues feature “No Name Jive,” showed how effectively they could be used to build rhythmic momentum.(4)

But Stan Kenton took the use of trombones in a swing band to a new level starting in the mid-1940s. Kenton started out using only two trombones in 1940. A third trombone arrived in the Kenton ensemble in early 1942. Stan recorded his bold theme “Artistry in Rhythm” in 1943. His trombone section was well used in that performance. By the summer of 1943, Kenton was still using three trombones, but with Bart Varsalona, who would become a Kenton stalwart, playing a bass trombone along with the other two tenor trombones. In the spring of 1944, Kenton added a third tenor trombone. Finally, in late 1945, Kenton’s trombone section grew to five, with four tenors and one bass, at least on occasion. By early 1947, the trombone quintet became standard feature in Kenton’s band.

L-R: drummer Shelley Manne; trombonists Eddie Bert, Harry Forbes, Milt Bernhart, Harry Betts, and Bart Varsalona.

By the time Pete Rugolo composed “Interlude” in 1947, he had been thoroughly exposed to the music of Stan Kenton’s band. He understood Kenton’s approach to music, which in the mid-1940s definitely included a strong orientation to interesting harmonies. By wedding a lovely, romantic melody to subtly effective harmonies, Rugolo produced a piece of music that advanced the art of what could be done with a section of trombones a bit further.

The music:

This Kenton recording of “Interlude” begins with an eight-bar introduction played by Kenton on piano that has two parts: the first is a series of arpeggios, followed by a quieter establishment of the tempo and ostinato that continues into the first chorus. The first eight bars of melody are presented by Kenton in contemplative fashion at his piano, being supported quietly by guitar, bass and brushed drums. The repeat of the melody has the solo piano being accompanied by the richly harmonized trombone quintet playing quietly, and adding an aureole of warmth to the music. The bridge consists of Kenton’s piano being supported by now louder (in spots) trombones. The next eight-bar sequence has the five open trombones playing a bit more aggressively, with Kenton filling in the gaps behind them. (Above left: Stan Kenton and Pete Rugolo – late 1940s.)

The next chorus begins with the trombones playing in a more legato fashion, which allows their velvety resonance to be heard. Kenton once again moves into the foreground with his piano for a few bars, rather percussively. The trombones return, again playing quietly, providing a warm cushion for Kenton’s at times percussive piano.

Here, for contrast, is an entirely different approach to “Interlude,” which highlights the song’s beautiful melody, sung with feeling by June Christy.

“Interlude” 

Composed by Pete Rugolo, music; Bob Russell, lyric; arranged by Pete Rugolo.

Recorded by Pete Rugolo with June Christy for Capitol on June 18, 1957 in Holywood.

Pete Rugolo directing: Bud Shank, flute; John Cave, French horn; Howard Roberts, guitar; Red Callender, bass; Irv Cottler, drums; a harp and a string section. June Christy, vocal.

The story continues:

June Christy (1925-1990), born Shirley Luster, began her career as a vocalist with big bands in and around Chicago. She joined Stan Kenton’s band in 1945. She scored an almost immediate hit with the Kenton band on their recording of the novelty tune “Tampico.” She continued working regularly with Kenton through the late 1940s. By the 1950s, she had established herself as a solo vocalist, working often with her husband, former Kenton saxophonist Bob Cooper. She and Cooper settled in Los Angeles, and that remained their home base.

Pete Rugolo sought to branch out in the music business starting in 1949, beginning a long affiliation with Capitol Records. For a substantial part of the 1950s, he was a much respected producer for Capitol then Mercury Records. In the mid-1950s he began to lead various musical groups on record himself, and provide arrangements for a wide variety of popular and jazz singers. Starting around 1960, Rugolo began creating music for television shows and feature films. That effectively removed him from the jazz and pop music scene for the next 25 years.

Through the 1950s, June Christy sometimes worked with Pete Rugolo. Their collaboration for the 1957 Capitol LP entitled Gone for the Day was particularly fruitful.

Rugolo and Christy were well-acquainted from the years they both spent working together in Stan Kenton’s band in the late 1940s. After leaving Kenton, they both sought to broaden the scope of what they did musically. This involved producing music that would have substantial content, while at the same time have appeal to an audience that was larger than those for Kenton-jazz and cool-jazz. The key to that was to select songs to record that were sophisticated, arrange them in a way that exalted the melody and lyric, and perform them with skill and taste. That is exactly what happened in this lovely performance of “Interlude” by June Christy and Pete Rugolo. (At left: June Christy and Pete Rugolo in the early 1950s.)

The music:

This performance begins with an out of tempo introduction during which Ms. Christy sings a vocalese paraphrase of Rugolo’s melody, followed by a similar paraphrase played by Bud Shank on flute. Both are swathed in richly harmonized strings.

The first chorus begins with the bass (Red Callender) and whispering brushed cymbal (Irv Cottler) setting the tempo, and establishing the subtle ostinato that is an important building block of the rhythm of “Interlude.” June begins her exposition of the melody/lyric with minimal accompaniment by guitar (Howard Roberts), and flute. The second eight-bar tract has her backed by the strings, blended most subtly with a French horn (John Cave) and flute.

Ms. Christy’s singing of the tune’s bridge (secondary melody), which contains some large intervals that she handles with aplomb, is once again accompanied by the strings in differing registers, which highlight her every vocal nuance. The final eight bar melody segment of the first chorus has June’s singing framed by the strings again, but also, at times, by a warm blend of the flute and French horn.

The orchestral melody exposition that follow presents the strings, and then the horn and flute, skillfully blended with the low strings.

Ms. Christy returns to sing the bridge part of the song, shadowed by the first violinist, the flute, and finally all of the strings.

The finale returns the music to the subtleties of the introduction, followed by a brief swirl of strings.

June Christy was one of a number of young female vocalists in the 1940s who were greatly influenced by the jazz singer Anita O’Day, whom she followed as vocalist with Stan Kenton’s band.

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

Notes and links:

(1) The Swing Era …Into the 50s (1971), notes on the music by Joseph Castner, 59-60.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Here is a link to one of Tommy Dorsey’s earliest uses of a trombone quartet: https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/11/10/in-finegans-wake-a-salute-to-master-arranger-bill-finegan-part-1/

(4) Here is a link to the Casa Loma band’s recording of “No Name Jive”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/11/10/in-finegans-wake-a-salute-to-master-arranger-bill-finegan-part-1/

(5) Here is a link to another interesting musical essay by Pete Rugolo: https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/11/06/salute-1958-stan-kenton-and-pete-rugolo/

(6) Here is an exquisite performance by Artie Shaw’s 1945 band of a great standard that features wonderfully warm trombone quartets written by master arranger Ray Conniff (a fine trombonist himself): https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/02/24/these-foolish-things-1945-artie-shaw/

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