Alumni Band Ends March on a High Note

Vanessa Aguirre

The Grammy-nominated Stan Kenton alumni band took center stage alongside the GCC jazz band March 13, for an evening of good music and great stories.


Slideshow Media Credit: Edgar Santacruz

Held in the main auditorium, the band featured members of the 1956-1978 Stan Kenton orchestras.

Stan Kenton was a well-known arranger from the 1940s to the 1970s. He lead many big bands and orchestras like that of “Artistry in Rhythm,” and recorded hits like “The Peanut Vendor.” He later dedicated much of his time to spreading the importance of jazz heritage in America.

“We had a wonderful time at Glendale CC,” said band leader Mike Vax.?”The audience, while not as big as our other dates in the So Cal. [area], were very enthusiastic.”

The group performed old Kenton favorites such as “The Peanut Vendor,” as well as new material written in the Kenton style. Along with performing for festivals and colleges around the United States every year, the alumni band also tries to carry on Kenton’s tradition and dedication to creative music and jazz education.

The big band performs meaningful music and encourages the spread of jazz heritage in America. Through their music they hope to create a relaxed and entertaining atmosphere, and offer an opportunity for a new generation to experience jazz music.

The concert, which had a bit of a rough start due to technical difficulties, did not disappoint. First to perform was the GCC jazz band, which started the night off on a perfect note.

Fronted by conductor Craig Kupka, who was very enthusiastic, the band began with an upbeat number which made it difficult for the audience to stay in their seat. The toe-tapping music seemed to bounce from every corner of the auditorium.

The pieces performed showcased the band’s talent as well as the passion behind it. Ron Sewer, made conductor Craig Kupka state “every time he plays that I die.”

Along with returning Kentonites, a younger crowd also joined in on the experience.
Among those in attendance was 18-year-old Angela Lee, an English major. “Jazz music is particularly special and is an important idea to get across to our generation,” Lee said. “The music performed tonight is a great example of what future generations should have more exposure to.”

After a few more toe-tapping numbers, the Glendale jazz band took a bow and made its way off stage.

Followers of Kenton’s music filled the auditorium and brought an excitement that filled the air. Those in the aisles told stories of listening to Stan Kenton back in their youth.

The stories continued as bongos and other instruments made their way on stage and the Kenton alumni band prepared for its set.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. The anticipation and the crowd grew louder by the minute.

After a brief introduction, the band finally began to play.

After a very lively first song, the band changed the mood a bit by playing a more sultry piece, which picked up and carried many beautiful high notes.

In between songs, Vax spoke to the audience of his time with Kenton and of the bands Grammy nomination. He also jokingly stated that it was a well-known fact jazz musicians couldn’t read, then fiddled with a piece of sheet music, set it down, then turned it over once more.

The performance also featured vocalists Scott Whitfield and Ginger Berglund who added a bit of zest to the already inspiring performance.

A brief intermission was then taken to give the band members a chance to promote the alumni band CD, as well as their own personal albums.

Latin percussionist Dee Huffsteter, along with trumpet player Steve Huffsteter, were both excited about the Grammy nomination. “It’s news to us,” said Dee, “but we’re excited.”

Dee has been with the Kenton alumni band for about five years now, and Steve was with the band while Kenton was still alive. Dee went on to talk about her own band and that of Steve’s.

As everyone made their way back to their seats, the trumpet section was pulled into the spotlight with an upbeat number which featured a wide range of tones. They then made their way off stage and into the crowd, playing in between the isles and pulling the listener in further.

“Thank you for taking a bath in music this evening, as Stan would say” said Vax as the concert came to an end. He then thanked everyone one for attending and introduced the final song “Malaguena.”

The band then took a bow and was given a standing ovation.