As part of the 2002 week-long jazz festival, the Sarasota Jazz Club presented Don Scaletta’s Jazz Orchestra in a tribute to Stan Kenton. The mostly gray-haired crowd filed into Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and hunkered down for the matinee of music.
Before the Scaletta band appeared, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard performed with a quartet featuring Eddie Higgins on piano. Appleyard delighted the audience with his stories about Lionel Hampton and played some classic Hampton riffs, one with Appleyard on drums and piano.
After the stage was set for the 20-piece band, Scaletta played a few bars on the piano and then directed the orchestra as if he were a symphonic conductor, making sure the band came in on cue, very much like Kenton did.
They began with Kenton’s theme, Artistry in Rhythm, and that big, distinctive Kenton sound filled the auditorium. In the hour-long show, they played Bill Holman’s arrangement of Theme and Variation, a Kenton version of Stompin’ at the Savoy, a fast tempo Lime House Blues, Peanut Vendor, Fascinating Rhythm, The Kingfish, Alone and Something Cool. Vocalist Gloria Yousho joined the band singing Tampico and rendered versions reminiscent of June Christy of How High the Moon and Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy.
Scaletta, who once accompanied Christy, is now retired. He organized the Kenton band specifically for the concert, and said, "It was like arranging twenty marbles on a glass-top table." They rehearsed one night a week for seven months, and are now at work on a demo CD. Scaletta formed Jazz Project, and hopes to continue with his love of Kenton’s music.
Kenton’s band made its first appearance at the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa Island in 1941. Dubbed "progressive jazz," Kenton received mixed reviews, but went on to be one of the most requested bands in the 1950s. He played for my college prom in 1956 and I became an immediate fan, collecting Kenton LPs and following the trail of many of the wonderful musicians who played in his band. I, like so many others, also had a crush on Christy.
Asked why he didn’t have an email address, Scaletta said, "I guess I’m from another era."