City of Glass / This Modern World
Stan Kenton City of Glass / This Modern World LP (Capital, 1952)
After years of ignoring Stan Kenton albums because I was under the impression that they were all Benny Goodman style big band romps, I picked up a copy of Cuban Fire! because I was just getting into Latin music and the cover was so damn cool. It is a pretty hot record, but I figured it was as wild as Kenton got. Not a chance. A couple years later I was given a stack of old records by a guy. "I heard you like records. My dad died, you can have these." The stack contained a Martin Denny album, some best of Monk, a bunch of shitty Melachrino Strings records, and this one by Stan Kenton. I listen to the Monk and spin the Martin Denny. About a week passes and I decide to check out the Kenton album. It has a cool cover, but so did the Melachrino Strings albums. Ah why not? I am alone in my apartment and no one is gonna come over tonight, let it spin. Gahhhhhhhhhh! A couple minutes into the first song and I am so fucking anxiety ridden, I have to leave the room. I come back into the room and listen to the rest of the record standing! Up to that point I had listened to a lot of fucked up shit. I'd had sex to Throbbing Gristle. Slept to Whitehouse. Ate breakfast and read the paper while listening to Current 93's Dogs Blood Rising. None of that creeped me out or sent my nerves into a clench. But Kenton's City of Glass / This Modern World really freaked me out. The sound that came out of the speakers was not painful in a sense that it hurt the ears. Nah, City of Glass is composed like it was written while the composer chewed on a florescent light bulb. And perhaps he did.
You see, Kenton didn't birth the songs; he was just the person delivering them. The parent of these sounds was a buy named Robert Graettinger. Born in Southern California, Graettinger played music for a while, before giving it up to write. He was in his early 20s when he gave Kenton some songs. Kenton didn't know if they were brilliant or bullshit, but he recorded them anyway...and then took Graettinger on as staff. Graettinger rarely spoke to anyone besides Kenton. Even when Kenton took him on the road, he sat by himself. His diet consisted of scrambled eggs, vitamin pils, cigarettes, and booze. He hated to sleep, saying he'd have enough time to do that in the grave. He lived by himself in a filthy apartment above a garage, which he rarely left. He was tall and skinny, had caved in cheeks and was very very very pale. Many described him as "looking like death". He died of cancer at age 34. And he wrote some fascinatingly fucked up music.
Listen to this and you realize how radical Kenton was to not only record this stuff but to take Graetinger on as a writer! Especially when doing so nearly ruined Kenton's carreer. Needless to say, Kenton fans were not too happy with these sounds. A bit later, Kenton went back to standard jazz but for a while he had a good run of really wild records. This is one of them. If you want to read more about Kenton and Graetinger, check out Irwin Chusid's book Songs in the Key of Z.