“Stan Kenton's orchestra captured the world's imagination in the late 1940s, just as other swing bands were fading. For the next three decades, he would be the most popular bandleader who played what was, essentially, art music. Unlike Count Basie's band, Kenton's didn't play primarily for dancers. Unlike Woody Herman's, it didn't have an entertaining, singing showman up front. Unlike Duke Ellington's, it didn't have a repertoire of well-known, original popular songs to bring in crowds. Yet Kenton was a master of marketing: He packaged and sold the concepts of newness and modernity to a pop-music audience.
At first his experiments ran parallel to the beboppers, who were likewise introducing a more sophisticated harmonic system into jazz. Along with Dizzy Gillespie, Kenton introduced Afro-Cuban polyrhythms to North America. And where Ellington famously disdained categories, Kenton reveled in creating terms like "artistry in rhythm" and "progressive jazz." His music was at once futuristic, masculine and highly romantic, and his fanatical followers were the jazz equivalent of Trekkies.
Onstage, though, Kenton seemed far from a wild-eyed avant-gardist; his manner was buttoned down and conservative. He never appeared in less than a suit and tie and conducted himself like a combination of college professor and church leader...Certainly bebop legend Art Pepper—a star of several Kenton orchestras who wrote a powerful memoir of his years as a junkie—perceived a world of difference between himself and his employer.
Yet "Love Affair"—a harrowing and intimate memoir by Kenton's daughter, Leslie—now reveals that he and Pepper were more alike than anyone realized. Mr. Sparke mentions that Kenton abused alcohol in later life; Ms. Kenton depicts her father as a lifelong alcoholic and such a troubled soul that you wonder at times how he could hold himself together well enough to keep his band going. Most shockingly, Ms. Kenton asserts that their own relationship was, for a time, incestuous.
Ms. Kenton's book is a fall-and-rise "recovery" memoir in the tradition of Lillian Roth's "I'll Cry Tomorrow" (1954). She worshipped her father in spite of his apparent shortcomings, and they bonded over a shared love of art and music. The tone she takes toward her father is one of forgiveness rather than accusation, and often the book reads like the tale of a taboo liaison (it's worth noting that she titled it "Love Affair," not "Daddy Dearest"). But keep in mind she was only 11 when, she says, he first forced himself on her, and only 13 when they broke the physical "affair" off.
Ms Kenton maintains that she and her father never stopped caring about each other, and she even seems to shield him from blame, claiming he suffered from dissociative identity disorder and portraying him as dominated by his controlling mother. Because Kenton had divorced Leslie's mother, her grandmother played an outsize role in her life as well. At one point, Ms. Kenton charges, her grandmother sent her off to a sanitarium without reason. On another occasion, she pushed her 10-year-old granddaughter to play "dress up" with a pair of creepy cross-dressers backstage at a theater in New York.
Fans of the bandleader, who have long been known for being insular and cultish, will be scandalized by the suggestion that his family life could be so sordid. In particular, they'll be horrified by the idea of Kenton as a victim rather than the one in control. Yet such revelations won't change the quality of the man's music, and in some ways Ms. Kenton's account is the most sympathetic and human portrait of the bandleader yet to be published.” —Wall Street Journal