Profile: Jazz Pianist, Composer & Orchestra Leader Stan Kenton

It’s his birthday today, and as one of my favorites in the music world, he gets a profile.

In my early 20s, I heard the Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps playing some big band jazz music at a show that threatened to yank my socks off my socked feet, if only my jaw was not resting on those socked feet, preventing desockification. The composer turned out to be Johnny Richards, but the big bands with which Richards for a long time associated were Stan Kenton’s various bands.

I started learning about Kenton and listening to his music. The more I heard from him, the more it stood out among other big bands. There was always an edge – if a ballad, something gently moving that was different. If latin jazz, incredibly complex and making my hairs a-quiver. Once he began his own band (after years of playing in others’ bands), he never stopped innovating.

So, me with my Uranus in the 1st house loves his story (and feeling electrified by music) as much as the rest of me loves the music his bands played (except for chunks in the 1970s when his ear sounds to mine extremely cheesy).

December 15, 1911, 10 PM, Wichita KS (rated AA)

A few things stand out to me in the chart. The first is retrograde Pluto in Gemini/11th, and the second is Sun-Lilith in Sagittarius on the cusp of the 5th – they’re in opposition. Retro Pluto in Gemini/11th says that to be empowered in life, he needs to communicate forward-looking things. He needs to find the envelope and then push it, and then keep doing it to see how far it can be pushed. Gemini’s about curiosity, with Pluto here the soul mission of asking questions and gathering data, and communicating. The 11th is what we want the future to look like and the people and groups we idenfity and ally with to help us get there. His itch to start his own band speaks to this need: To go in his own direction with people who want to go off in exciting, perhaps weird-seeming new directions. When big bands went out of style when bebop took over, Kenton was one of the very few band leaders still leading a successful band (another being Maynard Ferguson, who embraced bebop readily and ran with it).

Sun-Lilith says that his sanity (Sun) depends on independence, not being apologetic for being who is, and allowing himself to remain in contact with and bring out a natural side that can’t be fit into a box and/or controlled (all Lilith qualities). In Sagittarius, this Sun needs to expand, to be expansive. His Sun needs to burn fuel that takes him places, both inwardly and outwardly. On the cusp of the 5th says that for him to feel at home in himself and feel like he’s holding things together, he’s got to be creative, to shine and perform in some way.

The tension in the opposition could say that this immediate creativity (Sun-Lilith in Sagittarius/5th) couldn’t possibly take me into the kind of future I want to see (Pluto in Gemini/11th). Yet in beginning his own band he displayed a faith that overrode any fearful thoughts that opposition might have been inclined to implant.

Sun-Lilith are also the finger of a yod, with the sextile between retro Mars in Taurus in the 10th and retro Neptune in Cancer in the 11th. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on his creative self, altering the idea of needing to create to be sane to needing to create to survive.

The other thing that stands out to me is the Uranus-Neptune opposition that squares his nodal axis. In terms of his life, we’re talking about his conditioning in various lives (the South Node and its aspects tell of us his environments in various lives, the people he’s born to and that train him to be a good human). Uranus in Capricorn square the nodes says that change and innovation are thought to be hard or not possible, and the people in his family/ancestry probably don’t innovate for fear of forfeiting stability – or they do innovate, and forfeit stability. Retrograde Neptune in Cancer square the nodes says that these same people are trying to connect with the greater whole around them via connectedness to others, surrendering to the feeling side of life.

The opposition in his chart leads to a conflict between the need to surrender to something while innovating through work, and trying the whole time not to lose touch with reality. In his music, I can see this coming out with the rich textures that challenge your Central Nervous System to handle the complex harmonies while trying to sit still in your seat. (Or I should say “me” – I’ve found myself doing a little writhing as I feel this music!)

If you’re interested in checking his music out, I recommend stuff from the 40s through the 60s. The music of Johnny Richards I first heard was “Cuban Fire Suite,” for the record. Yet it’s Kenton’s own music that formed the backbone of the groups over the three decades he lead them.

Tom Jacobs is an astrologer, medium, channel and big band music lover in Tucson. Visit his site at

One thought on “Profile: Jazz Pianist, Composer & Orchestra Leader Stan Kenton

  1. Pingback: south kenton

Comments are closed.