There is a long tradition at West Heights of celebrating Advent with what we call “Stan Kenton Christmas Brass.” This year, was the fortieth anniversary. The first year it was done, it was pretty “edgy” for the 1970’s. The idea of doing big band/jazz charts as part of worship was pretty unheard, at least in Wichita, Kansas.
Stan Kenton was a well known innovator, educator and jazz composer. Church “legend” has it that some of the charts that are still used were given to Newton Graber for that first Kenton Christmas forty years ago. Whether or not that is true, what is known, is that after Newt died Henry “Hank” Elder took over directing and keeping track of the charts and replacing musicians as needed. After Hank died, the charts were gifted to West Heights by his family and Lisa Hittle began directing.
The sound of these particular arrangements are nothing short of amazing, in my opinion. The opening notes of the Christmas Medley is stunning. No recording can do it justice, but I share with you the original Kenton recording as an example. It’s long, but so worth it.
Around here, there are people that wait all year long for this group of musicians to assemble. They drive from all over south central Kansas to play these charts and for the few that are still playing, they say “West Heights feels like home when we come to play.”
Some folk of course could care less, but I have joined the fan club, Advent begins with the opening notes of the Kenton Christmas brass.
This year, one of the trumpeters, who used to make that instrument scream, was not playing. It is probably his last Kenton Christmas, and for the first time he listened as the others played their hearts out. Bryce Luty is a man who kept this group together.
He’s the one that kept things going when there was uncertainty and many of us love him. It was a gift and a joy for Bryce to be there and listen and smile and encourage the 40th anniversary with his very being.
Everyone has different traditions that evoke the season of Advent and Christmas for them. Mine often have to do with music and ritual. Maybe that’s why I am a preacher. I need lights, an advent wreath, way too many Christmas trees and a little Stan Kenton Christmas. Those horns will blow away any holiday blues I have any day of the week.
As I live into the second week of Advent, I am graced to serve.