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A Grand Experiment

Carmel High School Deploys a Section of Conn Mellophoniums to Celebrate Stan Kenton


by Scooter Pirtle


Carmel, Indiana -- A unique experiment begun last fall by Carmel High School Associate Band Director Mike Pote culminated into an interesting performance in Carmel, Indiana last month that featured a well-rehearsed high school jazz band with a four-person mellophonium section.

Carmel High School's Jazz Ensemble 1 utilized four mellophoniums in a Kenton-inspired performance in March 2008 in Carmel, Indiana.

Pote's approach to make the performance authentic is somewhat of a rarity nowadays. Performances of music from the Kenton Mellophonium Band are unusual, but they typical incorporate horns or modern marching mellophones in place of the fickle mellophoniums. However, a four-person mellophonium section is not easy to assemble and is loaded with challenges for the performers.


Kevin Carlson   Johanna Hutchens   Derek Pesyna   Tim Vasquez

“I think I was most surprised, first of all, that our kids were able to handle [the mellophoniums] as well as they did,” says Pote about the project. The section integrated into Jazz Ensemble 1 consisted of four performers, Johanna Hutchins, Kevin Carlson, Derek Pesyna, and Tim Vazquez.


“We tune every morning before rehearsal…we concentrate on that quite a lot on all our groups here, but it’s sort of a joke when we tune the mellophoniums. They’re always ‘right on it’ until you go a half-step in pitch in either direction!”

However, intonation wasn’t the biggest challenge with this project, “The biggest issue we’ve been dealing with in our performances is really not related to mellophoniums…We have really solid rhythm section and the winds seem to be ignoring them a lot of the time…,” says Pote.

Johanna Hutchins and Derek Pesyna in a warm-up session prior to the March 19, 2008 concert perform on their Conn 16E mellophoniums. The four players acclimated to the instruments very well according to conductor Mike Pote.

The “wing” formation had to be sacrificed to accommodate three evenings of concerts featuring performances of four of Carmel High School’s jazz bands and a middle school jazz band. So a standard set-up was utilized. The mellophonium section was placed stage left of the winds, nearly 25 feet from the rhythm section. “The band had rehearsed in a “wing” formation that placed the mellophoniums closer to the percussion section,” mentions Pote, “We had a better sense of pulse at that point.”

Ann Conrad performs "Day Dream" with Carmel's Jazz Ensemble 1. The Lennie Niehaus arrangement was transcribed by Mike Pote for the event and was originally sung by Jean Turner with the Kenton Orchestra. Note also the use of a bass saxophone.

Pote envisioned the project last year and solicited the help of friends to secure instruments. Three “like new” Conn 16E mellophoniums and one “rehabilitated” were secured for the project through the help of Al Perkins (Queens, New York), Kenton Scott (Puxatony, Pennsylvania), Jeff Freelin (Independence, Missouri), and Scooter Pirtle (Indianapolis) “I was expecting to have to dig them out of the ground…or find someone that made one into a planter,” says Pote about locating the instruments, “We didn’t expect to find instruments in this good a condition.”


Mike Pote, Associate Director of Bands at Carmel High School briefly discussed the mellophonium during an interlude between tunes.

Pote selected a unique cross section of music from the Kenton band’s mellophonium period:

Waltz of the Prophets (Dee Barton)
Recuerdos (Johnny Richards)
Day Dream (Billy Strayhorn, arranged by Lennie Niehaus)
Malaguena (Ernesto Lecuuona, arranged by Bill Holman)

Accessing the original charts proved to be impossible. Requests were issued to the University of North Texas and attempts to contact original band members who may still have charts in their libraries were unsuccessful. It’s generally accepted that Kenton’s legal will forbade the creation of “tribute” bands after his death. UNT Received Kenton’s music library and have kept a firm grip on the documents and the performance rights of the music they have possessed since Kenton’s death in 1979.


“Using a video, I recreated and rearranged the charts,” says Pote about the arrangements. He first encountered one of the pieces performed by the band in a video of the Kenton Orchestra performing Waltz of the Prophets (most likely the 1962 performance of the Orchestra on the show "Jazz Scene USA.").

As someone who has studied the Kenton Mellophonium band and heard many of their recordings, I’ve always been a bit melancholy about never having a chance to see the Kenton Mellophonium Band in person (an unfortunate side effect of being born three years after the last mellophonium band performance). So, it has been difficult for me to express in words how enjoyable it was hearing the Carmel High School jazz band. Admittedly, they’re no Kenton Orchestra, but the hard work of the kids and their leader made the performance no less memorable.



More Information


Photos of the Carmel High School Jazz Ensemble 1 (March 19, 2008)


Carmel High School Jazz Band Web Site



- Scooter Pirtle (email)