What the heck does a jazz recording have to do with Disney animation, you might ask? Well, oddly enough there is a connection and it also involves a very talented Disney animator and layout artist. However, we’ll get to that in a minute.
You kids have probably never even heard of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Kenton was a forties-fifties era orchestra leader, and was known for his progressive jazz recordings. I was a total Stan Kenton Geek and I followed his incredible orchestra from venues at the Hollywood Paladium to Balboa Beach. I hung out in the recording studios at Capitol Records in Hollywood whenever I knew the master was in town.
Stan Kenton was a unique man. Tall and gaunt with straight silver hair, he would stand out in a crowd. I watched him lead his magnificent orchestra for nearly four decades before his untimely passing. Inspired by the Kenton orchestra, I joined a big band while in high school and college, and we played many of the masterful Kenton charts. I last saw Stan while in the parking lot of Capitol Records in Hollywood. It seems I had finally become a professional film maker, and I was there for a recording session. As the old master walked passed, he took a moment to look my way. It was as if he knew my face. Well, I’m not surprised he may have recognized me. When I was a young kid I had spent many an evening looking up at him from the base of the stage. Perhaps he remembered me as that skinny young kid with glasses - but I can’t say for sure.
However, there’s an interesting Disney twist to this story. As I was playing my album, “The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton” many years ago, I noticed a familiar name on the album back cover. (remember when albums still came in covers?) One of the beautiful numbers on the album was credited to Dale Barnhart and I knew a Disney artist by the same name. That couldn’t possibly be the same person, I wondered? Dale Barnhart was a talented musician as well as an artist in Disney’s animation department. At the time he was heading up a clean-up crew on the feature film, “Sleeping Beauty,” and he did indeed craft the beautiful ballad, “When stars looked down” for the Stan Kenton orchestra. In the years that followed, Dale Barnhart and I became good friends. his youngest son, Philo Barnhart also works in the animation business and like his famous father, has spent a number of years in Disney’s animation department. Not surprisingly, Dale’s wife, Phyllis also worked in the paint department of the Walt Disney Studio.
Dale Barnhart and Stan Kenton are no longer with us. However, the awesome music and the beautiful art they created will remain with us forever.