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Controversy continues to rage over Stan Kenton, the jazz big-band leader who would have been 100 years old this week. The uproar stems not only from his daughter’s allegations that Kenton, who died of alcoholism-related causes in 1979, sexually assaulted her as a child; the pianist and composer remains artistically controversial, too. Was his “neophonic” concept that of a visionary artist, or an eccentric kitschmeister? There’s consensus on at least one point: Kenton was unique. He had an ambitious ear for brass orchestrations, a flair for the “exotic” (especially Latin rhythms), and a weakness for compositions and arrangements that flouted convention. For jazz educators, these have become irresistible, challenging puzzles for students, and that’s part of why Kenton’s cult includes generations of formally trained musicians. It also explains how the Atlas jazz series ended up with a 19-piece orchestra, paying tribute to him one day before his actual centennial. Controversial or not, neophonics lives on.
The Stan Kenton centennial celebration begins at 8 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $20. (202) 399-7993.