For long-time Kenton followers, this is an excellent read that will bring back great memories and illuminate the ups and downs of the band's history. Sparke is not shy about expressing his opinions on the musical and business decisions made over the years, and not all readers will agree with his assessments. But it's clear that this book is a labor of love by a lifelong fan, who fortunately doesn't try to sugar-coat this tribute to his jazz idol.
This is not a traditional biography. The book's treatment of Kenton the man is mostly found at the beginning and end, while the bulk of the text is about Kenton in the context of the organization he led (which was, admittedly, the overwhelmingly dominant aspect of his life). Still, there's plenty to be learned about his devotion to his music, his generosity as a leader, and the sad decline of his health in the 1970s.
Sparke has compiled research spanning decades, including interviews and correspondence with many of the key players, including Kenton. The result is a thorough treatment that will warm the hearts of those of us who have been steeped in Kenton lore for most of our lives. However, readers may quickly get bogged down if they are only marginally familiar with the man and his music. This book is aimed at Kenton aficionados, not at winning over new fans. The cast of characters is large, encompassing musicians, singers, arrangers, managers, and others over the band's four-decade history. Specific recordings and arrangements are discussed at length. The author makes some assumptions about the reader's familiarity with all of this, and doesn't always adequately explain the identity or importance of certain people, events, or pieces of music.
Overall, I found this to be a satisfying portrayal of one of the most memorable leaders in jazz. As Sparke and others have noted, the orchestra was Kenton's instrument. On a good day, there was no one who played it better. This book chronicles how hard he worked, and what he sacrificed, to make that happen.