September 15, 1921 – August 11, 1982
The only composer with the distinction of working for Stan Kenton for all four decades of Kenton’s band’s existence, Gene Roland was born in Dallas, Texas, and began studying the piano at age eleven. Over the course of his career, he mastered many instruments, from trombone to trumpet to mellophonium to drums, but his real success came through his talent as an arranger and composer.
He majored in music from 1940-42 at North Texas State Teachers' College, where his roommate was Jimmy Giuffre. Gene’s big break came in 1944 when he joined the Kenton orchestra as a fifth trumpet and a contributor of arrangements; over the course of his four-decade tenure with Stan, he worked his way up to contribute some of the most important arrangements, like the majority of the album of “Stan Kenton At The Tropicana” in 1959. In addition to his work with Kenton, he also wrote and/or played for Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Claude Thornhill, and created 65 arrangements for the Woody Herman band. He led a 50-person rehearsal band for which Charlie Parker was a sideman. His unusually versatile skills made him a lesser-known but nevertheless defining voice of the 1940s big band sound.