Glenn Miller & His Orchestra
Glenn Miller's reign as the most popular bandleader in the U.S. came relatively late in his career and was relatively brief, lasting only about three and a half years, from the spring of 1939 to the fall of 1942. But during that period he utterly dominated popular music, and over time he has proven the most enduring figure of the swing era, with reissues of his recordings achieving gold record status 40 years after his death. Miller developed a distinctive sound in which a high-pitched clarinet carried the melody, doubled by a saxophone section playing an octave lower, and he used that sound to produce a series of hits that remain definitive examples of swing music. Miller's approach is not much appreciated by jazz fans, who prefer bands that allow for greater improvisation than was found in his highly disciplined, rigorously rehearsed unit. But he brought the swing style of popular music to a level of sophistication and commercial acceptance it had not previously achieved and would not see again after his untimely passing. Miller was the son of Lewis Elmer and Mattie Lou Cavender Miller. He lived in various locations in the Midwest while he was growing up. He first took up the mandolin, then switched to a horn. In Grant City, MO, where his family moved in 1915, he joined the town band and began playing trombone. By 1918, the family had moved to Fort Morgan, CO, where he played in the high school band and graduated in May 1921. He immediately joined the Boyd Senter band, but quit to start college at the University of Colorado in January 1923. After a year, however, he left college and moved to Los Angeles, where he joined Ben Pollack's band. In the summer of 1928, he left Pollack and settled in New York, where he worked as a session musician and arranger. When in the spring of 1934 Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey formed the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, he signed on as trombonist and arranger, remaining with the band almost a year. He left to organize an American band for British bandleader Ray Noble that made its debut at the Rainbow Room in New York's Rockefeller Center. Meanwhile, he was studying theory and composition with Joseph Schillinger. Miller began recording under his own name for Columbia Records on April 25, 1935, using a pickup band containing members of the Noble orchestra. His instrumental "Solo Hop" reached the Top Ten in the summer of 1935. But he did not organize a permanent touring band of his own until 1937, when he signed to Brunswick Records. The group was not a success, and he disbanded it in early 1938, then reorganized a couple of months later and signed to the discount-priced Bluebird subsidiary of RCA Victor Records. Still without any great success, he managed to maintain this orchestra for the next year until he got his big break with an engagement at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, NY, in the summer of 1939. Glen Island was a major swing venue with a radio wire, giving the band extensive exposure. Already, Miller had hit the charts with the Top Ten hit "Sunrise Serenade"; soon, its flipside, "Moonlight Serenade," would become an even bigger hit. "Wishing (Will Make It So)" (vocal by Ray Eberle) hit number one in June. Ultimately, Miller scored 17 Top Ten hits in 1939, including the subsequent chart-toppers "Stairway to the Stars," "Moon Love," "Over the Rainbow," and "Blue Orchids" (all vocals by Ray Eberle), as well as "The Man With the Mandolin" (vocal by Marion Hutton). Miller's recording success led to other opportunities. He became the star of the three-times-a-week radio series Chesterfield Supper Club in December 1939 and began the first of several extended engagements at the Café Rouge in the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York in January 1940, also appearing occasionally at the Paramount Theatre. He scored 31 Top Ten hits in 1940, more than three times as many as the second most successful recording artist of the year, Tommy Dorsey, hitting number one with "Careless," "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Imagination," "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," and "Blueberry Hill" (all vocals by Ray Eberle); "The Woodpecker Song" (vocal by Marion Hutton); and the instrumentals "In the Mood" and "Tuxedo Junction" (both of which were later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame). Miller scored another 11 Top Ten hits in 1941, which was enough to make him the top recording artist for the second year in a row. His number one hits included "Song of the Volga Boatmen," "You and I" (vocal by Ray Eberle), "Chattanooga Choo Choo," from his first film, Sun Valley Serenade (vocals by Tex Beneke and the Modernaires with Paula Kelly), and "Elmer's Tune" (vocals by Ray Eberle and the Modernaires). The story was much the same on the recording front in 1942, 11 Top Ten hits and a third straight ranking as the year's top recording artist, the chart-toppers including "A String of Pearls," "Moonlight Cocktail" (vocals by Ray Eberle and the Modernaires), "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me)," and "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo" (vocals on the last two by Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, and the Modernaires). "Kalamazoo" came from Miller's second film, Orchestra Wives. Yet 1942, the first full year of American participation in World War II, marked the end of Miller's dominance of popular music, since, after months of negotiations, he arranged to receive an officer's commission in the army air force on September 10 and, 17 days later, played his final date with his band, which he then broke up. He organized a service band and began performing at military camps and war-bond rallies while hosting a weekly radio series, Sustain the Wings. Nevertheless, he scored two more Top Ten hits in 1943, including the number one "That Old Black Magic" (vocals by Skip Nelson and the Modernaires). He took his band to Great Britain in June 1944 and continued to perform for the troops and do radio broadcasts. He was preparing to go on to Paris when the plane on which he was traveling disappeared over the English Channel and he died at age 40. Glenn Miller, an album of 78 rpm records, topped the newly instituted album charts in May 1945 and became the most successful album of the year. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was reconstituted as a ghost band after the war under the direction of Tex Beneke. In October 1947, Glenn Miller Masterpieces, Vol. 2 topped the album charts. Miller was the subject of a partly fictionalized film biography, The Glenn Miller Story, starring James Stewart, in February 1954; a soundtrack album of re-recordings not featuring Miller, released by Decca Records, hit number one in March. RCA Victor countered with the 10" LP Selections from the Glenn Miller Story, which hit number one in May. (The album was reissued as a 12" LP with a modified track selection in 1956 and was certified gold in 1961. In 1962, RCA Victor released Glenn Miller Plays Selections from the Glenn Miller Story and Other Hits, which had an identical track listing to the 1956 Selections from the Glenn Miller Story LP. It went gold in 1968.) The Miller estate, having parted ways with Tex Beneke, hired Ray McKinley, a former member of the Miller band, to organize a new ghost band in 1956, and this Glenn Miller Orchestra continued to record and perform under various leaders from then on. In 1959, RCA Victor released a triple LP of previously unissued performances, For the First Time ..., which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Dance Band. Reissues of Miller's original recordings sold well perennially. The double-LP A Memorial 1944-1969, released in October 1969, went gold in 1986; Pure Gold, released in March 1975, went gold in 1984. In 1989, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers sampled Miller's recording of "In the Mood" on their gold single "Swing the Mood." While RCA Victor remains the primary repository of Miller recordings and continues to reissue them in various configurations, other labels have also come up with airchecks and other stray recordings, making for a large and constantly growing catalog.
© William Ruhlmann /TiVo
© William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 20, 1983 | GRP
This CD may be scoffed at by serious jazz listeners, and even by big-band devotees wary of modern "ghost band" performances, but the fact is that it sold over 100,000 pieces when it first appeared in 1983, and its CD version was among the very earliest compact discs ever released commercially in the United States (indeed, so early that the actual CDs had to be imported from Japan). The second-ever release by GRP Records, it put the label on the map, and it also stood as testimony to how good those original arrangements of the Glenn Miller Orchestra were. So how is it as music? At worst entertaining, and at best revealing, and also at times a little frustrating -- on the plus side, even heard in 2007, twenty-four years after the fact, the sound here is damned impressive; you can safely rank this release as one of the very earliest, if not the very first audiophile CDs to be released. The fact that it features 18 top-flight musicians under the baton of Larry O'Brien, then the leader of the touring Glenn Miller Orchestra, only makes it more impressive. What's more, with the quality of the playing, one will be able to make out minuscule elements of the original arrangements that were long obscured on the classic late-'30s/early-'40s Glenn Miller sides. Musicians with an appreciation of these arrangements will probably love this recording, and casual fans should embrace it heartily: these boys swing in 1983 about as well as their predecessors from 41 years earlier did. And the vocal numbers are no exception -- in contrast to Columbia Records' mid-'60s efforts to revive the Miller orchestra as a recording unit (which failed not just because of the timing of the project but also the uneven quality of the resulting albums), numbers like "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo" are as hot here as there were four decades before. And the singers include Mel Tormé and Julius LaRosa (doing a solo) in their ranks. Still, it's the instrumentals that make up the bulk of this album, and on that level it's similarly unimpeachable, at least most of the way through -- "Tuxedo Junction" (which includes Dave Grusin sitting in on piano) is so close to the original that it's easy to forget who you're listening to and when they put this track down; and serious listeners should probably hold out for the "Gold Disc" edition or the Japanese version of this CD, which contain a bonus track, "At Last," featuring a trombone solo by Urbie Green that is worth the price of the CD by itself. Now, all of that said, there are a couple of quibbles: the absence of the cowbell on "In the Mood," and the "clever" notion on "Pennsylvania 6-5000" of ending the number with -- well, you can guess. This is still one cool, swinging release and, with its virtuoso musicianship, offers many of the same appealing qualities as the original Miller recordings. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
Jazz - Released June 1, 2012 | WBLT, LLC.
A second Christmas CD from Miller's orchestra, this one continues in the tradition of the first CD. In fact, it even includes a few pieces that were also on that one. Although recorded after the death of Glenn Miller himself, his orchestra does a great job of capturing the sound that made the band so famous as they make their way through many holiday classics. They turn them into wonderful swing arrangements that serve to both entertain fans of the genre and add holiday spirit to your home. © Gary Hill /TiVo
Jazz - Released July 10, 2001 | RCA Bluebird
In 1956, RCA Victor released an ambitious, if imperfect, five-LP set that focused on U.S. performances by Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band; all of the material, which spanned July 1943-June 1944, was recorded before the orchestra moved to England. That five-LP set drove Miller's hardcore fans wild; they were thrilled to get their hands on a lot of recordings that had not been commercially available prior to 1956. All of the material from that release is available on this four-CD, 61-track boxed set, which RCA assembled in 2001. If RCA was hoping to improve on the original 1956 release, it succeeded. This set is even more comprehensive; Army Air Force Band contains 23 previously unreleased recordings that weren't on the 1956 release, and many of Miller's spoken introductions to the songs have been restored; in most cases, those introductions were omitted on the 1956 set. These 1943 and 1944 recordings come from various sources. Some are recordings of live performances that were broadcast nationally from New York on Uncle Sam Presents and I Sustain the Wings, two World War II-era radio programs. Others are studio recordings that were originally heard on military V-discs. Army Air Force Band is quite diverse; listeners are exposed to everything from exuberant instrumentals to romantic, Bing Crosby-influenced crooning by Johnny Desmond. Not surprisingly, the set has its share of patriotic material; Miller's Army Air Force Band was, after all, a military band, and the U.S. was at war in 1943 and 1944. Although this set deserves applause, it isn't recommended to those who have only a casual interest in Miller's work; they would be better off with a single-disc collection of his best-known civilian recordings. But for Miller's more obsessive fans, this four-CD set is something to cherish. © Alex Henderson /TiVo