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Glenn Miller

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Glenn Miller: “In The Mood” 1940

Well, live-ISH. And the boys’ music was sexed up by the studio’s arranger – but that’s Glenn and his men there!

220px-Glen_millerBackground Information

Alton Glenn Miller (March 1, 1904 – missing in action December 15, 1944) was an American big band musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best known big bands. Miller’s notable recordings include “In the Mood“, “Moonlight Serenade“, “Pennsylvania 6-5000“, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “A String of Pearls,” “At Last“, “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo“, “American Patrol“, “Tuxedo Junction“, and “Little Brown Jug.” While he was traveling to entertain U.S. troops in France during World War II, Glenn Miller’s aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel.

Early life and Career

Miller was born on a farm in Clarinda, Iowa, to Lewis Elmer Miller and Mattie Lou (née Cavender).  He attended grade school in North Platte in western Nebraska. In 1915, Miller’s family moved to Grant City, Missouri. Around this time, Miller had finally made enough money from milking cows to buy his first trombone and played in the town orchestra. Originally, Miller played cornet and mandolin, but he switched to trombone by 1916.  In 1918, the Miller family moved again, this time to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where Miller went to high school. In the fall of 1919, he joined the high school football team, Maroons, which won the Northern Colorado Football Conference in 1920. He was named the Best Left End in Colorado.  During his senior year, Miller became very interested in a new style of music called “dance band music.” He was so taken with it that he formed his own band with some classmates. By the time Miller graduated from high school in 1921, he had decided to become a professional musician.

Annex - Stewart, James (Glenn Miller Story, The)_01In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he joined Sigma Nu Fraternity,  but spent most of his time away from school, attending auditions and playing any gigs he could get, including with Boyd Senter’s band in Denver. He dropped out of school after failing three out of five classes one semester, and decided to concentrate on making a career as a professional musician. He later studied the Schillinger technique with Joseph Schillinger, under whose tutelage he composed what became his signature theme, “Moonlight Serenade.” In 1926, Miller toured with several groups, eventually landing a good spot in Ben Pollack‘s group in Los Angeles. He also played for Victor Young, whose Los Angeles studio orchestra accompanied Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, allowing him to be mentored by other professional musicians.  In the beginning, he was the main trombone soloist of the band. However, when Jack Teagarden joined the Pollack’s band in 1928, Miller found that his solos were cut drastically. From then, he realized that, rather than being a trombonist, his future lay in writing music.  He also had a songbook published in Chicago entitled Glenn Miller’s 125 Jazz Breaks for Trombone by the Melrose Brothers in 1927.  During his stint with Pollack, Miller wrote several musical arrangements of his own. He also co-wrote his first composition, “Room 1411“, written with Benny Goodman and released as a Brunswick 78, 4013, credited to Benny Goodman’s Boys.  In 1928, when the band arrived in New York City, he sent for and married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger. He was a member of Red Nichols‘s orchestra in 1930, and because of Nichols, Miller played in the pit bands of two Broadway showsStrike Up the Band and Girl Crazy (where his bandmates included big band leaders Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa).

During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Miller managed to earn a living working as a freelance trombonist in several bands. On a March 21, 1928 Victor session, Miller played alongside Tommy DorseyBenny Goodman, and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra, directed by Nat Shilkret.  During this period, Miller arranged and played trombone on several significant Dorsey Brothers OKeh sessions including “The Spell of The Blues”, “Let’s Do It” and “My Kinda Love”, all with Bing Crosby vocals. On November 14, 1929, an original vocalist named Red McKenzie hired Miller to play on two records that are now considered to be jazz classics:  “Hello, Lola” and “If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight”. Beside Miller were clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, guitarist Eddie Condon, drummer Gene Krupa and Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone.

The-Glen-Miller-Story-(1954)In the early-to-mid-1930’s, Miller also worked as a trombonist, arranger, and composer in The Dorsey Brothers, first when they were a Brunswick studio group (under their own name and providing accompaniment for many of The Boswell Sisters sessions), and finally when they formed an ill-fated co-led touring and recording orchestra.  Miller composed the songs “Annie’s Cousin Fanny,” “Dese Dem Dose,” “Harlem Chapel Chimes,” and “Tomorrow’s Another Day” for the Dorsey Brothers Band in 1934 and 1935. In 1935, he assembled an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble, developing the arrangement of lead clarinet over four saxophones that eventually became the sonic keynote of his own big band. Members of the Noble band included future bandleaders Claude ThornhillBud Freeman and Charlie Spivak. Glenn Miller made his first movie appearance in the 1935 Paramount Pictures release The Big Broadcast of 1936 as a member of the Ray Noble Orchestra performing “Why Stars Come Out at Night.” The Big Broadcast of 1936 starred Bing CrosbyGeorge BurnsGracie AllenEthel MermanJack Oakie, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and also featured other performances by Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers, who would appear with Miller again in two movies for Twentieth Century Fox in 1941 and 1942.

Glenn Miller compiled several musical arrangements and formed his first band in 1937. The band failed to distinguish itself from the many others of the era, and broke up after playing its last show at the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut on January 2, 1938.  Benny Goodman said in 1976, “In late 1937, before his band became popular, we were both playing inDallas. Glenn was pretty dejected and came to see me. He asked, ‘What do you do? How do you make it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Glenn. You just stay with it.'”

Success from 1938 to 1942

Millposter11939 Baltimore Hippodrome Ballroom concert poster.

Discouraged, Miller returned to New York. He realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave. George T. Simon discovered a saxophonist named Wilbur Schwartz for Glenn Miller. Miller hired Schwartz, but instead had him play lead clarinet. According to Simon, “Willie’s tone and way of playing provided a fullness and richness so distinctive that none of the later Miller imitators could ever accurately reproduce the Miller sound.” With this new sound combination, Glenn Miller found a way to differentiate his band’s style from the many bands that existed in the late thirties. Miller talked about his style in the May, 1939 issue of Metronome magazine. “You’ll notice today some bands use the same trick on every introduction; others repeat the same musical phrase as a modulation into a vocal … We’re fortunate in that our style doesn’t limit us to stereotyped intros, modulations, first choruses, endings or even trick rhythms. The fifth sax, playing clarinet most of the time, lets you know whose band you’re listening to. And that’s about all there is to it.”

Bluebird Records and Glen Island Casino

In September 1938, the Miller band began making recordings for the RCA VictorBluebird Records subsidiary.  Cy Shribman, a prominent East Coast businessman, began financing the band, providing a much needed infusion of cash.  In the spring of 1939, the band’s fortunes improved with a date at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and more dramatically at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. The Glen Island date according to author Gunther Schuller attracted “a record breaking opening night crowd of 1800…” With the Glen Island date, the band began a huge rise in popularity.  In 1939, TIME magazine noted: “Of the twelve to 24 discs in each of today’s 300,000 U.S. jukeboxes, from two to six are usually Glenn Miller’s.” There were record-breaking recordings such as “Tuxedo Junction” which sold 115,000 copies in the first week. Miller’s huge success in 1939 culminated with his band appearing at Carnegie Hall on October 6, with Paul WhitemanBenny Goodman, and Fred Waring also the main attractions.

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