Glenn Miller

TrackFirst recording
In The MoodUK HMV B.D.5705 (1941)
American PatrolUK HMV B.D.5789 (1943)
Pennsylvania 6-5000RCA Bluebird B-10754-A (1940)
Chattanooga Choo ChooUK HMV B.D.5720 (1941)
A String Of PearlsRCA Bluebird B-11382-B (1941)
Moonlight SerenadeRCA Bluebird B-10214-B (1939)
AdiosUK HMV B.D.5727 (1942)
Tuxedo JunctionUK HMV B.D.5595 (1940)
Little Brown JugRCA Bluebird B-10286-A (1939)
(I’ve Got A Gal In) KalamazooUK HMV B.D.5808 (1943)

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Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

I grew up in a house where music was always playing!

Radio 2 would be on in the kitchen if my Mother was in there, but it was my Dad who gave me my two lifetime loves: music and football. He was 17 when the 2nd World War broke out and got his music education while serving as a flight mechanic in the RAF. He fell in love with the Big Band Sound and in particular, Glenn Miller.

We had a pile of 78s and an old radiogram to play them on. There were also some singles from the 1950s and early 60s and some jazz and big band LPs too but the magical shellac 78 rpm records were a wonder. These were eventually joined by 70s pop, glam rock, rock and folk as my brother and I spread our musical wings.

I know that certainly nine of my selections are available on retrospective CDs but I want to remember all of these spinning with their wine-coloured HMV label blurred with the speed and the scratched sound from the speaker.

Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on 1st March 1904 and his story was immortalised in celluloid by James Stewart and June Allyson some 50 years later, and 10 years after he went ‘missing in action’ over the English Channel on the way to entertain American troops in France towards the end of the war.

As a musician, Miller began by playing the cornet but switched to trombone in 1916. During his senior year at high school, 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. As a bandleader and composer he had an ear and an imagination that set him above his peers in the eyes (or should that be ears) of his fans.

Using that imagination he created his unique sound, by having the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave. 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. “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.”

Between 1939 and 1942, Glenn Miller and his orchestra enjoyed amazing popularity and commercial success. The Glenn Miller Orchestra recorded 17 US Top 10 Hits in 1939, 31 in 1940, and 11 each in 1941 and 1942. These included In The Mood, A String Of Pearls, Little Brown Jug and Moonlight Serenade, all in this Toppermost 10. Miller’s success led to other lucrative ventures, such as his radio series aired on CBS three times a week. Miller and his band also worked on movies, introducing hits like Chattanooga Choo Choo in Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Kalamazoo in Orchestra Wives (1942). By the 1940s, Glenn Miller was earning around $20,000 a week.

To see my Dad enjoying the Big Bands of the 1930s and 40s in the way I enjoyed 1970s rock music, and the way he would beat out the rhythm with his right arm like a conductor, leaning back like a trombonist the way I would ‘air guitar’, taught me that he loved that music the way I loved, say, Deep Purple.

My first musical memories are listening to the big band sound with my Dad. For the first time for a TopperPost, I have not retrospectively listened to a catalogue of music, but have chosen from a lifetime of memories and listened to these 10.

In The Mood was my Dad’s favourite tune and the piece of music that inspired my cousin to become a professional musician – now retired (amongst other works my cousin created the brass arrangement on Keith Emerson’s version of Honky Tonk Train Blues). When I got my first smartphone, Dad was thrilled that the ringtone was In The Mood and amazed that the technology allowed me to do it. In The Mood is written around a standard 12 bar format and you can draw a musical straight line from that to Green Onions and on to the Eurovision Song Contest winner, Making Your Mind Up.

American Patrol was always one of my favourites and I am reminded of the scenes in The Glenn Miller Story with the fictitious depiction of how the tune came to be written. Miller supposedly had a poor memory for the mundane, so it’s said that he wrote Pennsylvania 6-5000 to remember his own telephone number.

“Pardon me boy, is this the Transylvania station? Track 29, can I give you a shine?” That’s an exchange from Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein and an homage to Glenn Miller’s famous song. Just a big smile of a song that sums up the optimism of the post-depression America it was written for.

A String Of Pearls became Glenn Miller’s theme tune and is quoted by Harvey Andrews in his tribute to June Allyson. “If you wore a string of pearls, While the music softly played, I’d forget the other girls, Sing a moonlight serenade, To dear Miss Allyson.” And those five lines link to Miller’s other theme tune.

Adios is possibly a very hidden gem in true Toppermost style. I have only known it from the 78 all those years ago – it was the B side of Under Blue Canadian Skies. To my young ears it was a cheeky little tune with a funny little ending and I played it over and over again. I had no idea that the word meant ‘goodbye’; in effect, I was still learning English!

Tuxedo Junction has been covered by a multitude of artists down the years but always retains its style. Little Brown Jug is a jolly tune and (I Got A Gal in) Kalamazoo illustrates how Glenn Miller put lyrics to his tunes but still retained his sound.

 

The Official Site of Glenn Miller

The Glenn Miller Birthplace Society

Glenn Miller biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #135

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