This week one of the iconic band leaders of all time whose music is still played today by big bands for those who love to dance. The legendary Glenn Miller has been immortalised on film and many of the war-time generation felt great sorrow at his untimely death in an air crash in 1944 at age 40.
This week William Price King pays tribute to this incredible artist.
Glenn Miller was born in Iowa in 1904 to Lewis and Mattie Miller. When he was eleven years old his family moved to Missouri and he made enough money from milking cows to buy his first trombone and began playing for the local orchestra. He also played cornet and Mandolin but dropped them to focus on the trombone. The family moved again in 1918 to Colorado where he went to high school. Despite playing for the school football team during his senior year he developed an interest in ‘dance band music’ and he formed a band with class mates. When he graduated in 1921 he decided to become a professional musician.
He spent a short term at the University of Colorado in 1923 but spent much of his time attending auditions and playing any gigs that he could. He dropped out of school to pursue his music full-time. He did study with Joseph Schillinger a composer, music theorist and teach who originated the Schillinger System of Musical Composition.
By 1926 he was touring with several groups including Ben Pollack and Victor Young which enabled him to take advantage of the mentorship of other professional musicians. He was originally the main trombonist for Ben Pollack but was sidelined with the arrival of Jack Teagarden which led Glenn to focus on arranging and composing
He published a songbook in Chicago in 1928 ‘Glenn Miller’s 125 Jazz Breaks for Trombone’ and he also wrote several arrangements and his first composition ‘Room 1411 with Benny Goodman. He joined Red Nichol’s orchestra in 1930 and played with the band for two of the hit Broadway shows of the day Strike up the Band and Girl Crazy.
Glenn freelanced as a trombonist with Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and other big bands of the day as well as continuing to arrange for the Dorsey Brothers on their recordings including ‘My Kinda Love’. He also worked vocalists such as Bing Crosby.
The melody for “Moonlight Serenade” was composed by Glenn Miller in 1935 when he was a trombone player in Ray Noble’s band. The lyricist Eddie Heyman added words, and the song was titled “As I Lay Me Down To Weep.” However, Miller didn’t record nor publish the song with these lyrics, but in 1938 used the instrumental as theme music for his radio broadcasts on the NBC network. In 1939 Robbins Music bought the music and asked Mitchell Parish (Stardust) to write a new set of lyrics, which he did, and called the song “Moonlight Serenade”. This became Glenn Miller’s signature song and a Top Ten hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard charts for fifteen weeks. It has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 1935, he assembled an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble and developed the arrangement of lead clarinet over four saxophones that became a characteristic of his own big band in 1937. However, it failed to stand out against all the other successful bands of the time and it folded after a show at the Ritz Ballroom in Connecticut in January 1938.
“In the Mood”, written by Wingy Manone, Andy Razaf, and Joe Garland was recorded by Glenn Miller in 1939 on the Bluebird label and topped the charts for 13 weeks in a row. A year later it was featured in the movie “Sun Valley Serenade”. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1983 and in 1999 the National Public Radio added the song to its list of ‘The 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century.’ “In the Mood” was also inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2004 which honors songs it considers culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
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.”
From the end of 1938 the band began recording for Bluebird records a subsidiary of RCA Victor. They began to play popular venues including the Glen Island Casino where they attracted a record breaking audience of 1800. 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. ‘Tuxedo Junction’ sold 115,000 copies its first week and Glenn Miller topped this in October 1939 with an appearance at Carnegie Hall.
During the early years of the war until September 1942 Miller’s band performed three times a week on CBS radio, with The Andrew Sisters and then on then on its own. In 1941 and 1942 the band appeared in two Hollywood films, Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives with Jackie Gleason. Glenn Miller was contracted to appear in a third film, Blind Date but he entered the U.S. Army.
“ Chattanooga Choo Choo”, featured in the movie “Sun Valley Serenade “, was composed in 1941 by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren while they were travelling on the Southern Railway’s Birmingham Special train. This song tells the story of their voyage from New York City to Chattanooga. In 1942 this song received the first gold record ever, presented by RCA Victor for sales over 1.2 million copies and remained the #1 song in the US for nine weeks. In this 8 minute video vocalists Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, Dorothy Dandridge are featured as well as the famous Nicholas Brothers in a tap dance routine. In 1996 Glenn’s version of this song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
After being turned down by the Navy, Glenn Miller persuaded the US army to accept him to be placed in charge of a modernized Army band. His popular approach to entertaining the troops with his dance band resulted in a promotion to Captain in 1944. His band expanded to a 50 piece Army Air Force Band and he took it to England in the summer of 1944 where they gave 800 performances. Now a major, Glenn also recorded at Abby Road Studios with some songs in German which were used as counter-propaganda to denounce oppression in Europe. Others were used to boost morale of allied troops as they pushed through Europe.
On December 15th Glenn Miller was due to fly to Paris to make arrangements to move the entire AAF band there as soon as possible. He plane disappeared over the English Channel and that is still being investigated today. As recently as January this year, new witness accounts have led the investigators to believe that the wreckage of the plane is 30 miles south of the Portland Bill in Devon. There are hopes to relocate the wreck and raise it later this year.
“ (I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo*” was the best-selling US recording in 1942, according to Billboard, spending 19 weeks on the Billboard charts and 8 weeks as #1. It was nominated for an Oscar Award for ‘Best Music, Original Song’ in 1943 – Harry Warren for the music, and Mack Gordon for the lyrics. This swinging, serious, and powerful song is featured in the 1942 20th Century Fox movie « Orchestra Wives » featuring the Nicholas Brothers.
*Kalamazoo is a city in the southwest region of the US state of Michigan. The name Kalamazoo has become a métonym for exotic places as in the phrase ‘from Timbuktu to Kalamazoo.’
Buy the music of Glenn Miller: https://www.amazon.com/Glenn-Miller/e/B000APVC16
Other sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Miller
About William Price King
William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.
His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.
While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.
His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.
In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.
His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.
William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION – https://williampriceking.tumblr.com
Connect with William
Website – http://www.williampriceking.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/WilliamPriceKing
Twitter – https://twitter.com/wpkofficial
Regular Venue – http://cave-wilson.com/
You can find all of the Music Column series in this directory: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/william-price-king-music-column/
As always we would love to receive your feedback.. thanks Sally and William