There can only be a handful of people in the Western world who haven't heard of Glenn Miller and his music. His orchestra existed for only five years yet it made an indelible mark on the history of popular music, changing and modernising dance music styles almost overnight.
Along with his contemporaries, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Artie Shaw and others, he was a driving force and combined swing with out and out dance music which kept the publics attention, not only in those five short years which saw the outbreak of World War II, but ever since.
Glenn Miller collectors will always point out that the ten or so bestsellers, most of them instrumentals, are just scratching the surface of Millers output of over 300 sides for RCA in the States, and this collection covers not only the most well known and perhaps best loved titles that Glenn made his own, but also a goodly selection of the rest.
Miller's famous theme, Moonlight Serenade, performs its usual task of getting things under way. No surprise that this record is one of the five most requested discs on record programmes in this country and surely the most imitated record by other bands down the years. Recorded in April 1939 and just six days before that other favourite, Little Brown Jug, Millers theme puts us all in the mood for what follows.
Glenn Miller and his Orchestra opened at the Cafe Rough in New York's Hotel Pennsylvania on 4th January 1940 for a three month engagement. Shortly after finishing this booking the orchestra recorded Jerry Gray and Carl Sigman's interpretation of the hotels telephone number, 6-5000, which must now surely be the most famous telephone number in the world. Pennsylvania 6-5000, the follow-up to the theme, gets things swinging and this tempo is continued with Johnson Rag. Bill Finegan's arrangement of this old piece was recorded on Sunday, 5th November 1939.
We hear Glenn's boy vocalist, Ray Eberle, for the first time on a classic Hoagy Carmichael song, Blue Orchids. The American public voted this song a No.1 spot late in 1939, and we move on nearly three years for the next piece on this album, American Patrol. By then America was at war and the stirring rhythmic tones of this arrangement by Jerry Gray for the Miller Orchestra makes another well remembered recording. It was released in Britain for the first time in 1946 on the back of Glenn's theme which was having a reissue.
Moonlight Cocktail, an above average popular song of the day, was recorded the day after Pearl Harbour was attacked in December 1941. Ray Eberle and Glenn's vocal group, The Modernaire's, perform the vocal, but the song was not without controversy here in Britain and the BBC banned it from the air after finding innuendo in the lyric. As a result British listener's didn't get to hear Millers version for over two years until its release early in 1944.
I've already mentioned Little Brown Jug. Despite what the biopic The Glenn Miller Story told, this title was recorded by the Miller band back in April 1939 and played by them many times until that fateful day in late 1944 when Miller disappeared.
Frenesi is the first of two distinctive melodies by composer Alberto Dominguez which appear here.
Ray and The Modernaire's make a quick return with the vocal on Elmer's Tune from August 1941. Miller plays a muted trombone solo on this one which benefits from a Jerry Gray arrangement.
The flagwaver, Slip Horn Jive, is the next one up and Miller takes out his mute to take a sprightly solo which keeps drummer Maurice Purtill on his toes too.
Miller did his last recording session for RCA's cheaper Bluebird label on 18th February 1942 and we now hear one of the titles recorded on that date. Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree gives us our first chance to hear on this collection the vocal talents of saxophonist Tex Beneke and blonde, vivacious Marion Hutton. Recordings made after this date were issued on the 15c more expensive RCA label.
Jerry Gray made a tremendous contribution to Miller legend with his own piece A String of Pearls being recorded in November 1941 by the band. This was to become Glenn's fourth No.1 best selling record in the States in just under a year when it hit the top in January 1942.
Another of that quartet was the train song to end all train songs, Chattanooga Choo Choo, which was featured in Glenn Millers first film, Sun Valley Serenade. Among the vocalists was Paula Kelly who was making her first recording session appearance with the band that day in May 1941. The arrangement of the band parts was by Jerry Gray, while Bill Conway of The Modernaire's put the vocal on to paper.
Billy Strayhorn's Take The A Train, such a hit for Duke Ellington, was handed over to Billy May by Glenn to put his unique approach on the arrangement and the big mans muted trumpet can be heard to great effect, too.
The second of Alberto Dominguez's songs, Perfidia (Tonight), from February 1941, is possibly one of the best examples of all the Miller sweet arrangements with Marion Hutton's temporary replacement, Dorothy Claire, singing with The Modernaire's.
If ever there was a melody to illustrate swing perfectly, it has to be Tuxedo Junction. Erskine Hawkins composed this but Miller took it and imposed his own ideals on it. Throughout the gentler rhythmic passages the listener is anticipating the blast from the full orchestra and the thrill of it continues into playing after playing. Miller recorded this in February 1940 during his Hotel Pennsylvania booking and trumpeter Clyde Hurley is heard alongside fellow trumpet section star Dale McMickle, the latter taking the mute solo. As always, the piano is in the capable hands of Glenn's big buddy, J. C. Chummy MacGregor.
For the next track we are back to Ray Eberle with A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Written by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin, an American who made Britain his home during the war, the song had great success on both sides of the Atlantic. Bill Finegan's arrangement made sure that Millers record was one of the best sellers, if not the best, reaching No.2 in the American charts.
Recorded at the same session as Chattanooga Choo Choo, Boulder Buff is a steadily pounding instrumental which instantly grabs your attention. Tenor man Al Klink, so often in the shade of Tex Beneke as far as solos were concerned, gets a chance to show his skills on this one and he is joined by Billy May on trumpet.
The Story of a Starry Night, with a Ray Eberle vocal, was adapted by Bill Finegan from Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony and was another to be recorded by the band on the day after Pearl Harbour.
Glenn's second and last film, Orchestra Wives, was produced by 20th Century Fox during eight weeks between March and May 1942. The three hit songs from the film, At Last, Serenade in Blue and Kalamazoo, are the next to be heard on this collection. All written by Mack Gordon & Harry Warren, who put together the whole score for the picture, the songs were put on record for release by RCA in May 1942, just before the end of the shooting on the 22nd. Trumpeter Johnny Best is the real player of the solos on At Last, his film part being taken by actor John Payne.
This programme of some of the cream of Glenn Millers recordings ends with what is probably his second most remembered title: In The Mood. Recorded in August 1939, the repetitive theme drives this collection to a close leaving many listeners, Im sure, to start the whole thing over again.
COLIN MORGAN 1994