© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“... no artist should ever be evaluated other than by his intention. And Glenn Miller had no intention of leading a jazz band, despite the presence in his personnel of such fine players as Bobby Hackett and Al Klink. His intention was to form and lead a smoother and coherent dance band, and that's exactly what he did. By every testimony, he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it….
It is an axiom of the American culture that only trash achieves wide public favor while the best art struggles for the approval of a small, exclusive, and superior element of the population. Sometimes this is true. But the corollary, that what achieves wide popularity is ipso facto no good, isn't. It certainly was untrue in the case of Glenn Miller …”
- Gene Lees
The Glenn Miller Years I
These recollections and observations about the early years of Jazz as seen through the career of Glenn Miller are near and dear to my heart and remind me of my own passionate interest in the music as a young man.
Once you are smitten, you begin to seek out others who have been bitten by the Jazz bug and they become your social circle as well as the people you make music with in groups both large and small.
Their quirks of character and personality are reflected in the way they play the music and in what they emphasize or prefer: some are better at soloing; others at accompanying; others find their calling in writing and arranging; a select few become bandleaders because they are better at finding gigs and creating a signature style which they use to interpret the music.
Finding an instantly recognizable sound with a big band is always challenging because you have to fuse and hone the talents and abilities of many musicians to portray it.
During the heyday of the swing era, no one did this better than Glenn Miller.
His goal was simple: he wanted a singular sounding band that play beautiful swinging music that was also commercially successful.
Here's the path he followed to achieve that goal.
“My high school years fell during World War II and the latter part of the big-band era. In common with millions of kids, I was a devoted follower of the bands, and I saw most of them, including Jimmie Lunceford, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, and Stan Kenton.
I have given much thought over the years to the causes of the era and then, in the post-war years, the decline of the bands. Essentially the era came about in consequence of the confluence of two factors: the growing popularity in the early part of the last century of "ballroom" dancing, and the rise in the 1920s and then domination in the 1930s and 1940s of network radio broadcasting.
Not that there was no social dancing in the nineteenth century. But the forms of it were sedate, quite different from what came about in the band era. To oversimplify, the early years of the twentieth century saw the popularity of two kinds of dance: intimate face-to-face dance to slow music, and athletic dancing that came to have the unfortunate designation jitterbugging. With the death of the Victorian era, the slower dancing was often considered scandalous, for it permitted a man and woman to hold each other and move with bodies touching, and everybody knew what that did to you. The jitterbugs came to seem more outrageous. They had a love for fast numbers, and the more skilled and adventurous of them were extraordinary athletes. Since I was never much of a dancer at any tempo, I paid little attention to them at the time. They were looked on as something of a joke, and newsreels showed segments shot in Harlem. Whirling, swirling, with the men flinging the girls in all sorts of ways, including up over their heads making (egad!) the thighs and panties only too visible. When I see them now in old film footage, I am amazed, at their prowess, not their eccentricity.
During those years, I was, like most jazz and big-band fans, a reader of Down Beat, never of course foreseeing that I would one day be its editor. It was in some ways a silly magazine, certainly a frivolous one. Among the other manifestations of its giddy vapidity — chick singers with big boobs on the covers, cute coy headlines in the manner of Variety — was its annual readers' poll which, when I was in charge of it, I came to despise. So did many of the musicians even in those earlier days: when Harry James won in the trumpet category, he gave his award to Louis Armstrong.
The magazine divided the bands into swing and sweet categories, always with a tone of condescension or even contempt toward the latter, which included Freddy Martin, Blue Barron, Richard Himber, Horace Heidt, Wayne King, Tommy Tucker, Shep Fields, Sammy Kaye, and Guy Lombardo, the band every jazz fan loved to hate. Indeed, the Down Beat poll had a King of Corn category in which Lombardo consistently won.
The "hot" bands included Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Jimmie Lunceford, Charlie Barnet, Gene Krupa, Glen Gray, Tommy Dorsey, and to my taste Les Brown which, if it wasn't strictly speaking a jazz band, was clean and tasteful with a nice bounce to it and beautiful arrangements, most of the best of them by Frank Comstock. In the war years, my favorite of those bands was that of Tommy Dorsey, playing such incandescent Sy Oliver charts as Well Git It and the long, warm, beautiful chart on Deep River, issued on two sides of a six-inch 78. As the war came to an end, the wild and fiercely hot Woody Herman band came to the fore, and then came Stan Kenton whose band was later under-rated and indeed denigrated, like that of Paul Whiteman before him. The "hot" bands heavily featured their best jazz soloists, such as Jack Jenney with Artie Shaw. Woody Herman made his soloists, a long succession of them from the Candoli Brothers on through Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Al Cohn to Bill Chase, Alan Broadbent, and Gregory Herbert, the very definition of his band, whereas Shaw made himself his principal soloist. Benny Goodman had Teddy Wilson, later Mel Powell, Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton, but he was known on occasion to fire players who got applause that overshadowed his own. And there were lesser but very good bands, such as that of Teddy Powell, whose career ended when he went to prison for draft-dodging, and Jerry Wald, a clarinetist who imitated Shaw with a fidelity such that (as I learned years later) Artie detested him.
But the line between the "sweet" and "hot" bands was not as clear as the hipper-than-thou fans and Down Beat made out, because even Basie and Ellington played a certain number of ballads for the romantic dancers, and some of the sweet bands, including Kay Kyser — whose band was far better than it was generally given credit for, with fine arrangements by George Duning — could play creditable jazz.
The most difficult to define band was also the most successful of the era, that of Glenn Miller. It has been much denigrated. Jo Stafford told me that the members of the Dorsey band considered it a little corny. A lot of musicians, including some of its own alumni, such as the late Billy May, claimed it didn't swing. Miller had, essentially, aside from an earlier band that recorded for Decca and failed, two important orchestras, a civilian band and then a second and larger orchestra which was part of the Army Air Corps. The second, which had a large string section, was far the better orchestra, since it had superior personnel: the brilliant Mel Powell on piano instead of the mediocre Chalmers (Chummy) MacGregor, Ray McKinley on drums, instead of the plodding Maurice Purtill, and others of the first rank. The civilian band lasted scarcely four years, making its first record on September 27, 1938, and its last on July 14, 1942, for a total of 287 "sides". After World War II, a few dozen recordings derived from radio broadcasts made in England turned up, along with a good many recordings made from its pre-war radio broadcasts in the U.S. Not all these recordings were of quality material: there was a large amount of Tin Pan Alley trash. Yet for all the brevity of its life, the Miller band was the most influential of the era, and many LP recordings were issued in its echo under the leadership of Ralph Flanigan and others, and knock-offs of the band still flourish in the U.S. and U.K., all featuring its distinctive sound of clarinet lead on the saxophone section.
But no artist should ever be evaluated other than by his intention. And Miller had no intention of leading a jazz band, despite the presence in his personnel of such fine players as Bobby Hackett and Al Klink. His intention was to form and lead a smoother and coherent dance band, and that's exactly what he did. By every testimony, he knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it.
One thing never questioned is Miller's business acumen. It is, on examination, even more finely tuned than is generally believed. He was once described as the smartest businessman of any bandleader since John Phillip Sousa. A better precedent is Paul Whiteman. But the best precedent goes back well before that: Johann Strauss the younger.
In the two hundred and fifty and more years since the death of J.S. Bach, these two men blazoned their names in musical history by forming and leading dance orchestras that became far the most popular of their day: Johann Strauss the Younger and Glenn Miller. Both men achieved their eminence using vulgate music long held to be meretricious, the three-four meter in Strauss's Vienna, the four-four common in Miller's America. Strauss elevated a peasant dance form to the level of acceptance by the Hapsburgs; Miller made American dance music acceptable to the British Royal family, who were among its enthusiasts. Although both men had their detractors, both too had their admirers in high musical places. Strauss was admired by Brahms and Richard Wagner. The late and brilliant Belgian jazz arranger and composer Francy Boland was a devoted fan of Miller's.
It is an axiom of the American culture that only trash achieves wide public favor while the best art struggles for the approval of a small, exclusive, and superior element of the population. Sometimes this is true. But the corollary, that what achieves wide popularity is ipso facto no good, isn't. It certainly was untrue in the cases of both Miller and Strauss. A thoroughly studied musician in composition, counterpoint, and harmony, Strauss wrote dance music that has been so universally popular that it is all too seldom examined critically. It is in fact ingenious in construction and elegant in orchestration. Miller studied with, among others, Joseph Schillinger, and his work as a composer and arranger was notable for clarity and discipline. Consider Strauss' s endlessly surprising overture to his opera Die Fledermaus. His sound was distinctive; so was Miller's, and it is unerasable in the communal American ear.
There were of course differences. Strauss was married three times and had a taste for actresses. Miller was married once and he was, judging by the testimony of those who knew him, faithful to his wife. Strauss was born the son of a successful orchestra leader and composer in sophisticated Vienna; Miller was born to genteel poverty and hardship in Clarinda, Iowa, and lived in Nebraska in one of the prairie mud huts of American legend. Strauss lived seventy-four years, Miller only forty-two. They seem far apart in time, but they weren't. Miller was born March 1, 1904, a little under five years after the death of Strauss on June 3, 1899.
Like most infants at that time, Miller was born at home, a two-story frame house with a porch at 601 South 16 Street in Clarinda, which is still a small town in the southwest of Iowa. It still stands and houses the Glenn Miller Society, which is run by polite and dedicated volunteers. Part of the street has been renamed Glenn Miller Avenue. The population at the 2000 census was 5,940. Clarinda, named for a niece of the founder, is the county seat of Page County, and as such has a handsome court house.
He was named Alton Glenn Miller, presumably after Alton B. Parker, the candidate for the presidency during that election year, whom Theodore Roosevelt soundly defeated. Parker has the unusual distinction of being the only defeated presidential candidate never to have a book written about him.
Miller's mother, born Mattie Lou Cavender, the stronger of the parents, presumably gave him his name. In his time in the U.S. Army Air Corps he signed all documents Captain (and later Major) Alton Glenn Miller. But he said, "I couldn't stand the name Alton. I can still hear my mother calling me from across the field. 'Alton!' It was never 'Awlton.' 'Alton!' she would call. 'Alton, come on home!' I just hated the sound of that name. That's why I always used 'Glenn' instead."
Glenn was the second of the family's four children: a sister, Irene, and brother would follow. Irene said of her father, Lewis Elmer Miller, "There was something in his personality that kept him from putting it all together. Glenn considered Dad a brilliant man who could have done very well if he could just have believed in himself more. Instead he always felt that someone had it in for him, or that someone else was out to get his job." It was not from lack of trying that he failed. He worked hard as a carpenter and school janitor, among other jobs. He even gave homesteading a try, moving the family when Glenn was five to Tryon, Oklahoma, population 448 in the year 2003. It lies northeast of Oklahoma City, a little under halfway to Tulsa.
These were the last days of the Wild West, and living in Tulsa at that time was the famous outlaw Henry Starr, nephew by marriage of Belle Starr, who boasted that he committed more bank robbers than the James-Younger and Doolin gangs combined. Starr was a pioneer, the first outlaw to use an automobile in a bank robbery.
Glenn's mother, Mattie Lou, worked hard and long. She gathered cowchips, dried cattle dung burned to furnish heat. Glenn's older brother, Dr. Deane Miller, a successful dentist, said that the family assuaged the hardship of their isolated existence with music. Mattie Lou played the organ. The children sang. Since there was no available school, Mattie organized one and taught classes in the rudimentary subjects, religion among them, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and ethics. This would seem to have contributed to the severity of Glenn's adult character. Elmer Miller, as he preferred to be called, got a job with the Union Pacific Railroad and bought Deane a cornet and Glenn a mandolin. The family endured five hard years in Oklahoma, where the summer heat can be infernal and winters harsh. They narrowly escaped being wiped out by a prairie fire.
In 1915, the family moved to nearby Grant City, Missouri, where, Mattie told the New York World Telegram, Glenn sang in a choir. "But he didn't seem to show much talent when he was young," she said. "We gave him and one day he came home with an old battered horn. He'd traded the mandolin off for the horn.. I didn't know he wanted a horn, though I expect all boys like horns. Glenn never said so, but he never said much anyway." He was, then, laconic from the start. He would take his horn out on solitary walks by the train tracks and play it.
His brother Deane, by this time, was playing cornet in the town band. It was a time when almost every town in America had a band, and, usually, a pavilion in a park to go with it. The band in Grant City was led by a store owner named Jack Mossberg who thought that Glenn showed sufficient promise on his horn that he gave him a new trombone, and let him shine shoes in his store to pay for it. Glenn worked before and after school, doing furnace work, sweeping floors, whatever he could find. He even ran a trap line. A neighbor later described him as a bit moody, inclined to tell little stories of what happened to him and laughing. He loved basketball, baseball, and football, and was popular with other children. In 1938, in a self-portrait written for his publicist, he said that he wanted to be a baseball player and admired Theodore Roosevelt and Horatio Alger, whose mythology he would successfully emulate. He excelled at football but feared, as brass players always do, hurting his mouth. He wrote: "I remember when I was very young following a man with a trombone under his arm until he went into a night club and thinking my ambitions would be realized if I were good enough to work in that club." A nightclub in those tiny prairie towns in those years seems unlikely, but that's what he wrote.
In 1918, as World War I drew to a close, the family moved to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where they lived in a succession of rented homes, including one on Lake Street which, when Glenn was a success, he bought for his mother. He worked in a sugar factory and as a soda jerk, tried his hand as an actor in a high school play, and played end in the school football team, once catching eleven passes in a game and simply falling asleep when he got home. He also played trombone, with no apparent distinction, in the high school band. His high school grades were mostly Cs, one A and some Bs in math. He flunked first-year Latin. He was graduated on May 20, 1921, but missed the ceremonies: he had gone to Laramie, Wyoming, for a band job that turned out not to be there; his mother accepted his diploma.
She always impressed on her children the necessity and virtue of hard work.
Glenn's sister Irene, when she was married to Professor Welby Wolfe of the University of Colorado, said, "The relationship among us was just great. It was always better, I think, than we ever realized then.
"I remember the Christmas of 1927 when Glenn surprised us and just walked into the house unannounced. Mother was washing the clothes over a washboard on the back porch and she had a kettle of hot water on the kitchen stove. 'My God, Mother,' he said, 'is this the way you wash clothes?' And the very next day he went into town and bought her a new Maytag washer."
In a letter to George Simon, Irene said that she and Glenn were very much alike. "We both form quick judgments, are stubborn, and have terribly high standards of perfection, besides being, I'm sure, a little hard to live with."
His mother was one of the major forces in his life. She was stoical and puritanical, at one time heading a chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Glenn was, in his adult years, almost incapable of expressing his feelings, which led some of his associates to think he didn't have them.
Instead of going directly to university after high school, Glenn took his first professional job with the band of Boyd Senter, of whom musicians for years asked: Is he kidding?
Senter was born on a farm on November 30,1898, and thus was six years older than Glenn. That does not seem like a major difference in your older years, but when you are seventeen it's a lot. Senter decided to become a musician after
hearing the Original Dixieland Jass Band on records. The O.D.J.B., as it came to be known, was the first group to record jazz, playing tunes of its own such as Fidgety Feet, Clarinet Marmalade, At the Jazz Band Ball, and Tiger Rag. Since its first records were issued in March, 1917, Senter was nineteen when he heard them. He had had some lessons on piano, but soon became an acceptable trumpet player and in time learned all the saxophones. It was, however, as a clowning clarinetist that he made his name, and that is why musicians questioned him in later years. But in the early years, barnyard sounds were common in jazz, whose own musicians had not yet learned to respect what they did. One of the O.D. J.B. recordings was Livery Stable Blues, and even Benny Goodman made a record called Shirt Tail Stomp.
Glenn stayed with Senter for only a short time before entering the University of Colorado at Boulder. His later recording, Boulder Buff, would seem to have paid tribute to this period. He played in a band led by Holly Moyer, and completed only three of sixteen semesters, accruing 36 of the 186 credits requisite to graduating. His best mark was in trigonometry, 83, and his worst in modern European history and in music. He flunked a first-year harmony course, with a grade of 50.
But he kept on playing trombone with the Moyer band, and even made tentative attempts at arranging. Of the band's members, banjo player Bill Christensen became a stockbroker and a millionaire, saxophonists Bill Fairchild and Jack Bunch became a furniture store owner and real-estate salesman respectively, and pianist Moyer went on to work for a Denver advertising agency. He and Glenn remained close in later years. Bunch, who roomed with Glenn for a time, became a successful Hollywood musician. He recalled that the band "didn't like the music as written and we developed a lot of our own stuff from listening to phonograph records. One of our favorites was the Cotton Pickers." McKinney's Cotton Pickers, based in Detroit and led originally by drummer William McKinney, was one of the seminal groups of early jazz. With arrangements by Don Redman, it had enormous influence.
After two tours with the Moyer band, Glenn made a trip to seek a job with the Jimmy Joy band led by Jimmy Maloney at the University of Texas. Singing with the band was a notably handsome young man named Smith Ballew, a banjo player who in the late 1920s and early '30s would become a success as a bandleader and then as a star of western movies. Glenn had heard that the Jimmy Joy band was about to lose a trombone player, and hoped to replace him. Smith Ballew said later, "I met him and liked him immediately."
Glenn auditioned but didn't get the job. Ballew said, "We were playing mostly by ear. Each man had memorized his parts. Practically none were written down. Glenn didn't know what we were doing, naturally. It really wasn't fair." Glenn returned to Boulder, intending to continue in school, but he failed three out of four courses in 1923. He continued with the Moyer band, however, and then decided to drop out of school and concentrate on a career as a musician. He went on the road with an eleven-piece band led by Tom Watkins. They traveled to Mexico and then Los Angeles, where Glenn joined the Max Fisher band at the Forum Theater. Glenn by then had become a good reader and played his parts well.
It was at the Forum that he got the break he had been waiting for, the one that shaped his career: "the interest that Ben Pollack showed in me when he hired me to play and arrange for his band."
Pollack was born into a well-to-do family in Chicago on June 22, 1903, and thus was a year older than Glenn. He was already an established musician when they met. A fine drummer, he played in the early 1920s with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, then with several groups on the West Coast. In 1925 he formed his own band in Los Angeles. The band, in the next decade, became legendary, for Pollack had an acute ear for talent and through its ranks passed Benny Goodman, Jimmy McPartland, Charlie Spivak, Matty Matlock, Yank Lawson, Harry James, Freddie Slack, Muggsy Spanier, Ray Bauduc, Dave Mathews, and Irving Fazola, also an alumnus of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. It had excellent arrangers, including Fud Livingston. Chicago at that period was the ultimate conservatory of jazz, and the young musicians in Pollack's band had been heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong, who had come there to play in the King Oliver band. Night after night, young musicians would make the trek to the South Side to hear Armstrong.
The Pollack band was playing at the Venice Ballroom in Los Angeles while Glenn was playing with Georgie Stoll. Pollack was called back to Chicago by the death of his brother. Stoll later became a prominent conductor in films.
One of Pollack's saxophonists was Gil Rodin, who went with Pollack to hear a young musician with Art Kassel's band. He still wore short pants but kept a pair of long pants in a locker for his work with the band. His name was Benny Goodman, and he accepted immediately when Rodin asked him to come to California where he was planning to form and rehearse a band.
Rodin, who had a sharp business acumen, in effect ran the band. Later, he became an executive of the Music Corporation of America (MCA). Of Miller Rodin said:
"Glenn was terribly serious about his music. He had a helluva good sense of humor — I can still see that puckish grin — and he was a real gentleman. But when it came to his music he never took his eye off the ball. It was nothing for him to stay up half the night teaching himself how to arrange out of Arthur Lange's book."
Born April 16,1889, Lange was a bandleader in the 1920s who recorded extensively. Lange was also an arranger who later wrote movie scores, more than 120 of them. Rodin continued:
"I remember Glenn was playing with Georgie Stoll's band and ... he had an attack of appendicitis. We tried to cure it with lots of orange juice and gin, but it didn't work and finally one night I rushed him to the hospital for an operation. While Glenn was recuperating back in the apartment, we would have some free-for-alls among the musicians who'd come in to try to make Glenn laugh so his scar would hurt."
Glenn had left the Stoll band to join Max Fisher's pit band at the Forum Theater. Rodin recalled that when Ben Pollack got back from Chicago, they went to hear Glenn during a matinee. "But we really couldn't tell what Glenn could do, because most of what they played was dull, society-band-type stuff. We heard he also arranged, but we had no way of telling which arrangements were his.
"So after the show we went backstage to meet Glenn and he really made no special impression on us — a nice, quiet, well-mannered guy, but that was about all. We asked him to come and sit in with the band, and he did. He didn't impress us tremendously, but... we asked him if he was interested in going to Chicago. He knew our band; he'd been in several times to hear us, and I guess he must have been thrilled to be asked to join us.
"But he seemed to be more interested in arranging for the band than playing. That was understandable, because he never had had a chance to write for such good musicians before. We asked him to bring a few of his arrangements to rehearsal and we liked them. He would copy riffs he heard on records . . . and then drop them into his own arrangements. He joined the band then, and right after that Benny Goodman came out and joined us, too . . . ."
Glenn and Goodman became friends, and remained so.
The newly-formed Pollack band returned to Chicago. Trumpeters Al Harris and Hank Greenberg and Glenn comprised the brass, and Fud Livingston, Gil Rodin, and Benny Goodman the saxes, while Goodman's older brother, Harry, played tuba and Wayne Allen played piano. Violinist Lou Kessler doubled on banjo. Collectively they made up what is still remembered as one of the great bands of the era.
One musician who came into the band was cornetist Jimmy McPartland, a member of the so-called Austin High Gang. McPartland told the late English jazz journalist Max Jones:
"Ben Pollack, now there was a drummer: one of the finest that ever lived. He produced as good a beat as I've heard. When he got behind you, he'd really make you go: yes, he'd send you. And he had a marvelous band at the Blackhawk, with Benny Goodman; his brother Harry Goodman on bass; Vic Breidis, piano; Gil Rodin, alto; Dick Morgan, guitar; Glenn Miller, trombone; and, a little later on, Bud Freeman on tenor. Glenn was making arrangements as well as playing, and Fud Livingston also arranged. Both were terrific. That band really swung. We didn't play all jazz, naturally: had to play popular tunes of the day for the customers. But everything we did was musical. The intonation was fine, the band had tonal quality. It was (by this point) a ten-piece outfit, and it played nice, danceable music.
"So that was the band I joined at the Blackhawk. The Blackhawk was a very high-class restaurant and it had good acoustics — a beautiful place to play in."
At one period Glenn and Benny Goodman roomed together. Goodman told George Simon, "We often dated together, too. We'd go out to places like the Four Deuces and the Frolics Cafe. Glenn liked to drink. Sometimes, when he became overloaded, he'd grow pugnacious — but never with me."
On another occasion, Goodman said: "Glenn and I in the early '30's hoped we would find enough work to support us. Glenn in those days was exactly the same as he was about eight years later when he became leader of the most popular band in the country. He was an honest, straightforward man and you knew just where you stood with him. He was always serious about his work, but off the job he was an excellent companion with a wonderful sense of humor and a great feeling for the ridiculous. Have you ever heard the nonsensical lyrics he wrote for the Dorsey Brothers record of Annie's Cousin Fanny! You had to have a pretty real sense of humor to come up with ideas like those."
It is during this period that one encounters the first evidence of Glenn's departure from his mother's W.C.T.U. persuasion, and the first testimony that when he did drink he could be unpleasant.
Gil Rodin said that Glenn at that time was a social drinker. "He was very well liked by the guys. He liked to do what everyone else did. He'd play golf and tennis, and we'd listen to records, and at night, when we weren't working, we'd go out and hear music. All the guys would go to hear Louis and King Oliver, and Glenn would too. But he also liked to hear Roger Wolfe Kahn's orchestra when it played at the Southmoor. He'd go over there every night for a week because he liked that big-band sound and he wanted to see how they used their violins. That's why, when we made our records, we used to add strings to the band, because Glenn was trying to get that sound."
Roger Wolfe Kahn was one of the most interesting figures in the music business of that period. Born October 19, 1907 — he was thus three years younger than Glenn — in Morristown, New Jersey, he was the son of a wealthy German Jewish banker, Otto Hermann Kahn. The young Kahn was said to have learned to play eighteen instruments before he started his own orchestra in 1923 when he was only sixteen.
Within four years, he had made the cover of Time magazine. Kahn hired the best jazz musicians, particularly for recordings, among them Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden, Red Nichols, and Gene Krupa. He wrote some good songs, too, among them Imagination and Crazy Rhythm.
Kahn was in a similar position to Charlie Barnet, grandson of Charles Frederick Daly, banker, businessman, and vice president of the New York Central Railroad. Barnet was educated at boarding schools in the New York and Chicago areas, and like Kahn — and unlike all the other bandleaders, including Glenn Miller — didn't have to turn a profit with his band. Both of them could do it for fun, and when his band was playing well, Kahn would lie down on the bandstand floor and wave his legs in the air.
In the mid-1930s, just when Barnet was getting started, Kahn lost interest in the music business, disbanded, and turned to another hobby: aviation. In time he became a test pilot and executive of Grumman Aircraft. (Saxophonist Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke's close friend and collaborator, also became a test pilot.) Kahn scandalized the New York society pages when he married musical comedy actress and singer Hannah Williams who, after their divorce, married boxer Jack Dempsey and recorded with the Ben Pollack band.
Glenn's interest in strings, then, goes back to the Pollack days. It would take a war and the Army Air Corps to give him the string section he wanted.
In a book titled Chicago Jazz (Oxford University Press 1993), William Howland Kenney, clarinetist and associate professor of history and American studies at Kent State University, wrote:
"Ben Pollack and his Orchestra recorded elaborately arranged jazz performances while retaining informality and excitement.... The group played in Chicago in the Venetian Room of the Southmoor Hotel and the Blackhawk Tavern, beginning in 1926, and recorded for Victor He's the Last Word, a popular song . . . sung by Hannah (Mrs. Jack Dempsey) and Dorothy Williams, Glenn Miller's demanding, sophisticated arrangement wedded the white tradition of dance band arranging to hot, improvised jazz. Using impressionistic whole-tone scales, dense, odd chordal progressions, parallel and chromatic motion, and unusual modulations (D major to E minor to B-flat minor to E major to D-flat minor and back to E minor), Miller left no doubt of his voice-leading skills and theoretical sophistication. Benny Goodman is the featured soloist
Where and when and how Miller acquired this sophisticated knowledge is unknown. There were no text books on jazz writing in those days. One could of course consult the Rimsky-Korsakov or Berlioz or Reginald Forsythe books, but they weren't of much help regarding writing for saxophones. In any case, it must be kept in mind that some of the finest jazz arrangers and composers, including Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan, have been autodidacts, and Miller appears to be one of them.
The Pollack band went into the Southmoor, where it was an enormous success. Musicians were prominent in the audiences, among them Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer. The band made several records for Victor, including When I First Met Mary, which Glenn arranged. He added two violinists for that session one of whom was Victor Young, a young native of Chicago who would make his debut as a concert violinist with the Warsaw Philharmonic and then became a major film composer and a writer of exquisite songs, including Ghost of a Chance, Street of Dreams, Can't We Talk it Over?, Stella By Starlight, and My Foolish Heart.
From the Southmoor, the Pollack band went into the Rendezvous Club, one of the gangster-dominated clubs. Indeed, almost all the clubs were owned or controlled by gangsters, with the heavy hand of the Capone brothers everywhere in evidence. It is one of the curiosities of jazz history that hoods (in Chicago, the word, presumably a contraction of hoodlums, was pronounced to rhyme with foods) were the great patrons of the emerging art called jazz. This is not unprecedented in the history of the arts. Consider the Borgias.
Drummer Ray McKinley said that he owed the gangsters in part for his career and his long friendship with Glenn Miller. McKinley said: "The band I was with was playing in some club there — I can't remember which one — and one night there was some shooting going on and I wound up in the hospital with a bullet in me. But those gangsters we were working for paid all my hospital bills and after I got out they put me up at the Palmer House and really treated me like a king."
The great bassist Milt Hinton, who grew up in Chicago, once described the symbiosis of the gangsters in general and Capone in particular to the community and especially musicians. Milt said. "We looked on Al Capone as more or less a Robin Hood in the black community. There was a lot of shifting of power. It didn't concern us in the black community on the South Side until the thing got pretty big and people realized there was a potential of a lot of money.
"Al Capone had decided to come to the South Side of Chicago and sell alcohol to the people who gave house-rent parties."
Rent parties were a part of the lore of musical evolution in Chicago. And they exemplified the sense of community in the black population of Chicago which, I have been told, did not exist in that of New York. Chicago was different. When someone had trouble coming up with the rent money, they'd hire a pianist, throw a big party, and charge admission. Milt's uncle sold Capone's bootleg alcohol to these parties.
"We would sell that to the house-rent parties. We had three trucks. One was El Passo Cigars. One was Ford Cleaning and Pressing. I can't remember the name of the third truck. We delivered to the people giving house-rent parties all the way from 31st Street out to 63rd Street, from State Street to the lake. It was a thriving business. The only thing you needed to do was sit there and take the telephone calls, and deliver.
"And Al Capone came every Thursday or Friday, I can't remember what day it was, in a big car, bullet-proof. He'd come with his bodyguards with a bag full of money. And he would park that car and walk in the back of that place, and the police would be lined up, like they were waiting for a bus. He paid every one of them five dollars, and every sergeant ten. He paid 'em off, so we had no problem with the police at all. You'd never have your house raided.
"Everything was great. There were gang wars, and big funerals with lots of flowers. But then things calmed down because Capone took over the whole city. He had the hotels.
"Labor was making twenty-five, thirty-five dollars a week in the stockyards. A loaf of bread was ten cents. I was fifteen years old. I was getting something like fifty dollars a week.
"This one Saturday afternoon, we were delivering all this alcohol to these different apartments. I was driving the truck. As we were crossing Oakwood Boulevard a lady in a Nash car hit us direct sideways, going full. I went right out the driver's side, out the window. Alcohol was all over. I tried to get up. My arm was broken, my leg was broken, my hand was broken. The finger next to my pinky on my right hand was off', hanging by skin. I pulled myself up.
"By the time they got me to the hospital my legs and hands were starting to swell. I was in excruciating pain. And I'm screaming. The doctor said, 'I've gotta take this finger off.' And I was studying violin. I said, 'Please don't take my finger off.'
"Now Capone heard about this accident. Whenever anything happened, he showed up or sent one of his lieutenants. He got my mother and came to the hospital. And I'm screaming, 'Please don't take my finger off Capone said to the doctor, 'If he says don't take it off, then don't take it off.
"And what Capone said went. They didn't take it off."
Like Ray McKinley, Woody Herman got shot in Chicago. He was at that time with the Tom Gerun band, which had followed the Paul Whiteman band into the Grenada Cafe, sometimes called Al Quadback's. It was yet another front for the Al Capone mob, but then every nightclub in Chicago was a mob front. A few years earlier, Guy Lombardo had been playing the Grenada when gangsters entered with machine guns and shot the place to pieces, sending Lombardo and his musicians diving for cover. Woody said the place was always "infested" with hoods.
On the bill with Gerun was Fuzzy Knight, a comedian who would make a name in movies. When they finished work at three in the morning, some of the musicians from the band would go, still in their band tuxedos, to the Grand Terrace Ballroom to hear the Earl Hines band, which worked later than they did.
"One night," Woody told me, "we were in the Grand Terrace, feeling no pain. Fuzzy and I were with Steve Bowers, the bass player with Gerun. Somebody spotted that Fuzzy had a big diamond on his finger. And we were tipping everybody like it was going out of style. So they figured us for live ones. It was winter, and when we came out of there at five or six o'clock in the morning, it was still dark. We got into my little car and headed back to our hotel. We got about a block when we were stopped by a traffic light. A big black sedan drove up, and when that happened in those days, you thought something was going to happen to you. Three guys jumped out. One of them had a gun, the other two had blackjacks. And they kept opening the door of my car. It was a roadster, and the side curtains weren't up. So they were scuffling with us, and they wanted us to get into the big car. Well that was the thing that put us in shock, man. We weren't going to go for a ride, right? So everybody starts flailing around with their arms."
"You were fighting them in the car?"
"Yeah, which is the hard way. And finally, seeing that nothing was happening, these guys figured it was taking too much time, and so the one with the gun shot into the floorboards, and the calf of my leg happened to be in the way.
"We got out of the car, and they started to frisk Fuzzy. The only reason I didn't get knocked out is that I was wearing a black bearskin fur coat and a Homburg hat. They kept hitting me with something, and the Homburg saved my head. A crowd began to gather. And I began to get bored with the whole thing and I walked off."
Fuzzy Knight and Steve Bowers took Woody back to their hotel and sent for a doctor, who put him in a South Side hospital. He was released the next day. When Woody showed up with a cane at the Grenada, Al Quadback, the owner, said, "Look, punk, put your hands up next time."
One night while he was recovering from his own gunshot, Ray McKinley went to the Southmoor to hear the Pollack band. He said, "I talked with some of the guys and, later, when I went to hear the band again, they asked me to sit in. I guess they liked what I did, because when it was over, Pollack took me aside and confided he was thinking of packing up the drums and just leading the band. He said he'd send for me when he was ready, but I guess he never got ready — not for me, anyway."
But Miller, years later, did send for him.
The Pollack band went into the Blackhawk. Singer Smith Ballew, who earlier had tried to get Glenn a job with Jimmy Joy, came in to hear the band. By then he had led his own band, but after some difficulties with his booking agent, found himself stranded in Chicago.
"I couldn't work," he said, "because I had no Chicago union card and I had only a few bucks in my pocket. But I just had to hear that Pollack band in person, and so I went to the Blackhawk, hoping I could get by with a sandwich and some coffee. I was barely seated when a guy came to my table, stuck out his hand, and gave me a big hello. It was Glenn Miller. He even picked up my check, thank God."
Glenn introduced Ballew to Pollack, who auditioned him and hired him for $125 a week, "the most I had ever made at this time," Ballew said, "and living in the same hotel with Glenn." The Pollack band's radio broadcasts brought Ballew to the attention of Ted Fio Rito, who hired him for his band.
The Pollack band continued to record, and its broadcasts from the Blackhawk were being heard in New York. Glenn's Chicago days were numbered.”
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Miller led one of the most popular and best-remembered dance bands of the swing era. In his lifetime he was seen as an intense, ambitious perfectionist, and his success was built on the precise playing of carefully crafted arrangements, rather than propulsive swing or fine jazz solo improvisation (his only important jazz soloist was Bobby Hackett). He was particularly noted for the device of doubling a melody on saxophone with a clarinet an octave higher. His arrangements were seamless and rich. Paradoxically, however, although he had many hits with sentimental ballads performed by such singers as Ray Eberle and Marion Hutton, it was his swinging riff tunes, for example In the Mood and Tuxedo Junction, which became. In 1943 he published Glenn Miller's Method for Orchestral Arranging.”
- Charles De Ledesma, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz
The Glenn Miller Years II
“The Pollack band was booked to play at the Little Club on 44th Street in New York, and opened there in March 1928. Bud Freeman years later recalled that the band's personnel at that time included himself, Gil Rodin, and Benny Goodman on saxes; Glenn on trombone, Al Harris on trumpet, Jimmy McPartland playing jazz cornet, Goodman's brother Harry on bass, Vic Briedis on piano, Dick Morgan on guitar, and of course Pollack on drums.
Freeman said, "We were only there a couple of months and were continually getting in trouble with the boss. We were just an independent bunch of individuals and were always fluffing the boss off and getting just as fed up with him as he with us. It was a pretty swank place and he couldn't see us sitting with customers or anything like that.
"In a way those were the happiest days of our lives, only we didn't know it then and maybe we don't even know it now."
Another problem was the star of the show, the singer Lillian Roth, then only eighteen years old but already on her way to stardom and alcoholism. (The film I’ll Cry Tomorrow with Susan Heyward is a chronicle of her life.)
Night after night the Little Club was filled with musicians, come to hear the band, which infuriated Roth, who skirmished endlessly with Pollack and his players. Whether it was for this or some other reason, Pollack gave his notice and the band's engagement came to an end in May. The band was now out of work.
Jimmy McPartland and Bud Freeman were living at the Mayflower Hotel. "This was 1928, before the Stock Market crashed," McPartland said, "and there was plenty of money floating around. A lot of people gave a lot of parties, and often we would be invited. You could get all you wanted to drink but nothing to eat. Just the same, it was better than nothing.
"We couldn't pay the rent, though, so after a couple of weeks we moved into the Whitby apartments where Gil Rodin, Dick Morgan, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller had a suite. We all moved into that, practically the whole band, with the exception of Pollack, sleeping on chairs, couches, the floor, anywhere. The number of the apartment was 1411. And that is how that title came up: Room 1411, with Benny Goodman's Boys. We had been out of work about five weeks when Benny came home and said, 'I've got a recording date with Brunswick. We can get some money, buy some food, eat.'"
(Jazz musicians, at least in that period of the big bands, had a term, that I for one have always found charming and inventive: they referred to staying in someone else's hotel room without registering or paying for it as "ghosting.")
"We made that date. Goodman, Miller, myself and two or three more, playing different kinds of numbers like Blue and Jungle Blues and the one we named Room 1411.
"After the session was just about over, we started kidding around and playing corny. Out comes the recording manager from his booth, and he says, 'That's it! That's what we want, just what you're playing there!' We were playing as corny as possible.
"As a matter of fact, Tommy Dorsey had come up and was standing listening to us, and he picked up a trombone and started playing, kidding around too. The manager said, 'You gotta do that.' We called the number Shirt Tail Stomp. It sold more than any of the others. It shows the taste of people: still the same, I guess, the world over." The record was, of course, an echo of Boyd Senter. (I had a copy of that record when I was very young, and could only presumed that it was a joke, but I had trouble with that since it had Benny Goodman's name on it. I wish I still had it.)
In a July 7 1974 interview with the Detroit Sunday News Magazine, Goodman said that he and Glenn "spent a lot of time together as youngsters. We went on dates together, we went to ball games together, we played touch football together. And we lived together when we first came to New York. We both did freelance work, as sidemen for radio and records. Glenn and I did some recording together."
McPartland said, "You know, Glenn contributed a lot to the Pollack band. He was basically an idea man, and he certainly was a dedicated musician. He was a very decent man, but he wasn't much of a trombone player.He acted as the band's musical director and he was a real taskmaster. I remember he used to tell me to take home my parts and woodshed them. 'You'll be a better musician for it,' he used to say. It used to get me sore as hell, but it turned out he was right.
"Glenn was terribly competitive. When he played tennis, he'd hit every ball as hard as he could for a winner, but not many of them went in. I soon caught on that if I just kept the ball in play, I could beat him. I did, and he'd get sore as hell. But that was Glenn. He always tried to be the best."
Glenn was on another Benny Goodman Brunswick date with McPartland and, Breidis, Morgan, and drummer Bob Conselman. They made two titles, according to McPartland: Jazz Holiday and Wolverine Blues.
McPartland remembered attending a cocktail party on Park Avenue with other members of the Pollack band, presumably including Glenn. Also there were members of the Paul Whiteman band, including Bing Crosby, the Dorsey brothers, Frank Trumbauer, and Bix Beiderbecke. McPartland lamented to Bix the current unemployment for the Pollack band, saying they were having trouble finding money for food. He asked Bix if he could lend him ten or twenty dollars. Bix opened a wallet that was full of money and uncashed checks and proffered two one hundred dollar bills to McPartland, saying, "Take this." McPartland declined, accepting only twenty dollars.
"A week or so later," McPartland continued, "we went to work again, with short engagements in Atlantic City, Syracuse, and so forth. Back in New York I was having a couple of drinks with Bud Freeman and Pee Wee Russell one evening in a little speakeasy on 51st Street when Pee Wee began talking about a trombone player, the greatest thing he had heard in his life. We said we would have to hear the guy, and Pee Wee said, right, he'd just pop over and get him. Two drinks later Pee Wee was back with the guy, who was wearing a horrible looking cap and overcoat and carrying a trombone in a case under his arm. Pee Wee introduced us. He was Jack Teagarden, from Texas, and looked it. 'Fine,' we said. 'We've been hearing a lot about you, would sure like to hear you play.' The guy says, 'All right,' gets his horn out, puts it together, blows a couple of warm-up notes, and starts to play Diane. No accompaniment, just neat: he played it solo, and I'm telling you he knocked us out. And when he'd done with that he started on the blues, still by himself.
"We had to agree with Pee Wee. We'd never heard anyone play trombone like that. We were flabbergasted. They were going to a jam session later, up on 48th Street where Jack lived, so we went back and told Gil Rodin and a couple of others how wonderful Teagarden was. The other guys scoffed, but Rodin didn't."
Gil Rodin recalled:
"A bunch of musicians invited me to a jam session at the Louisiana Apartments. I remember I was living at the Manger Hotel . . . and Pollack had the room next to mine. That night at the Louisiana Apartments was the first time I'd ever heard Jack Teagarden. He was playing without the bell portion of his horn, just blowing through his slide into a glass and getting that eerie sound — it was the blues — and I was so knocked out I couldn't see straight. And then he sang, too, and that was just too much! With all due respect to Glenn — and he and I were good friends — this was a whole new world to me. When I got back to the hotel, I was so excited about what I'd heard that I woke up Pollack to tell him about it. He said, yeah, he'd heard the name, and turned over and went back to sleep.
"The next day I asked Jack to come down and sit in. I felt funny about it because, as I said, Glenn and I were good friends and I didn't want to show him up. But I just had to have Jack in our band. In the back of my mind I must have figured that maybe we could have two trombones, but that never happened — at least not then.
"Well you can guess what did happen. Jack knocked out everybody and, of course, that made Glenn feel pretty uncomfortable. We were scheduled to play in Atlantic City that summer, but before we left, Glenn announced that he wasn't going because he'd had an offer from Paul Ash to do some arranging and he thought he'd take it and stay in town."
Ash's large semi-symphonic orchestra gave Glenn the chance to write for and learn more about strings. Born in Germany and raised in Milwaukee, Ash by that time had centered his activities on Chicago, with "run-outs" to surrounding areas.
McPartland said, "We all knew, and I felt especially bad, what the real reason was. Glenn must have felt strongly that 'they really want that guy and so he made his exit gracefully.
"Glenn was gracious enough to bow to a real jazz player like that. It was the greatest he had ever heard, too. Until then Miff Mole had been Glenn's idol, the person he'd patterned himself on. When Glenn raved, that was it so far as everybody was concerned. Teagarden was earmarked for the Ben Pollack band."
Thought he ceased playing with the band, Glenn continued to write for it.
Weldon Leon Teagarden, universally called Jack, was born in Vernon, Texas, on August 19, 1905, of solidly German ancestry. Jack began playing trombone when he was quite small, and with his short arms unable to push the slide to the lower of the seven positions, he made the notes entirely with the lip. Because of this he developed an amazing technique, a facility on the trombone almost like that of trumpet. Teagarden and Tommy Dorsey — who developed a gorgeous high tessitura on the horn — between them revolutionized the technique of the instrument, not only in jazz but eventually in symphony orchestras as well.
McPartland's memory of that first encounter has the ring of accuracy about it. Jack was able, and inclined, to give such impromptu demonstrations. I once sat with him in a booth at the now-vanished London House in Chicago, where he was working. I asked him a question about the horn. He said, "You should be able to play any note in any position. The slide only makes it easier." He got his horn from the bandstand, returned to the booth, and with the slide in closed position played a major scale — and so pianissimo that he didn't disturb diners in the next booth. It was an amazing demonstration, and having gone through this wonderment at Teagarden's ability, I can well imagine McPartland's — and Miller's — mouth-opening encounter. Teagarden had that effect on every trombonist who heard him.
By this time, Pollack perceived himself as a bandleader and singer, gave up the drum chair, replacing himself with Ray Bauduc, and restricted himself to leading the band.
In any case, the members of Glenn's gang, including Benny Goodman, had left town with Pollack. George Simon thought that it was at this time that Glenn gave more and more thought to Helen Burger, the petite and pretty and quiet girl he'd met in their classes at the University of Colorado. In the years since then, he had kept in touch with her by letter — "long-distance" telephone was not yet commonplace. It was assumed that they would eventually marry but her patience had by now grown short. Indeed, on his dresser he kept her picture, inscribed, "To Glenn, the meanest man in the world."
And her parents were not enamored by the idea of her marrying a man in the unstable profession of jazz music. She told Glenn that she was now "practically engaged" to another man. He made his move, and in keeping with all the general trends of his character, including those that later emerged in the bandleader, the step he took was, as George Simon put it, "practical, unemotional and straight to the point. Convinced that he could now support the girl he sent her a terse wire, summoning her to New York for the purpose of getting married."
Helen arrived in New York and checked into the Forrest Hotel. With trombonist Vincent Grande as one of the witnesses, Glenn and Helen were married by clergyman Dudley S. Stark on October 6, 1928.
In that 1974 interview, Goodman said, "I gave him the money to get married. I'd forgotten about it until many years later when Glenn became famous and he said, 'Here's the money I owe you.' I didn't know what money he was talking about. I'd forgotten about it completely."
Gil Rodin said that Glenn was a practical joker. He told Simon, "When Earl Baker, a trumpet player in the [Pollack] band, got married, Glenn fixed the slats in the bed so that when they got into bed it would collapse. But Glenn was smart. Later, when he got married, he wouldn't let anybody know about it, and he even went far away into Westchester County at some hotel for his wedding night."
A newspaper story in Colorado bore the three-line heading Former Colorado U. Students Married in New York City. The story read:
Boulder, Colo., Oct. 9 — Miss Helen Burger, graduate of the University of Colorado and member of the Pi Beta Phi Sorority, was married at New York City Saturday to Glenn Miller, also a former university student and now the highest paid trombone player in the United States. They will live in New York.
Miller's parents reside at Fort Morgan. Mrs. Miller is the daughter of County Clerk and Mrs. Fred W. Burger of Boulder County.
Mike Nidorf, one of Glenn's friends and business associates, was close to the couple. He said, "The greatest thing that ever happened to Glenn Miller was Helen Miller."
George Simon wrote:
During almost two generations I have known many band leaders and musicians and their wives and have seldom been surprised by the tensions that have permeated their marriages—marriages that because of the occupational hazards involved, survive and flourish. Of all those marriages, the one that impressed me as the most endearing and enduring was the one between Helen and Glenn Miller.
But much as I liked and admired Glenn, it was to Helen that I gave most credit for their happiness. In her own quiet way she was an immensely strong person. She would remain discreetly in the background, and yet, whenever Glenn had an important decision to make, he would turn to her, and she would help him. Polly Haynes, their closest friend and confidante, recently described the subtle depth of their relationship: "I've never known any couple that said so little and felt so much."
The late June Allison, my neighbor for several years, told me that for The Glenn Miller Story, she worked on her preparation to play Helen Miller. Helen was on the set almost all the time, and June spent as much time with her as she could. When I asked him what he thought of the movie, Steve Miller, Helen and Glenn's son adopted not long before Glenn went into the U.S. Army Air Corps, said, "June Allison did a very good job of playing my mother. Jimmy Stewart did a very good job of playing Jimmy Stewart."
For the first three years after their marriage, Helen and Glenn lived at 30-60 Twenty-ninth Street, in Astoria, Long Island. They were not far from the Fifty-ninth Street bridge to Manhattan, nor from the subway. Glenn had more or less easy access to the recording and broadcasting studios and to the theater district.
Whatever insecurities Glenn felt about his trombone playing, they could only have been exacerbated by the fact that in 1929 he recorded with a group led by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. He also recorded alongside Jack Teagarden on many records by Red Nichols and His Five Pennies. He might have found some consolation in the fact that Dorsey too was insecure about his jazz playing. But Glenn was apparently secure about his abilities as a writer: he wrote a lot of arrangements for Nichols, who played tasteful cornet after the manner of Bix Beiderbecke.
The singer on one of the recordings with Nichols was Red McKenzie, once a St. Louis bellhop who would play jazz on comb-and-paper while his friend Dick Selvin played kazoo. They found their way to Chicago, where they recorded Arkansas Blues and Blue Blues under the sobriquet Mound City Blue Blowers. They moved to New York, where McKenzie showed considerable ingenuity in snagging record dates for which he sometimes used as many as ten musicians. At one time or other, Eddie Condon, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa, Pee Wee Russell, Muggsy Spanier, Jack Teagarden, and Glenn played with him. Obviously McKenzie liked Glenn and when he put together an impressive band — including Krupa, Hawkins, Condon, and Russell — Glenn was the only trombonist on the date. Years later, asked what he considered to be the best playing he'd ever done on records, Glenn said, "Those two sides I did with the Mound City Blue Blowers, One Hour and Hello, Lola"
Glenn did not particularly like Red Nichols, but Nichols gave him work. Nichols was engaged by George Gershwin for the pit band for his Strike Up the Band. The show opened in Boston on December 25, 1929, New Haven on January 6, 1930, and the Times Square Theater in New York on January 14. According to Howard Pollack, in his book George Gershwin, His Life and Work (University of California Press, 2006), Nichols augmented the orchestra with Charlie Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Pee Wee Russell, Babe Russin, Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller, and possibly Tommy Dorsey. Gershwin conducted the opening night in New York, as he had that in Boston. Nichols hired Miller again for the Gershwin show Girl Crazy later that year.
Gene Krupa, fresh into New York from Chicago, said later of the experience:
"I couldn't read anything then. But Glenn sat right in front of me. He was so great to me."And Benny Goodman testified: "Hildy Elkins was the conductor in Girl Crazy. And it was amazing how well Gene followed him — thanks to Glenn, of course."
The same group was hired for a revival of Strike Up the Band. Pollack writes:
"Robert Russell Bennett worked with Gershwin on the orchestrations, many of which survive to reveal that Broadway's evolving sound, in some contrast to the more delicate sonorities of the 1920s, paralleled popular dance-band trends in its emphasis on saxophones and trumpets — a development related not only to the hiring of the forenamed jazz musicians (Glenn Miller might even have helped prepare some of the arrangements), but also to Gershwin's music itself."
Glenn continued to record with Nichols and wrote the arrangement for the ballad Tea for Two. He also worked with his friend Benny Goodman, who was recording under different names, as was the custom of the time. He also wrote the verse for Jack Teagarden's classic Basin Street Blues, the line that begins, "Won't you come along with me, down the Mississippi."
Goodman said years later, "Things were going good for me then. I was making as much as $80 a day in the Paramount Studios out on Long Island and I used to recommend Glenn all the time. He was such a dedicated musician and always so thorough."
The major employers for musicians were the radio networks, CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) and NBC (National Broadcasting Company), which actually operated two networks. Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw and others were earning sums that were enormous for the time, in Shaw's case $500 a week. It was probably during this period that Shaw conceived a lifetime jealousy and contempt for both Miller and Goodman which smouldered on until his death in 2004. The record companies also provided employment, but after the Wall Street crash of 1929 and with the deepening of the Depression, they stumbled toward — and some fell into — bankruptcy. A public that worried about the price of bread didn't buy many records, turning instead to radio, which was free, for entertainment, and to movies, which were inexpensive and even gave away dinnerware as an inducement to attend. These were the golden days of radio, both network and local. Because it engaged your imagination in such dramas as Lights Out and Mr. District Attorney, Steve Allen once said, "Radio was theater of the mind. Television is theater of the mindless."
Then Smith Ballew, who hadn't forgotten Glenn's kindness to him, turned up again. He had been doing moderately well, leading his own band. But it was only a routine band, and Ballew thought he would do better fronting a really good band. He called Glenn to propose that he put together a new band.
He recalled: "I asked him if he would play trombone, arrange and rehearse the band for two-fifty a week plus a fifty-fifty split of everything over a thousand dollars a week that I might make. Glenn agreed and the first musician he contacted was Ray McKinley. I had known him as a kid in Forth Worth back in 1925, and I had even admired him then."
McKinley, like Ballew and Teagarden, was a Texan, born in Fort Worth on June 18, 1910. He and Glenn had recorded five sides in two sessions for the Brunswick label with Red Nichols in the spring and early summer of 1931. McKinley told George Simon:
"Ballew was a nice, pleasant guy, but he knew nothing about leading a band and he didn't pretend to. He was extremely handsome. He looked like one of those old Arrow Collar ads. He had perfect symmetry. Somebody once called him a singing Gary Cooper. But he had too easygoing a personality to make a successful leader.
"Glenn, on the other hand, had a lot of energy and, of course, he knew exactly what he was doing all the time." This description of Glenn came from everyone who knew him, throughout his life.
"Glenn was really the main reason I wanted to join the band. I was very much flattered — I guess he hadn't forgotten that night when I sat in with the Pollack band out in Chicago.
"I know Glenn was supposed to have arranged for the band but I don't remember him bringing in many arrangements that he had actually written. I have a feeling the budget didn't permit it. What he did instead would be to take a printed stock arrangement and make cuts in it for a particular broadcast, and on the next night he'd take the same stock and make a different cut and it would sound like a different arrangement of the same tune. Then sometimes he'd write a short introduction or something of its own. I don't remember his ever coming in with a completely original arrangement."
This is in keeping with a comment by Woody Herman, one of Glenn's friends. "Glenn," he said, "was a great fixer."
Ballew got the band a job in the pit of a Broadway show which, according to Ballew, "included everything from comedy to opera and we even got an assistant musical director of the Metropolitan Opera Company to work with Glenn. But our first week's check bounced and the producers said to deposit it again, that it must have been a mistake. But it bounced the second time too and I contacted the manager of the theater, who told me the rent hadn't been paid."
When the show closed after ten days, Ballew got stiffed for the musicians' salaries. Ballew said, "All the guys refused to accept a nickel — all except the string players." This will come as no surprise to musicians: string players are like that. Charles Munch, in his book Je suis conducteur, urged other conductors to be kind to string players, since they were mostly embittered virtuoso soloists manques.
In November the band was booked into the Lowery Hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota, with Jimmy McPartland replacing Bunny Berigan. Chalmers (Chummy) MacGregor came in on piano, and made yet another friendship with Miller.
John Chalmers MacGregor was born in Saginaw, Michigan, on March 28, 1903. He played with the band of Jean Goldkette, the nursery of many major jazz musicians. Then he worked for Irving Aronson. When the Aronson band passed through Cleveland, Chummy and some other musicians went to a restaurant called the Golden Pheasant to hear a young saxophonist and clarinetist named Artie Shaw with the Austin Wylie band. Shaw held exactly the same position with Wylie that Miller did with Smith Ballew. He was playing in the band, writing for it, and running it, the same sort of disciplinarian that Miller was. MacGregor and some of the others urged Shaw to come with the Aronson band. Shaw consulted his friend in the Wylie band, pianist Claude Thornhill, who urged him to take it. He was told he could learn a lot from Chummy MacGregor. Shaw joined the band in California.
The manager of the Lowery Hotel, according to Ballew, wanted them to do novelty numbers in the manner of Ted Weems. Glenn and Ballew hated the idea but decided to try it. The musicians, however, rebelled, and the band was terminated, giving Glenn an education in what novelties and "showmanship" (a term Artie Shaw hated) could do. They were replaced by Red Nichols, who by now had a band of fifteen men.
The band went to several more hotels, then to the Club Forest in New Orleans where, Ballew said, the band played "a simply sensational arrangement by Glenn of Stormy Weather, which Harold Arlen had just written and for which he gave me one of the first lead sheets." This would not mean as much in our day of ubiquitous copying machines. But in those days music had to be copied by hand, and for Arlen to give Ballew an original lead sheet — a lead sheet comprises a melody line with chord symbols written above it — was a mark of no little respect.
The band was so successful that the New Orleans engagement was extended to six months.
But as the Depression deepened, engagements for the band became intermittent. Morale in the band flagged. On the New Year's Eve at the end of 1933 the band was playing the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City.
Ray McKinley said:
"All kinds of things had been happening. Chummy had been in the lock-up with the d.t.'s. And Glenn got juiced — it was the only time I ever saw him like that. He could be a bad drunk, too. Nobody knows exactly how it started, but I understand Glenn . . . got into a real fight [with the lead trumpeter], right on the bandstand and they were rolling around on the floor and Frank Simeone, the little sax player, was trying to separate them and he was taking more blows than anyone."
By late 1933, the Ballew band was almost finished. Its quality was falling. Glenn didn't play its last important engagement, which was at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Denver. Miller's family lived nearby.
McKinley said, "Glenn didn't want his friends to see him in such a poor setting. The band was beneath his dignity or something. Anyway, he stayed on as manager. He'd rehearse the band for shows, and of course, he'd show up on payday. He had begun to act more like a tough business executive and less like a musician. He was getting more headstrong than ever, and less easy to get along with."
Smith Ballew said, "He was a tough taskmaster, often to the resentment of men in the band. He was stiff. He had no social amenities and he preferred to remain in the background. He was definitely an introvert. He was hard to know. He never bared his soul to anyone. I felt I knew him then, but now I have my doubts."
Smith Ballew gravitated to Hollywood where he had an entirely new career as a singing cowboy in B movies. Later he left the film industry and went into public relations for the aviation giant General Dynamics. He retired from the company in 1967 and died in his native Texas in 1984. He was eighty-two.
The Ben Pollack band also began to fade away in 1933, when Jack Teagarden left it, and the other members followed. They formed a co-operative band, with Bob Crosby elected to sing and act as nominal leader. Pollack formed another band, but it never achieved the success of his earlier organization. He was by now married to vocalist Doris Robbins. He tried other ventures, including restaurants on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood and in Palm Springs, and appeared as himself in those two exercises in inaccuracy, The Benny Goodman Story and The Glenn Miller Story. Succumbing to despair, he committed suicide by hanging in Palm Springs in 1971.
Paul Weston, who became the chief arranger of the Tommy Dorsey band, told me, "Tommy went through his life regretting that he wasn't Jack Teagarden." So when Glenn and Tommy met, they could have and perhaps did commiserate with each other about their intimidation. Glenn could not have been the trombonist of his self-deprecation or Tommy, who never suffered fools gladly and was acutely choosy about the quality of musicians, would never have hired him.”
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Popular music can evoke a sense of time and place as powerfully as a home movie or an old newspaper. It is the soundtrack to our lives and echoes our emotions. Perhaps no music evokes time and place more precisely than Glenn Miller's. Experts will argue that Miller recorded for more than fifteen years as a jazz musician, arranger and leader, formed two orchestras and led service bands. To most of us, though, Glenn Miller is tied to those few years when the big bands ruled and the world went to war. He invented a sound that combined the excitement of jazz with the lushness of the big orchestras, and bore a trademark musical palette that will forever be known simply as the Glenn Miller Sound.”
- Colin Escott
The Glenn Miller Years III
“Glenn had already recorded with pick-up groups led by Tommy Dorsey and his brother Jimmy, which contained the best of New York City's jazz musicians. They backed Mildred Bailey, using Miller arrangements, and early in 1934 made some instrumental records. Then they talked about forming a permanent band and taking it on the road, under their joint leadership, a doubtful idea at best, since they had never since childhood been able to agree on anything.
In the last days of the Smith Ballew band, Ray McKinley and Glenn went to hear a band at the Broadhurst Hotel led by Vic Schilling. They approached a bassist and guitarist named Roc Hillman about joining them with the Dorseys, which indicates that Tommy and Jimmy had assigned him the same authority he had held with his Ballew and Pollack. He also picked up saxophonist Skeets Herfurt, trombonist Don Matteson, and singer Kay Weber, all with Schilling's gracious encouragement. Hillman and his three friends moved to New York.
"Glenn was just great to all four of us," Hillman said. "He felt responsible for us and he did everything he could to make life easy for us. On the second night we were there, he took us to meet Benny Goodman in his hotel room. Then a few nights later he had Tommy Dorsey come up to our room in the Manhattan Towers Hotel, and he had me play my tune Long May We Love for Tommy. Tommy liked it and he recorded it. Glenn also took us to the Onyx Club to hear Six Spirits of Rhythm, and he introduced us to Artie Shaw there."
Ray McKinley got a call from Glenn to say that the Dorseys were finally going to take a band on the road, and inviting him to go with them along with the musicians from Denver. McKinley said, "Sure."
"The band had a different sound," he said. "That was Glenn's idea. Bing Crosby was the big thing then, and Glenn decided to pitch down to his register. So instead of the usual couple of trumpets and just one trombone, we featured three trombones, Tommy and Glenn and Don, and just one trumpet. Bunny Berigan was there at first.
"The saxes had a different sound — two tenors and one alto instead of the usual two altos and one tenor. Skeets and a fellow named Jack Stacey and Jimmy played alto and clarinet. In the rhythm section we had Kaplan on bass, Bobby Van Eps on piano, Roc on guitar, and me. Kay Weber was the girl singer and later on Bob Crosby became the boy singer.
"The band used to rehearse in that little rehearsal room up in the office of Rockwell-O'Keefe in Radio City. The second rehearsal ran true to form — the Dorseys were screaming at each other. Jimmy yelled, ‘I suppose you think that means you're the boss,' and Tommy said, 'You know damn well I'm the boss, because I can talk louder than you.'"
The band played a series of one-nighters in New England then played for the summer of 1934 at the Sands Point Casino on Long Island, no doubt because it had a radio wire which gave the band exposure across the country. McKinley found Glenn a little standoffish with the other musicians.
The British musician, critic, author and BBC broadcaster Alyn Shipton, wrote in his A New History of Jazz:
“In the spring of 1934, following several jointly led record dates, Jimmy and Tommy put together a regular big band of their own to work outside the studios as the Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra. It lasted for eighteen months, until a more than usually violent altercation between them over the speed at which they should play various pieces dissolved their partnership. Jimmy became the leader of the band that survived from the rift, leaving Tommy to form his own orchestra, which he eventually did by taking over a band that had been led by pianist Joe Haymes.
However, in its short life, the Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra made some interesting attempts to vary the mold of how a swing band should sound, although more often than not this veered toward the kinds of compromise familiar from Ben Pollack. This is hardly surprising, because the brothers' chief arranger was the ex-Pollack trombonist Glenn Miller, who was already trying his hand at achieving a unique and distinctive sound…. With the Dorsey Brothers' Orchestra, Miller
achieved his unorthodox sound by trying a nonstandard instrumentation, and instead of the usual lineup of three trumpets, two trombones, and three saxophones, his charts were written for a topsy-turvy lineup of one trumpet, three trombones, and three saxes. Because the majority of the instruments were pitched in a similar range, it lacked the clear distinction among the sections of a more conventional jazz orchestra, but it allowed Miller to write some convincing attempts at "big band Dixieland" of which the February 1935 Weary Blues is a good example, despite the occasionally overwhelming sound of the massed trombones.
The commercial appeal of this kind of chart was not lost on the band's singer, Bob Crosby (who was continually criticized by Tommy Dorsey for not being as good as his brother Bing). When Bob took over the remnants of Ben Pollack's band in 1935, such arranged Dixieland was already a major element of its style and continued to be under his leadership.”
The quarrels between the Dorseys took their toll on everyone, especially Glenn, who was caught in the cross-fire. Finally he gave his notice.
The partners at the Rockwell-O'Keefe agency were looking for new bands. They wanted to import from England the band of Ray Noble, which was making some exceptional recordings. The American Federation of Musicians, in a protracted quarrel with the British musicians union, would not permit the band to come. Given the yeoman work Glenn had done for Smith Ballew and the Dorseys, the agency approached him about organizing a band to be led by Noble.
He agreed, and put together a remarkable organization that included Bud Freeman on tenor and Johnny Mince on clarinet, and a rhythm section comprising Claude Thornhill, piano; Delmar Kaplan, bass; George Van Eps, guitar; and a drummer Noble brought from England. The trombones included Glenn and Wilbur Schwichtenburg, whom Glenn always cited among the trombonists he most admired. Schwichtenburg changed his name to Will Bradley and later in that decade formed a band with Ray McKinley, which they co-led. They had hits on Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar and Celery Stalks at Midnight. It was an excellent band.
Unable to work until he had his union card, Noble went to California to write songs for a movie called The Big Broadcast of 1936. A former staff arranger for the BBC, he already had a catalogue of songs, including The Touch of Your Lips, The Very Thought of You, Love Is the Sweetest Thing, I Hadn 't Anyone Till You, Good Night Sweetheart, and Cherokee, which, in an arrangement by Billy May, became a huge hit for Charlie Barnet. While Noble was in California, working on a film that achieved the obscurity it deserved, he let Glenn write for the band and rehearse it. All the musicians were paid well for rehearsing, which was rare if not unprecedented, and Glenn got $804 for nine weeks work, good money for that period.
He continued to record on the side, often with alumni of Ben Pollack, and then on April 25, 1935, he made his first record under his own name, A Blues Serenade (with a vocal by Smith Ballew) and Moonlight on the Ganges. He also recorded In a Little Spanish Town and Pagan Love Song. It was a period of American fascination with the ersatz exotic, manifest in such songs as The Sheik of Araby, Constantinople, and Hindustan, and movies to go with them. His arrangement of Pagan Love Song, retitled Solo Hop, had solos by Bunny Berigan on trumpet, Eddie Miller on tenor, and Johnny Mince on clarinet. Glenn took no solo.
The musicians in the Noble band liked the job. They worked until 3 a.m. seven nights a week, but they were very well paid and they took great interest in the playing of their best jazz soloists, particularly Bud Freeman. Miller's pay rose to $175 a week with additional fees for recording. But he was restless, and finally at a dinner at the home where George Simon still lived with his parents and brothers (including Dick Simon who had founded the publishing house of Simon and Schuster in 1924), Glenn told George that he was going to start a band. Glenn asked Simon to help him do so.
There is an old (and cruel) joke among jazz musicians. What do you call people who want to hang around with jazz musicians? Answer: drummers.
George Simon was a would-be drummer who was mocking of his own limited abilities. Wanting to be close to jazz and jazz musicians, he became a writer for Metronome magazine, which certainly could not have paid him much. No jazz magazine, including Down Beat, has ever paid well. But his family was wealthy and influential, and Glenn seems to have had an instinct for power and the people who held it. George was a hero-worshiper, with characteristics that inspired in a later generation the term groupy. Such people are very useful as gofers, and Glenn was skillful at using people. George wrote in the Introduction to his biography, "As I look back, I realize there may have even been an element of worship in my admiration. Later, I also learned to resent him."
In 1936, Ray Noble went back to England on vacation. When he returned and after he took the band on a theater tour and back into the Rainbow Room, he asked the musicians to take a pay cut. They refused, Glenn among them. He not only left, he led the walkout. The band went downhill and eventually collapsed.
Howie Richmond, later a prominent music publisher, knew Glenn from the early days and at one period was his publicist. Rockwell-O'Keefe was the agency that put together the booking with Ray Noble and Glenn. At his home in Palm Desert, Howie told me in 1997:
"He was like a little kid in his enthusiasm for what he did for Ray Noble. Cork O'Keefe said, 'Glenn did the best possible job that could be done.'
"Cork was the narrator of wonderful stories, but he never lied. He said Ray Noble became ensconced in the Rainbow Room. Ray Noble could stay as long as he wanted, and he wasn't going back to England — the war had started. So he just stayed in America.
"The big thing they wanted at Rockwell-O'Keefe was to get other bands into the Rainbow Room. Noble didn't want to go on the road or do any of those things. He was happy sitting there doing radio.
"He said that Ray Noble had a room or an apartment up in the tower that he could go to between shows. But he had a habit of relieving himself by peeing out over the parapet. It was just a thing he did occasionally, when he was too lazy to go to the can. At some point, some way, it hit some people below. They went to the management of the Rainbow Room. To quiet things, they broke the contract and he was let out. That came right to me from Cork's lips. He never made a story up in his life."
Glenn played radio jobs with Freddy Rich's orchestra at CBS. Such work is exacting, and his abilities as a player must have been more than adequate. There was no recording tape in those days. Radio work was "live" playing that brooked no uncertainty. Glenn and Helen were living in Jackson Heights, and he could have relaxed into the life of a studio musician, playing a lot of vapid music. A number of his friends and acquaintances had started their own bands, among them Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and the Dorsey brothers, and had hired a lot of the better white jazz players with whom he had worked in the Pollack and Ray Noble bands.
He did not want to go back to life as a sideman, and so after working for Noble in 1935 and '36, he decided to take the risk of starting his own band.
And he had unique qualifications to lead a band. After all he'd done it before: he had assembled and rehearsed or managed bands led or ostensibly led by Ben Pollack, Smith Ballew, the Dorseys, and Ray Noble. He told George Simon that he did not intend to play with his projected band. He said, "I can't play as well as Tommy Dorsey, so why should I come out second best?"
He began to look around for musicians. On the recommendation of Benny Goodman and record producer John Hammond (eventually Goodman's brother-in-law), he hired an altoist and clarinetist named Hal Mclntyre who, Simon says, "was warm and friendly and direct — typical of the all-American type of boy with whom Glenn hoped to stock his band." Simon, in his capacity as a reviewer for Metronome, traveled around New York listening to bands, and he would recommend some of their musicians to Glenn. Once, when a waiter asked them to order drinks, he and Simon said they wanted only coffee. The head waiter gave orders for them to leave. Glenn laughed and said: "That was the first time that I've ever been thrown out of a joint for not drinking." Simon wrote:
In the past, Glenn had had his drinking bouts, and they hadn't been pleasant ones. Various people who have seen him in his cups have proclaimed him "a mean drunk" and "a monster when he drinks," and one person described him as "a drunk right out of central casting. He used foul language."
David Mackay, for years his attorney, reports that once, in the early days of his marriage, Glenn went on a toot that lasted a couple of days. It cost him more than he had on him, and, to pay off, he had withdrawn a bundle from a checking account which he and Helen shared. This infuriated Helen, who apparently had to put up with such a routine before, and so she decided to go on a binge of her own. According to Mackay, "She went to the bank and drew out all the rest of the money from the account. She then went into Manhattan and bought all the clothes she'd always wanted to buy. It taught Glenn a lesson."
Glenn, whose father apparently had also lost some bouts to the bottle, was acutely aware of his own problem and what it might lead to. He had told me that as long as he would remain a leader he intended to stay strictly on the wagon; that he couldn't afford to take any chances, because, he intimated, after a few drinks he could easily turn into a pretty rough and unattractive character. I must say that until he went into the army, I never saw him touch a drop, though various band members have reported that every once in awhile when the band was traveling by train, Glenn would bust loose with a few — sometimes even more — and depending on his mood, he might have a great time with a few friends. More often, though, he'd be apt to lash out angrily at somebody or other or some situation that had been bugging him.
But there was the other side of him, including the patient and meticulous way he would rehearse the younger musicians he had hired. When they couldn't grasp how he wanted something phrased, he would pick up his trombone and show them. Jazz arrangers commonly sing the phrasing of passages on record dates, because the Western musical system of notation is notoriously awkward and imprecise. Miller knew what he wanted and knew how to get it.
Glenn's first band under his own name had in its lineup Charlie Spivak, Manny Klein, and Sterling Bose, trumpets; Jesse Ralph and Harry Rodgers, trombones, George Seravo, Jerry Jerome, Carl Biesecker, and Hal Mclntyre, saxophones; Howard Smith, who had played piano for Tommy Dorsey; Dick McDonough, guitar, Ted Kotsoftis, bass, and George Simon, drums. Though the norm was four tunes per three-hour recording session, Miller got six out of this group, all but one of them vocals by band members and one by an unknown singer named Doris Kerr. No one, according to Simon, could fathom why she had been hired, but they learned in time that she was the daughter of an important NBC executive.
Some years ago I met an elderly woman who had known Glenn in school in Fort Morgan. She told me that even then, he looked up to the wealthy. In this he was not unlike novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. As for his cynicism in hiring the daughter of an NBC executive, this was not unlike the tactic of Johnny Mercer in the founding days of Capitol records when he recorded a young man who had a fairly bad band in San Diego. Japan controlled the world's sources of shellac, from which the old 78-rpm records were made, and Mercer found out that the young man's father had a warehouse full of it. Johnny wanted — and got — it: he recorded the young man's band. Johnny told me the story himself. And Johnny, incidentally, was a drinker very much in Miller's pattern.
Glenn had put tremendous pressure on George Simon on the record date, reducing him to a nervous jelly. Miller offered him a job, saying, "Look, I think you'd better decide what you want to do. Do you want to go with the band or do you want to stick to writing for that magazine of yours?"
Even in writing about it, Simon does not seem to have understood what Miller was doing. Simon was useful, not only for publicity and gofer work, but possibly for the use of his family in some as-yet-unforeseen situation. Dropping him would therefore be a mistake. And so the clever thing was to squeeze him to the point where he'd quit.
Simon seemed to perceive no conflict of interests in working as a "journalist" and as a publicist for Miller. But then he had no professional background in journalism and seemed oblivious of its ethics.
On May 7, 1937, the band played one night at the Hotel New Yorker. The band got union scale, $397.50, with Glenn clearing $48. It made four sides, all of them instrumental, for Brunswick, with several changes of personnel. Then it went up to Boston for two weeks at the Raymoor Ballroom. It then played several one-nighters for $200 each, after which it opened on June 17 at the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.
Although Glenn was making little money, not as much as his musicians, the band was a success there, and its engagement was extended to August 25. The owner of a number of New Orleans bars came in, bringing a song he had written. Such writers of amateur songs, almost always embarrassingly awful, infested America and perhaps still do.
"Presumably aware of the owner's contacts and influence," Simon wrote, "Glenn proceeded to make an arrangement of his song for the band to play, and sure enough, the neophyte songwriter brought in hordes of friends regularly — just to hear his song. Glenn was learning fast."
Soon after the engagement at the Roosevelt, Glenn hired the clarinetist Irving Fazola, whom he had first heard when he played with Pollack in 1935. Born in New Orleans, he was a round man whose weight perhaps contributed to his death in 1949 at the age of thirty-seven. Glenn also hired Bob Price who was one of the great and unsung jewels of jazz: a superb lead trumpet player, one of the men who could pull a great performance out of a whole section. Price and Fazola were among the serious drinkers.
Fazola combined elements of the New Orleans style with that of the modernists, such as Benny Goodman, and he was admired by musicians. He was the favorite clarinetist of Gerry Mulligan, who knew him in the Claude Thornhill band in the late 1940s. Glenn wrote in a letter to George Simon, "I sincerely believe that Faz is the only clarinet player with a chance these days. Shaw, Mince and all of them play like Benny and they will not live long enough to cut him. Faz, like Ol' Man River, jes' keeps rollin' along and he doesn't want to know from anyone. I doubt if he has ever heard more than a few Goodman records and up until Dallas he never met or heard Goodman personally. Benny listened closely when Faz was playing."
After the Roosevelt in New Orleans, the band went to the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. Goodman, also playing Dallas, came by to hear the band and later told Simon:
"Glenn seemed very discouraged and I kept telling him not to quit, to keep at it and just stay in there. I told him, 'One morning you'll wake up and you'll suddenly say, 'Hey, the band sounds great!'"
"I know how he felt, because I had some experiences like that."
The Miller band went on to the Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis, a job that paid so poorly that at the end of the week Glenn was in deficit. Glenn continued in his letter:
While on Benny, he was his usual swell self to us in Dallas, and that band, George, is without doubt the greatest thing in the history of jazz. I thought they were good at the Pennsylvania, but they have improved one hundred percent since then. That cornet section is the Marvel of the Age, and Krupa is more of a genius than ever to me. He drums with his head which is a real rarity."
Glenn still referred to trumpets as cornets. Louis Armstrong in his early days, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, and Jimmy McPartland, all played cornet, a shorter and more mellow version of the trumpet. Miller's letter, dated October 12, 1937, continued:
"George, I wish that I could see you and thank you for the interest you have taken in us. You surely have been a wonderful help and I hope you will continue to be on the lookout for men that might improve our combo."
The Bob Crosby band was a co-operative, run by its members with Gil Rodin as its president. It was not the first co-operative in jazz history. The Casa Loma began as a cooperative, and so did the first Woody Herman band, salvaged out of the members of the Isham Jones band after its leader retired. Crosby and Herman did not form those bands: they were elected by the musicians to lead them.
Glenn mentions Celeste LeBrosi, a wealthy woman who followed the Crosby band everywhere. There were quite a few of these ladies in the band era and later, including the Baronness Nika de Koenigswater in New York for whom Thelonious Monk named his Nika's Dream. Charlie Parker died in her living room while watching the Tommy Dorsey band on television. Toronto had Lady Iris Mountbatten, whose behavior with musicians was such that her family sent her off as a remittance woman to Canada, where she lived in genteel comfort the rest of her life, quite beautiful and anything but invisible. She, like other women of her sort, were prone to acts of collective kindness on entire bands. Gil Rodin apparently had found such a benefactor.
Glenn wrote to George, "Think you could try to get Mrs. LeBrosi, or whatever her name is, to detour a little to the North, and maybe we can slip a knife in Rodin's back and steal one of his fans?
"I don't know just where we are going from here — I guess no one else does either. We are hoping for some sort of radio set-up that will let more than three people hear us at one time . . . This is about all for now, George, I am practically exhausted from all this, so it looks like a nap and so to work. Your friend, Glenn."
Glenn was constantly trying to find the right drummer for the band. His ideals were those he had played with: Gene Krupa, Ray McKinley, and Ben Pollack. Dave Tough had been working with Tommy Dorsey, but he was in a hospital to dry out. Dorsey replaced him with Maurice (Moe) Purtill. But Tough returned to the Dorsey band, and Dorsey released Purtill to join Glenn. Glenn was delighted but Dorsey called to say that Dave Tough was drunk again and he needed Purtill. Glenn was bitterly disappointed, but he let Purtill go and found another obscure drummer.
(Dave Tough went to the South Pacific with Artie Shaw's navy band, then joined Woody Herman right after World War II to thrill both his fellow musicians and the public. Born to comfort in Oak Park, Illinois, he was literate, articulate, and wrote occasional magazine articles. He took a fall while drunk in Newark just before Christmas in 1948 and lay for some days in the morgue before his wife found him.)
Purtill would return to the Miller band to become the main reason, in the opinion of many musicians, including several who played in the band, that Miller's civilian orchestra didn't swing.
With the band floundering and few bookings ahead, they played one-nighters in Maryland, New York State, and Pennsylvania. Glenn was having a lot of trouble with drinking in the band, though he kept to his own firmly abstemious course. The band played the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut and the Valencia Ballroom in York, Pennsylvania. When they got back to New York City, he disbanded, on January 2, 1938. On top of it all, Helen was suffering serious pains and at last went into hospital for the surgery that would preclude her ever bearing the children they so urgently wanted.
Helen and Glenn discussed their dilemma. He could make a comfortable living as an arranger and sideman. He played trombone at least well enough for that. But he still had his unfulfilled ambitions, and Helen still believed in him. He looked to his friends for work. Benny Goodman commissioned a couple of arrangements from him.
Miller by then was living on money borrowed from his own parents and his wife's. What is fascinating in Miller, the Dorseys, Harry James, Goodman, and more is that they had such faith in this form of dance music, this comparatively new instrumentation, that they would ignore rejection, humiliation, and defeat to return to the struggle. Most of them, Woody once pointed out to me, failed. It is rarely remembered, for example, that Coleman Hawkins, Bunny Berigan, and others tried in vain to launch big bands.
The friendship with Woody Herman was forged about this time. Glenn would go down to the offices of General Artists Corporation (GAC) to look for work, but Willard Alexander, who booked bands, let him sit in the outer office, waiting. Often, next to him was Woody Herman, also cooling his heels.
"I was twenty-four years old and optimistic," Woody told me. "Glenn was a little older and sour. He had already blown a ton of money with a band and he was full of sad stories. GAC apparently didn't think much of either of us at that point." Glenn would have been thirty-three.
This was deep in the Depression, and the record industry had almost died. Then a new gadget came into use and a wild popularity among teen-agers: the juke box. By 1939, there were 225,000 of them in America, mostly big cumbersome machines with garish lighting. They consumed 13 millions records a year, and with an eye on that business, Jack Kapp formed Decca. Kapp began signing performers no one had ever heard of, including Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and Glenn Miller. But Decca did not have the money behind it that Columbia and RCA Victor enjoyed. Woody said, "They had to buy used equipment, and some of the wax they put on it looked like it had been reused about eighty times. We used to cut the masters on this heavy machine, wheel them in boxes and every time you finished one tune, they had to go out for a fresh batch. It was all pretty basic. Some of the other companies were going ahead, and developing, particularly RCA and Columbia with all their massive appliances and scientists and people on their staffs working on sound and everything. We were just trying to make a record that wasn't warped before it was pressed. Jimmy Dorsey used to say, 'For God's sake, when are you going to put the hole in the middle?' They were always off center."
Yet Decca became a major factor in reviving the record business, because doing things on the cheap it was selling its product for thirty-five cents when the other labels were charging seventy-five. What Kapp did not foresee was the coming codependency, developing in time into a sinister symbiosis, of radio and broadcasting.
Howie Richmond remembered:
"The attitude with the record companies in the '30s was that if they played the records on the radio — particularly the big stars, Bing Crosby, Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo, they were all on Decca — the public would not buy them. They'd be free on the radio. So they did not give records out and they put on the record labels 'Not licensed for radio broadcast.'
"This was before the war and before vinyl or tape. The records were shellac, and all records had a kind of bad quality, and the needles were big. But more than anything, the Decca record was engineered in such a way that if you brought up the level on radio, it would begin to give a hiss. The Decca record gave more hiss than any other record, and that was intentional. Jack Kapp did not want the records played on the radio.
"Every record company had the same policy. They just didn't give away the records and they didn't make them available. But they didn't hiss.
"There were very few people who had the time or the interest to go after the radio stations. I did it because, you could get an article on somebody, you'd get a line in Walter Winchell's column. But people couldn't hear the record. By the way, Glenn Miller was very interested in the trade publications, the newspapers, the magazines. He read them and he felt they had weight. He read Down Beat. He read Metronome, and he thought whatever popularity they had was important for a band, even though it was restricted to a very small part of the public. Books do not have to be heard. Records have to be heard. You couldn't write about his music in a newspaper and relate it to something when you can't hear it.
"There were a few — Bulova watches had Martin Block on WNEW in New York, and he was heard as far as Philadelphia. Oh, you had to go a little bit out of downtown Philadelphia to get it. You could hear it at the University of Pennsylvania, where I was. Every Friday night, we went toward Atlantic City until you could hear it in a car — to hear the new records!"
About this time, Miller began to get help from the Shribman brothers of Boston. Cy and Charlie Shribman were personal managers who also owned ballrooms throughout New England. It was almost impossible to get booked in New England without their co-operation. Even the major booking agents dealt with the Shribmans in seeking engagements for their clients. The Shribmans had a reputation for honor. George Simon said, "Cy Shribman was completely honest. I never heard a bandleader ever say a word against him."
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“OF ALL the outstanding popular dance bands, the one that evokes the most memories of how wonderfully romantic it all was, the one whose music people most want to hear over and over again, is the band of the late Glenn Miller.
This was a band of great moods, of great contrasts, of great excitement, all put together by a man who, I felt, knew better than any other leader exactly what he wanted and how to go about getting it. For Glenn Miller, for all the appearance he presented of a stern, stolid, straight-ahead-looking schoolteacher, was a man of human and artistic sensitivity and great imagination.
What's more, he was an exceptional executive. He made decisions easily, quickly and rationally. He was strong-willed, but that strong will almost always had a clear purpose. He was stubborn, but he was fair. He had intense likes and dislikes, though he'd admit it when he was proved wrong.”
- George Simon, The Big Bands, 4th Ed.
The Glenn Miller Years IV
“In March of 1938, with the moral and financial support of the Shribmans, Glenn went into the Haven Studios on West 54th Street to begin rehearsing his new band. He signed a contract with the Bluebird label — RCA Victor's economy-priced subsidiary — and made his first recordings for the company on August 27 1938, all three tunes arranged by Glenn: My Reverie, based on Debussy's Reverie, with a corny lyric by Larry Clinton, By the Waters of the Minnetonka, and Jelly Roll Morton's King Porter Stomp.
With the signing of the RCA Bluebird contract, Glenn added a new member to his team. He was born Howard S. Richmond in Brooklyn to Maurice Richmond, of Boston, who had been before the turn of the twentieth century what used to be called a "music man." He traveled in Connecticut and Massachusetts, setting up sheet music sales in stores for a publisher of marches. Thus Howie grew up with a table-talk knowledge of music publishing.
He put in two years at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, but like so many of America's young people he had a fervent love of the big bands. He thought he might want to be a writer and took a course in public relations. Returning to New York at Christmas, 1937, he looked for a job in a publicity office. Larry Clinton became one of his clients, then Gene Krupa and Woody Herman.
At this point, RCA Victor gave Glenn a 21 -page questionnaire whose answer would be used for publicity purposes. Glenn answered the questions in a hand-printed letters. He skipped some of the questions, but the answers he did give are interesting, anything but arrogant, and at times even poignant. Indeed, the document has a curiously lonely quality. It also reflects an unpretentious literacy.
Some of the questions are silly, some of them are intrusive, and some seem irrelevant. Yet collectively, the questions and Glenn's answers give a more rounded picture of the man than any newspaper or magazine interview of the time.
Howie Richmond kept a copy of it. It provides an interesting insight into Glenn's image of himself at that time.
Name, as used in recording and other professional work: Glenn Miller.
Type of professional work: Orchestra Leader.
Full name in private life: Alton Glenn Miller. Address: 3760 88th St, Jackson Heights L.I, N. Y. Phone number: Havemeyer 6-0671.
Your instrument, if any; or if vocal, what voice: Trombone + Arranger.
How long have you been a Victor or Bluebird recording artist: 1 month.
Name of your personal manager, if any: Cy Shribman.
His address: Little Building, Boston, Mass
His phone number: Hancock 8128.
Name of private press agent, if any: Howard Richmond.
His address: 799 Seventh Ave. N. Y.C. [The address, famous in the business at that time, is that of the building that housed Columbia Records. ]
Month, day and year of birth: March 1st, 1908.
City and state (or country) of birth: Clarinda, Iowa.
Father's name: Lewis Elmer Miller.
Father's occupation: Building Contractor. [This is something of a euphemism.] Mother's name: Marry Lou Cavender.
Was either parent talented, musically or otherwise? (If so, please give details.) No.
Are you related to or descended from anyone of particular prominence in any field? No.
What was your childhood ambition? Professional Baseball Player.
Who was your childhood hero (A) in fiction? Horatio Alger. (B) in real life? Teddy Roosevelt. [When Glenn was born, Roosevelt was still in office as 26lh president of the United States. He died when Glenn was eleven.]
Did your parents ever object to any of your vocational ambitions? My trombone playing often drove my father to quieter haunts away from home.
Did you ever run away from home? No.
What was the first stage play you remember having seen? The Last Mile with Spencer Tracy.
The first concert or recital? Hansel and Gretel, Chicago Opera.
Please describe any earlier experience in entertaining audiences (including participation in concerts, recitals, choirs, amateur theatrical, student shows, etc.) In high school & college I would gladly play trombone, any time and anywhere. Appeared in the usual high school plays.
Were any present-day prominent artists among your early acquaintances or classmates, and if so, who? Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were early music associates.
What are you most conscious of as the chief influence of your childhood, (A) Family? (B) Friends? (C) Phonograph? (D) Radio? (E) Books? (F) Teachers? (G) Your own experience? (In order of importance): Experience, phonograph.
Were you encouraged or discouraged in the development of your talent by your family or friends? How? Encouraged by my mother, discouraged by college associates.
What is the fondest memory of your early days. The small band I played with at school.
What is the saddest memory of your early days? None.
Where were you educated? North Platte, Nebraska. High School: Fort Morgan, Colorado. College: University of Colorado at Boulder.
Special instruction: Musical instructions with Dr. Joseph Schillinger in New York. Were you considered a good student? Fair.
What subject(s) did you most enjoy? Mathematics. Most dislike? History.
Were you ever expelled or suspended from a school or college and, if so, why? No.
Did you support yourself in whole or in part while in school or college and, if so, how? In college by playing in a jazz band.
In what sports did you engage at school or college? Football & baseball in high school. Fear of injury to my mouth kept me out of college football.
Did you excel in any sport? High school football.
Did you participate in any extracurricular activities? Played in all available bands and orchestras.
Were you an officer of any campus organizations? No.
Did you belong to any college fraternity, and, if so, which one? Sigma Nu.
How long, if at all, did you study voice, music or dramatics? Studied arranging two years.
If so, where and under whom? Dr. Joseph Schillinger N.Y.C.
Are you still studying? No.
When and where did you make your professional debut? With Boyd Senter Orchestra in Denver, Colorado,
At what age? 17
Remember any special sensations or incidents which occurred? I remember following a man, with a trombone under his arm, until he went into a night club, and thinking my ambitions would be realized if I were good enough to work in that club.
Are you performing for radio now? Give details: My band is broadcast weekly on Columbia, Mutual, and National chains, from 7-12 times weekly.
What one person has particularly aided you in your work? Tommy Dorsey.
What was the first job of any kind you ever held and what, if you don't mind telling, was the salary? Milking a cow. Salary $1.00 per week.
At what age? About seven.
How about your recording career -— tell us anything that has interested or amused you about that: Have been making recordings in New York for the past 8 years.
In addition to or outside of your musical career, trace briefly what other work you have done. Soda jerk while going to high school. Worked in a sugar factory while going to high school.
Did you ever have "mike fright" Yes.
Do you still have it? Yes at times.
If so, please describe: Drying of the mouth, shaking of the knees, blankness of the mind.
If you have over it, did it drop away naturally as you became experienced or did you adopt some specific device to get rid of it? I have practically overcome it by developing confidence in myself and my band. Deep abdominal breathing is helpful. What do you consider the turning point in your career? Forming my own band.
Are you married? Yes.
If so, to whom? To Mrs. Miller.
Where did you meet? In college.
Names and ages of children, if any: None.
If you are not a professional composer, have you ever composed music? Please mention any selections which were published. My theme Moonlight Serenade, Doin' the Jive, Sold American, Sometime.
Do you speak foreign languages? No.
What form of travel do you most enjoy? Train.
What sports (to play) Tennis, touch football, softball. (To watch) Baseball, football, tennis, hockey and all others.
Do you own a car? Yes.
If so what make? Oldsmobiles and Ford truck.
Have you ever flown a plane? No.
If not, have you ever wished to? Yes.
What pets, if any, have you? Dog.
If you had complete freedom of choice, where would you prefer to live? Why? New York. Most everything desirable is available in New York.
Where would you like to spend your summers? Colorado.
To do what? Outdoor life.
In order of preference, what were your early hobbies? Baseball.
What are your current hobbies? Tennis.
Do you believe in "breaks" or fortune? Yes.
Will you describe any that you believe shaped your career? The interest Ben Pollack showed in me when he hired me to play and arrange for ihe band.
Would you like to work in other fields? No.
Do you like grand opera? Dislike it? (If you are an opera singer, skip these.) Dislike it.
Do you attend opera regularly? No.
Do you like to dance? No.
Do you like crowds? Yes.
Are you even-tempered? Or do you run to extremes of depression and elation? Yes, fairly even tempered.
Do you envy people who possess temperaments opposite to your own? If so, why? I envy perfectly controlled tempers.
Have you confidence in your own ability and judgment? Yes.
Or do you depend a great deal upon the encouragement and advice of friends? Good advice is often very helpful.
Do you prefer life in the city or the country? Why? City. Everything I'm interested in, in a business way, must be in the city.
Does your professional work absorb most of your interest? Yes.
Do you like to write letters? No. If not, why not? Can't think of anything to write. Disliked to relate details.
Do you believe in sudden intuitions or hunches? No.
Have you ever acted upon them, or achieved definite results through obeying a sudden hunch? If so, give details. Doesn’t apply.
Eat between meals? No.
How do you usually spend your days off? Arranging.
What time do you usually retire? 4 A.M. Rise? 12 noon.
Do you depend upon an alarm clock to awaken you in the morning? Yes.
Do you ever nap during the day? Yes .
Do you favor any particular type of attire such as sports, business, or formal wear? Sports.
Any eccentricities of dress? No.
Are you mechanically inclined? Yes.
Have you ever been the victim of a serious injury or illness? No.
Do you like to cook? No.
What recording artist do you most admire? Tommy Dorsey.
What particular record of your own do you like best? By the Waters of the Minnetonka.
What is your favorite popular song? You Go to My Head.
What is your favorite classical selection? Ravel's Spanish Rhapsody.
If yours is the popular field, do you enjoy classical music? Yes.
Was there a time when you didn't? Yes.
Are you an avid newspaper reader? Yes.
And what magazines, please? Esquire, Readers Digest, Time.
Please list your favorite authors in order of preference. Damon Runyon.
What do you consider the three greatest books ever written? The Bible.
Do you like poetry? No.
And what are your favorite quotations? “It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.”
Who was your favorite actor among the very early movies stars? Wallace Reid. Actress? Irene Rich.
Who is your favorite movie actor today? Spencer Tracy.
Actress? Olivia de Havilland.
Who is your favorite actor on the stage today? Walter Huston.
Actress? Helen Hayes.
Who is your favorite comedian today? Jack Benny.
Do you favor any kind of cooking, French, Italian, etc.? Meat and potatoes.
Any favorite dishes? Good chicken chow mein.
What is your favorite flower? Rose.
What are your pet hates? NOTE: We'll allow you plenty of room to answer this one?
Bad swing music. Early morning telephone calls. The phrase "Goodbye now. "
Do your correspondents ever misspell your name? Yes. If so, what have been some amusing variations? Glen Mueller, Glen(n) Milner, Clem Mueller.
Have any of your correspondents ever tried to identify you as a long-lost relative? No.
NOTE: just some odds and ends of information that newspapers and columnists always want to know. And we do too. Won't you take a deep breath and bound down the home stretch with the information we'd like to have? Thank you.
Your weight: 185. Height: 6ft. Color of hair: Brown. Color of eyes: Brown.
What was the most you ever weighed? 200.
Did you ever miss a recording through any unusual circumstances? If so, give details. After 5 years of punctuality in making recording dates, Tommy Dorsey phoned me late one evening to do a date the next day. About a week later I saw him, and he asked me why I hadn't made the date. That was the first time I remembered his call.
Did you ever perform any feats which might be termed heroic? No.
Were you in the [First World] war? No.
If you were able, would you retire for the rest of your life? No.
What is the most valuable thing you own? My knowledge of music.
Do you own anything which, although it has little or no intrinsic worth, you would hesitate to part with? My dog.
If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it? Let's say your lottery ticket dropped a million in your lap all of a sudden, what would you do? I'd have the best band in the world.
Someone suggested to Woody Herman that he too get in touch with the Shribman brothers, who booked rising bands into hotels and ballrooms that didn't pay them enough to survive but which had network broadcasting connections. The Shribmans would underwrite these engagements out of their own money, even paying for the air time. The Shribmans decided to help Woody, and the band settled in Boston to do what musicians call "run-outs" — trips from a central location to engagements in the area. The band soon was playing throughout New England.
"People fought desperately to get hotel locations," Woody explained, "because you'd be on the air coast to coast on one of the networks or another. That way, when you came out and went on the road, your audience was bigger, and you'd start to do business.
"Without the Shribmans, I don't think the whole era could have happened.....After a few weeks that air time would make the audience aware of you and, when you went on the road, you started to earn some money on percentages, getting X amount of dollars as a guarantee and then maybe 50 or 60 percent of the gross.
"The Shribman brothers started way back with some of the earliest bands. In their stable at one time or another were people like Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. They helped Tommy Dorsey in the beginning, they helped us, and any new band that had any potential at all." They also helped Duke Ellington.
George Simon recalled:
"I knew Cy better than Charlie, because he was always on the scene. Charlie Shribman was the quieter of the two, a kindly sort of guy. Cy was sort of a big gruff guy. He would just barge ahead and do what he thought was right. He apparently had a tremendous instinct to do the right thing. The guys told me that he would go around at night to the various places in the Boston area, collecting money for bookings. His pockets would be bulging with cash. Then he'd take what he got in one place and use it to pay a band in another place. It was unbelievable."
Bandleaders were even willing to lose money to get "remote" broadcasts. Woody said, "The band became more important via records, and then all of a sudden we started to get much better air time and a lot more. That's when we started playing major hotels in New York or whatever, and if we had to lose $2,000 or $3,000 a week, it didn't matter because we were getting the right kind of air time."
Sometimes the Shribmans would have the men of two or three bands living at the Avery Hotel in Copley Square at the same time, several musicians to a room. Phil Young, the manager of the hotel, Woody said, was a man of enormous tolerance who would even lend the bands gasoline money to get to engagements. In this permissive atmosphere, some wild parties occurred, one of them by the combined personnel of the Woody Herman and Glenn Miller bands.
One winter night, the Miller and Herman bands were at the Avery. Woody and Glenn were both depressed about their prospects. Those prospects were about to change, but they could hardly foresee it.
"Glenn had made a pact with his wife that he was through drinking. He couldn't drink, and he knew it. He would turn crazy. While he was on the wagon, breaking in his band around Boston, he and I got into drinking that night, and pretty soon some of the guys started wandering in. It got to be a real roaring party. We locked one of my guys out on the fire escape in his underwear, and it was snowing like hell. We were doing numbers like that.
"Anyway, everybody just passed out or went to bed. And someone rang Glenn very early to remind him that he had to go three hundred miles in this snowstorm to play a one-nighter. So he was damn mad. He got up and started beating on everybody's door. Then he came to my room with a bellman who was carrying a big tray of ice and a bottle of booze. Glenn slapped me awake. Then he handed me the bottle of booze and said, 'Either you drink the booze or I give you the ice.'
"I just lay there drunk and helpless and said, 'Give me the ice, man.' And he poured it over me and stomped out. I was covered with ice, but after the night we had, it felt good."
"Glenn," Woody reflected, "was an excellent arranger and was one of the people that I respected and admired, along with a lot of other guys, because he had written for the Ben Pollack band, which was a great band. He had this innate ability. And a lot of times he was called in on a jazz date, by Red Nichols or somebody, because there might be something to fix where there wouldn't be any charts.
"Consequently, he got in on dates where he otherwise might not have been; his prowess on trombone was not too heavy."
Red Norvo, one of those whom the brothers helped, told me that the Shribmans owned a large share of the Glenn Miller band, in consequence of their investment and efforts. "But Glenn cut them 'way down," Red said, "which I didn't think was fair."
Glenn could probably have joined the Tommy Dorsey band, but he didn't want to do it. And again, we have to consider his trepidation about his own trombone playing.
Tommy always admired other trombone players, especially of course Jack Teagarden, but there were others. Paul Weston, who was Dorsey's chief arranger, told me he hired Les Jenkins and would stand at the side of the stage, beaming with smiles when Jenkins played hot trombone solos.
Dorsey was another of Glenn's backers. Paul Weston said: "Tommy used to send $100 a week to keep Glenn's band alive when Glenn was so broke he couldn't pay the band. Then the Chesterfield Show came up, and Glenn got it and Tommy didn't, and boy . . . then we didn't mention Glenn's name around Tommy."
Jo Stafford, who sang with Dorsey alongside Frank Sinatra and later married Weston, said: "The falling out between Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller had to do more with Tom Rockwell, who was head of the GAC talent agency. Tommy and Glenn were both his clients. And Tom Rockwell had led Dorsey to believe that he was going to get the fifteen-minute radio show for Chesterfield cigarettes. Tommy thought he had it. In the end — I don't remember the details of what happened — Glenn Miller got the show. So Tommy," she said, laughing, "decided that he hated both Tom Rockwell and Glenn Miller. And that was about it.
"Tommy financially supported Glenn in the beginning."
Still another version of the falling out between the two is that Glenn considered the moneys Tommy sent him were loans, not investment, and when he paid it all back, Tommy was furious. Whatever the details, they became estranged.
When Glenn broke up the band, tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome went with Red Norvo. When Glenn decided to form a new band, Glenn offered a three-way split with himself and Chummy MacGregor. Jerome turned it down.
The relationship with MacGregor is curious. He was not an outstanding pianist, and other musicians in the band lamented that he dragged the time. And they weren't thrilled by Moe Purtill either. When the movie The Glenn Miller Story was in pre-production, MacGregor somehow became its technical adviser and vastly exaggerated his own importance in the band and in Glenn's life. The picture, with Harry Morgan as Chummy, made them out to be close friends almost from the beginning, when in fact they never met until after the time with Pollack. And the movie portrayed Chummy as the strong figure, with Glenn the slightly dithery one. As George Simon put it, "It's difficult to know which portrait is the more inaccurate."
In life, MacGregor was more useful as an assistant than as a player. He wrote arrangements that no one liked, did some of the copying work, kept financial records, and drove one of the band's cars, all without additional compensation — one of those worshipers Miller knew how to use. After Miller was gone, he seemed to have no idea what to do with himself. He turned to music publishing. Once, when he was in his cups, he went to the Miller house and derogated Glenn's memory over some matter of a few dollars. Helen asked him to leave, and her friendship with him cooled. During his last years, Simon said, "Chummy MacGregor led a quiet and at times distressingly lonely life."
Depressed though Miller was, his band had not been a failure. It was, in essence, an experiment, a workshop in which he worked out the style and format of his orchestra.
He recognized that every band of the period, whether one of the more commercial bands or one tinged with or devoted to jazz, such as the Jean Goldkette band (which never got to record its best material), the Casa Loma band under Glen Gray which specialized in jazz and arrangements by Gene Gifford (and which Artie Shaw insisted was the first true "swing" band), the gimmicky rippling rhythm of Shep Fields (who hated it and later failed in an effort to launch a real jazz band), Guy Lombardo, who ran what was essentially a 1920s dance band frozen in time (he too failed in an effort to set up a jazz band), the Kay Kyser band (which could and did play creditable jazz at times), or the corny band of Sammy Kaye, who was Glenn's friend and sometime golfing partner.
Paul Weston said, "Tommy went through his life regretting that he wasn't Jack Teagarden." So when Glenn and Tommy met, they could have and perhaps did commiserate with each other about their intimidation. Glenn could not have been the trombonist of his self-deprecation or Tommy, who never suffered fools gladly and was acutely choosy about the quality of musicians, would never have hired him.
Glenn continued to look for a "sound" — not something of almost mystical overtone, as in the movie, but one that would identify and distinguish his band from all others. In an article published in Metronome in May 1939 with his byline (although it is probable that it was dictated to and shaped by George Simon), he said:
"It's pretty much of an accepted fact that if you want to have a successful dance band, you've got to have something that's different. There's a danger in the theory, though. That's making your style too stiff. And that's why so many of these styled bands have such a short life.
"By a stiff style, I mean constructing all your arrangements so much alike that the public gets fed up on them. You'll notice that today some bands use the same trick on every introduction; others repeat the same musical phrase as a modulation into the vocal. They may be effective as identifying features but after a while they get mighty monotonous. And even worse than that, they hamper you terribly when making arrangements.
"We're fortunate in that our style doesn't limit us to stereotyped intros, modulations, first choruses, ending 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."
He did it, too, and "the sound" was widely imitated and for that matter still is. He experimented with punchy ostinato figures that lent rhythmic emphasis, with use of metal derby hats waved over the bells of the trombone section to create a closed-and-open oo-wah effect, and especially with the voicing of the saxophone section, a sound that grew out of the presence in the band of the idiosyncratic clarinetist Irving Fazola.
Invented about 1840 by the Belgian Adolphe Sax, the saxophone is not often used in classical music. There are six saxophones in registers ranging from the bass up to the sopranino, but in jazz only the alto, tenor, and baritone have been in general use, and certainly in ensemble work. The instrument came into jazz largely on the influence of Sidney Bechet's soprano saxophone solos and later tenor solos by the great Coleman Hawkins. Saxophone sections in bands sometimes comprised three, and then four — two altos and two tenors, the configuration used into the 1930s until the baritone was added to make the section much richer and darker. Duke Ellington had been using baritone since the late 1920s. The melody lead on the saxophone section was almost invariably assigned to one of the alto players.
Saxophone players in bands were expected to double on clarinet, and occasionally four clarinets would be heard in very pretty ballad passages. Glenn experimented with the reed section, sometimes having five musicians playing very high on the clarinets in up-tempo tunes. But he didn't know what to do with Irving Fazola, who played poor saxophone. He valued him for his beautiful solos, but much of the time he sat there doing nothing. Bassist Roily Bundock recounted that Glenn got an idea: let Fazola play the lead on the saxophone section. But he used this sound only occasionally.
It was at this time that Glenn seemed to lose some of his timidity about his trombone playing and began doing it more. And somewhere along the line, he met Joseph Schillinger, the Ukrainian-born composer and musical theorist who taught Robert Emmett Dolan, Leith Stevens, Lynn Murray, Paul Lavalle, and many other Broadway and Hollywood composers. None seems to have applied his mathematical theories rigidly, which some found restrictive, although George Gershwin used it in composing Porgy and Bess, Schillinger died in 1943, and his "system" if indeed that's what it is, still has not been fully codified. Three friends of that period studied with him: Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller, who wrote Moonlight Serenade as an exercise for Schillinger. It would, of course, become his theme song.
In 1945, Hal Mclntyre reminisced on radio station WAAT:
"After the first band broke up, I took all the equipment up to our farm in Cromwell, Connecticut, and got a job in a factory and played with my own band at night. I used to call up Glenn every Sunday afternoon at one and try to argue him into starting the band again. But he'd always say, 'Nothing doing,' and that he had gone through $18,000 too fast to want to go back into the band business.
"Well, one afternoon he was driving through Cromwell and he called me from a diner. I went over to see him and we talked for a while and I brought up the subject of starting the band again. At first he said, 'No,' but I sort of detected a lessening of resistance, and I kept working and working and working on him until he finally said, 'OK, we start rehearsals at the Haven Studio next week."
He said he had backing from Helen's family.
He also wanted Jerry Jerome in the new band, and made him an offer of co-ownership (with Chummy MacGregor). "But I wasn't interested," Jerome told Simon, "because I didn't feel like returning to that rigid, routine discipline. I was much too free-blowing a jazz player, and I needed more freedom. But, after he did start his band again, I'd go up to the Haven Studio and help him rehearse the saxes."
It was one thing to put a band together, and Glenn had now done it several times, for himself and for others. It was another thing to get engagements. He began to realize that the clarinet-lead sound on the sax section just might be the distinguishing sound he was looking for.
George Simon, as before, helped Glenn put together the band, which soon included besides Mclntyre another altoist, Wilbur (Willie) Schwartz. Simon found him; Glenn first heard him during a gig with the band of Julie Wintz at Roseland. Willie later told Simon:
"He was a father figure to me. He had already been where I wanted to be. I felt our future was in his hands. I remember how hard he worked with us. The blend of the saxes wasn't good at all for quite a long time, maybe for five or six months, but he always kept encouraging us. He treated us — all of us in the band — as a team. Every bit of success we had he was responsible for. Just being a member of that band gave you such confidence. I remember later when we were at the Cafe Rouge that feeling of being somebody as I walked across the floor up to the bandstand. Six months earlier I would have walked around the perimeter of a ballroom to get to the stand.
"Glenn never changed. He was always the same. As the band became more successful he relaxed more. He began to have much more confidence in us and often would not be there at the start of an evening. For a long time it remained exciting for me, maybe because I was young and exuberant.
"The only drag was that the band didn't really swing. Glenn always had trouble with the rhythm section. He'd keep exhorting the guys. 'Let's get a beat going,' he'd say. And then after hearing Basie, he'd ask, 'Why can't we play like that?'"
There are two reasons why that rhythm section didn't swing. One was that it included Maurice Purtill and Chummy MacGregor. And the other, according to Billy May, who would soon join the band and write for it, was that Glenn kicked off tempos too fast. The Basie rhythm section, indeed the whole band, above all was relaxed.
Schwartz said, "I remember he would get on us for not watching Purtill during his drum solos. 'Watch the drummer,' he'd say, and then he'd remind us, 'People want to be entertained.' He expected us to be entertainers as well as musicians.
"The band certainly was commercial. I'd call it the Lawrence Welk of its day. It had the same dedication to precision and showmanship. It was like a well-oiled machine. But towards the end it became a bore."
Willie vividly remembered when Gordon Beneke, born in Fort Worth, Texas, joined the band. In a radio interview, Beneke told the late broadcaster Fred Hall:
"I joined the Miller band April 16th — I remember it very well — in 1938. We rehearsed at the old Havens Studios in New York for a couple of weeks and then headed right for the New England territory. I had driven through a snow storm from Detroit right after receiving a phone call from Glenn. It seems that Gene Krupa had left the Goodman band and was forming his own first band. He was flying all over the country looking for new talent and he stopped at a ballroom one night, to hear our band. I was with this little band, Ben Young and his Orchestra out of Texas, and Gene wound up taking two or three of our boys with him back to New York. He wanted to take me but his sax section was already filled. He didn't need another tenor man.
"So, with Glenn and Gene being friends for so many years, Gene told Glenn, 'Hey Glenn, there's a tenor man I think you'd like.' And one night after I got off, on a gig in Detroit, a phone call came through and he said, 'Are you Gordon Beneke? My name is Glenn Miller. I'm starting an orchestra here in New York and you come very highly recommended by Mr. Krupa.'
"I didn't know who Glenn Miller was, nobody did then. I thought about it for a couple of seconds and I said, 'Glenn, what does the job pay? And he said, 'Tex, everybody'll be getting the same pay, fifty dollars a week.' Which was pretty good.
"I said, I’ll tell you what I'll do. I'll come with the band for fifty-two dollars and fifty cents a week.
"There was dead silence on the other end. Then, when he finally did come back, he called me a couple of names I can't mention right now. But he said, 'I'll give it to you.'
"So I got two-fifty a week more than anybody else, for a while."
Beneke went on his arrival in New York directly to the rehearsal, and although he told Glenn he needed some sleep, Glenn told him to get out his sax. Beneke got his horn from his car, parked down on the street. He took over Jerry Jerome's chair. In the first number they did, there was a brief vocal part. Glenn would say, "Hi there, Buck, wat'cha say?' With Beneke he said, "Hi there, Tex, what'cha say?" Beneke, who never before had been called that, bore that name for the rest of his life.
Beneke told Simon:
"Glenn was strict. Everybody knows that. He was tough on musicians, all right. He used to insist on proper haircuts, proper shines, both feet on the floor, and the same amount of white in every man's breast-pocket handkerchief. And he also used to insist on proper enunciation. We had to sing Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree not Don't Sit under the Yapple Tree.
"I loved the man. He taught me so much about playing my own sax. And I knew he liked me. I could tell by the way he'd stare at me while I was playing a solo. He'd look at me and I'd look right back at him. It didn't bother me the way it bothered some of the others. I know Johnny Best used to say, 'When he gives me the fish eye, I can't blow.' But it wasn't that way with me at all."
It was common in the bands of the 1930s and '40s that one of the players would do some singing, especially in humorous or irreverent material. Miller asked Beneke if he could sing. Beneke said he couldn't. Glenn had him do it anyway, and got hits with such songs as I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo and Chattanooga Choo Choo. They demonstrate Miller's acuity at casting.
The other tenor player in the band was Al Klink, who told Simon:
"Tex, or Cuz, as some of us called him, and I had many common interests, like model airplanes and little one-cylinder engines which we used to run in the dressing room on theater dates. There'd be grease all over the place and people would get carbon monoxide headaches from the fumes and sometimes they would even filter into the theater. Glenn would sometimes stop us if the noise interfered with the movie they were showing, but I don't recall that he ever stopped us because of the smell.
"I will say this about Tex: There is not a finer gentleman on this earth than Tex Beneke. All the guys in the band, and even Tex, would say, 'Klink, you ought to play more solos.' The arrangers would write things for me, but Glenn would cut them out."
However, Henry Mancini, who wrote for and played with the postwar Miller band led by Beneke, told me, "Tex is the best tenor player I ever worked with."
And Mancini and other musicians testified that he was the kindest and most decent of men.
In an extended interview in later years, Al Klink told of his experience in the band. He said:
"I got into Glenn's band through Legh Knowles, a trumpet player, who recommended me. We had worked together (around Danbury, Connecticut) and Legh got in Glenn's band first.... Legh and Glenn, who were driving back from a one-night stand somewhere in New England, stopped off at my house in Danbury. It was four o'clock in the morning. A cold winter night. And when the doorbell rang, it woke up the whole family. They came into my room and I stayed in bed while they talked to me about joining the band. I told Glenn that tenor was my horn. He kept saying he wanted me to play alto sax. I finally said okay when he promised he'd let me switch over as soon as there was an opening on tenor. And he did keep his promise.
"I guess the best one-word description I've heard was that Glenn was G.I. — and that was before he was in the service. [“G.I." stood for government issue or general issue and has also been used as a verb in military circles, and it describes a deep-cleaning process of an area or item to achieve higher-than-normal standards. The originally meaning was “galvanized iron.”]
"I didn't get too much chance to blow. Glenn just thought that Tex was the greatest tenor player that ever lived and he didn't have room for another concept about that. It's true that some of the guys, such as Bill Finegan and Billy May and Jerry Gray would write things for me to play, but Glenn would cut them out.
"Our saxophone section was probably one of the best for its own purpose that I've ever sat in. Willie Schwartz and I of course were the two lead voices. I played the bottom tenor lead and Willie and I sat next to each other. We got so we knew the idiosyncrasies of the other's instruments. Willie knew the bad notes on my tenor and I knew the bad ones on his clarinet. And we could adjust for that. The sound we got was so robust - - we were young bloods who could blow pretty good — we were sometimes too loud for the open brass. One time Glenn told us we were too loud. It was kind of a nice time.
"As things went in those days, Glenn was uncommonly careful about the way he set things up. In the early days he'd bring us in for sound checks, particularly at Glen Island and probably at the Pennsylvania Hotel, though I wouldn't want to swear to it because it's a long time ago. I had joined the band while we were at the Paradise and then did some one-nighters in New England and traveling by car. It was cold and car heaters were not nearly as good as they are today. One of our methods of keeping warm was to get a gallon jug of wine and sip.
"There were really no cliques in the band. We had a common enemy — Glenn. It sort of united us into a clique-less group. Chummy MacGregor was about the one guy who didn't join us privates. But Tex and Mclntyre, who were Glenn's favorite people, nevertheless were one of the boys.
"Drinking in the band was well-controlled. Before I was there, one or two guys were into it pretty heavily. But we really had no great boozers.
"As a matter of fact, when we were at the Meadowbrook, Glenn forbade the band to drink at all. At that time I learned to drink gin, because it looked like water in the glass. Most of us adapted to it with ice.
"We had no jugs on the stand. Glenn drank, but not often. Once in awhile when he did, it wasn't good. He had a tendency to drink until he fell down. He was a mean drunk. But once a year was a lot."
Billy May, who first came to prominence for his writing for the Charlie Barnet band, later was one of the several important arranger who wrote for Miller. He was for years one of the legendary drinkers in jazz, in a class with Eddie Condon, Bunny Berigan, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Tommy Dorsey, and a good many more. Later he became extremely active in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Billy told me: "I think Glenn was an alcoholic. And I think he was a dry drunk. He kept it inside of him. I saw him get drunk a couple of times when I was with the band, and he went completely off his rocker."”
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The phenomenal popular success of Glenn Miller and his orchestra, beginning in 1939, became one of the great legends of American popular cultural history. In terms of statistical record-breaking, the band's popularity was unprecedented, shattering attendance and sales records that in some cases had stood for decades, breaking even the more recently established ones of Benny Goodman and Kay Kyser. Miller's tragic death in 1944, after enlisting and then leading an outstanding forty-two-piece Air Force orchestra for several years, only served to fan the legend, and for millions of now older Americans his name and music still carry an undiminished aura of nostalgia and fondest musical memories.
Miller's music represented a vital social moment in the vast majority of young and middle-aged Americans' lives, and the distinctive sound of his orchestra is indelibly etched into the American consciousness. Its famous reed section sound was a musical phenomenon for which one is hard put to find many parallels, certainly in Western music. For while all great composers have their special sound—an amalgam of specific harmonic usages, voice-leading and instrumentation—it is hard to think of anyone with a sound quite so unique, quite so mesmerizing—and, more astonishingly, so resistant to becoming tedious. One has to go outside Western culture to Japanese Gagaku or Hindu music to find a sound so singularly distilled and unvariedly consistent in its use (although, needless to say, in the latter regard, Miller's few decades are no match for the others' millennia).
But to keep this discourse in perspective, we must remind ourselves that Glenn Miller's "sound" is only that: a sound, a sonority mixture. It is not a style, a language, an idiom, nor even a musical concept—at least not a large one. It is perhaps not much more than a dialect. But for all its lack of scope, it was nevertheless very special and able to penetrate our collective awareness in a way that few other sounds have, even those by musical masters infinitely more creative than Miller.”
- Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era
- Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era
The Glenn Miller Years V
Billy May said, "Glenn was a terrible drunk. When he'd go on the wagon, he'd be one of those stiff people. He never learned to be a decent sober man. I know other people with the same personality. When I drank and I'd stop, I'd grit my teeth, and say, I’ll stay sober, god damn it!' And then when you'd let go, you went crazy.
"Chummy MacGregor was the first guy that told me about D.T. s. He'd wake up in the morning in New York and there was nothing to drink, so he'd have to get down to Plunkett's speakeasy. That was the only place you could get it. He'd run down and get a cab. When he tried to get in, the back seat would be full of lions and tigers, and he would have to run down to Plunkett's on the street. Chummy had been dry for six or seven years when Glenn started the band. And I know a couple of times Glenn was drunk when we were working a theater somewhere. And he was staggering, emceeing a show, and Chummy didn't let him up. Every time he'd come near Chummy, Chummy would say, ' Whatsa matter, someone hit you with the bar rag, for Chris'sake?'
"The rest of the time Glenn was kind of mad at the world. He was bitter about everything. Kind of a down kind of guy. Putting things down all the time." Billy affected a grousing snarl: 'Ah for Chris'sake, Dorsey did that.'
Broadcaster Fred Hall asked Billy: "What took you to the Miller band, money?"
Billy said: "What else? I enjoyed working for Charlie Barnet, and I wasn't really a fan of the Miller band. A guy by the name of Miles Rinker worked for the Shribman agency, the bookers in New England, and he offered me the job with Glenn." Al Rinker was, along with Bing Crosby, one of the original Rhythm Boys who sang with Paul Whiteman. Their sister was Mildred Bailey.
"Years later, after the war," Billy continued, "I ran into Miles' brother Al, who said, 'Didn't you know why Glenn offered you the job? It wasn't your trumpet playing. He knew you were writing all the Barnet charts and a lot of the originals that were catching on with the public. Charlie's band was coming up on records. He figured that if he got you in the band playing trumpet, it would torpedo Charlie's band."
This attitude to Barnet is interesting. The bandleaders of that period seemed to be on cordial terms, the glaring exception being Artie Shaw, and in some of the cases they were friends. Down Beat magazine may have divided the bands into two classes, hip (or, in those days, hep) and corny, and encouraged its readers to be hostile to the latter. Woody Herman was on good terms with Les Brown, and Glenn was friends with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman and indeed with Sammy Kaye, who was relegated by the trade press to the cornball category. When Glenn was overseas with his Army Air Corps band, he counted on Sammy Kaye to write him letters keeping him apprised of affairs in the business at home. Why then this hostility to Barnet?
One may surmise several factors, not the least among them Barnet's dissolute life and serial polygamy. By all evidence and testimony, Glenn was faithful to Helen throughout their relationship, and he was obviously something of a puritan. Another factor may have been Barnet's wealth: he didn't have to make money from his band; Glenn did, and his struggles in the early days were hard.
Billy May would write for Miller Ida, Delilah, Long Tall Mama, Take the "A " Train, Always in My Heart, Blues in the Night. He said, "Interestingly enough, Glenn Miller was offered Blues in the Night before anybody else and he turned it down because he said the format wasn't the conventional AABA song. He said, 'That'll never be a hit.' We had to end up doing Blues in the Night of course, and I did the arrangement. Miller was bright, and he said, 'That's one I really blew.'
"I was playing more than I was arranging. We worked hard in the band. It was a lucrative job, but Miller already had two great arrangers, Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan.
"It was quite a come-down to go from the freedom of Charlie's band, where it was so loose, to go with the regimented Miller band. I mean, we even had to wear the same colored socks! With Charlie, we had two uniforms, a blue and brown. They'd tell us, 'Wear the blue suit tomorrow,' and so we all came with the blue suit except Bus Etri, the guitar player, who wore the brown suit. Now that would have been a big disaster in the Miller band. Charlie made a big joke of it and we all had a big laugh. We presented Bus as a soloist that night."
Some of the musicians said Glenn was "chicken-shit" or "square." Louis Mucci said, "He was almost militaristic. But he got a lot of good results .... I stayed with the band seven or eight months. It was very good. I liked him."
Al Klink said of Miller: "About my personal relationship with him, he kind of left me alone and I left him alone. And I think we both liked it that way. I was always trying to do my best, to come on time and all that. I existed there.
"Glenn was a totally different kind of guy as compared to Benny Goodman. He was difficult to influence about anything, including musicians. Some guys were fairly close to Glenn but it seems to me that Glenn never had friends who were on the same level with him. Although I guess Chalmers MacGregor was. They were old buddies. Glenn was aloof.
After I'd left the band and joined Benny, we were on a train and I was going through the dining car. I passed where Benny was sitting without speaking, because that's the way you did it in the Miller band. He didn't want to know about the guys and didn't bother. Benny said, 'Hey, kid, come on over and sit down.' I was amazed at all this because Glenn never asked anybody to be friendly.'"
Klink spoke of his vivid memories of the time Hal Mclntyre left the band. The "swing era" was expanding with a growing need for bands for the hundreds of dance pavilions and ballrooms that had sprung up throughout the country. Seeing this clearly, Benny Goodman backed Harry James in starting a band, expanding the franchise as it were. Claude Thornhill and Charlie Spivak wanted to start their own bands. But they didn't go to Artie Shaw, now drowning in money after the success of his recording of Begin the Beguine for help. They went to Glenn when he became a success, and he backed them both: he owned pieces of those two bands. And he promised to back Hal Mclntyre and Tex Beneke in starting bands.
One day he called Mclntyre aside. He said:
"You're fired. You start rehearsing your own band in two weeks at Haven's."
Miller was particularly hard on Bill Finegan, one of the greatest arrangers jazz — and American dance music generally — has ever known.
If it was indeed an era of great bands, it was also an era of great arrangers. Miller was correct in his assessment that it was a particular and recognizable sound that brought popularity to a band. And the arrangers were substantially responsible for the sound of each band: Gene Gifford with Glen Gray, Fletcher Henderson and later Mel Powell and Eddie Sauter with Benny Goodman, Neal Hefti and Ralph Burns with Woody Herman, Sy Oliver with Jimmie Lunceford and then Paul Weston and Sy Oliver with Tommy Dorsey, Bill Borden and Gil Evans and later Gerry Mulligan with Claude Thornhill in one of the bands that Glenn backed, George Duning with Kay Kyser, Frank Comstock with Les Brown, each of them strongly identified with the band he wrote for. And Miller had, as well as Billy May, Jerry Gray, and Bill Finegan.
The first three sides for Bluebird, as we have noted, were arranged by Glenn: My Reverie, By the Waters of the Minnetonka, and King Porter Stomp, recorded August 27, 1938. The next session, February 6, 1939, produced four sides, (Gotta Get Some) Shut-eye, How I'd Like to Be with You in Bermuda, Cuckoo in the Clock, and Romance Runs in the Family, all of them trivial songs, and Bermuda an egregious example of the kind of utter crap that was the norm for that era. The great songs of the period came mostly from Broadway musicals and the movies, but the run of what you heard on juke boxes was of the caliber of the appallingly cute Three Little Fishes, which Miller in fact recorded on the third Bluebird session on April 4, 1939. The three Miller arrangements for the first Bluebird session are competent and conventional. The four songs on the second session, as bad as they are, have arrangements by Finegan, and they are far superior to Miller's, fresh and imaginative, leaving one to wonder what they were like before Miller got his hands on them. Marion Evans, a superb arranger who wrote for the post-war Miller band, examined them in Miller's New York office, and was fascinated by how good they were "before Miller fucked them up."
The third Bluebird session, April 4, 1939, contained Finegan charts on Frankie Carle's Sunrise Serenade and on Little Brown Jug, which dates from 1869. The latter would be one of Miller's biggest and most enduring hits. And on the next session, two weeks later, two Finegan arrangements were recorded, including one on Morton Gould's Pavanne.
Eddie Sauter, with whom Finegan would later team, experienced the same kind of interference from Benny Goodman.
Don Redman, who wrote for McKinney's Cotton Pickers in the 1920s, was a schooled musician, Lunceford was a schooled musician. Bix Beiderbecke was listening to Stravinsky, Debussy, and Dukas. William Grant Still was studying with Varese by 1927. The harmony in dance bands became more adventurous through the 1930s until you got Boyd Raeburn in the 1940s.
I once had a conversation about this with Mel Powell, who wrote for Goodman and later for the Miller Air Force band. I said, "I can't believe that the arrangers were not aware of all that was going on with the extension of harmony in European music. Bill Challis was starting to use some of that stuff when he was writing for Goldkette. Is there an answer to this question: were the writers waiting for the public to catch up?"
"I think I'll surprise you," Mel said. "They were waiting for the bandleaders to catch up. The bandleaders were much more aware of what a negotiable commodity was. When an arrangement would be brought in and rejected because 'That's too fancy,' that was a signal that I was no longer welcome. So I meant exactly what I said. If the arrangers were waiting for anything, they were waiting for the bandleaders."
I said, "Okay. Given Benny Goodman's inherent conservatism, I am surprised that he welcomed what you wrote. Because some of it was very radical. Mission to Moscow is radical for the period."
"Yeah. It gets close to peril," Mel said. "I thought that Eddie Sauter brought in some of the most inventive, imaginative things. Eddie was really devoted less to composition than he was to arranging, in the best, deepest sense of 'ranging'. I can recall rehearsals when Eddie would bring music to us, and it would be rejected. A lot was lost. On some pieces that we do know — for example his arrangement for You Stepped Out of a Dream, which I always regarded as a really advanced, marvelous kind of thing — Benny would thin it out. And sometimes take the credit for it being a hit, getting it past the a&r men. I don't think the thinning out was an improvement. Quite the contrary. I think that Eddie, and I to a lesser degree, were exploring harmonic worlds that ought to have been encouraged, rather than set aside."
Thus, over in the band led by Miller's friend Goodman, Sauter was enduring the same kind of interference that Finegan was with Miller.
Since Finegan was born in Newark, New Jersey, on May 3, 1917, he was twenty-two when he became a major and prolific part of the Miller team. His parents and sisters all played piano, and inevitably so did he. He studied music privately and later at the Paris Conservatory. A shy, soft-spoken, and self-effacing man, on May 4, 1997, he did a radio interview with Fred Hall. Fred began in broadcasting as an engineer who did many remote broadcasts with the great big bands, then during World War II, he did programs for the troops in the South Pacific. He was an astute scholar of the big-band era. Finegan told Fred:
"I went to a school down in a small town named Rumson, New Jersey. We had a very good music department. Good teachers. And there was a lot of interest in music. School band, the whole scene. I got together with some other guys and we formed a band, like, a jazz band."
"We found out that stock arrangements sounded terrible. We had three trumpets, three saxophones, and rhythm. We didn't have any trombones. The stock arrangements sounded so bad I started writing some stuff for the band, more tailored for it." Stock arrangements were sold by music publishers to the bands both large and small that were all over America.
"I studied harmony and counterpoint. I had that as a teenager. I started early, and I wrote simple riff-type arrangements. That's really how I got started. One thing led to another — out of necessity, I think."
Fred asked him: "You studied in Paris for a while, didn't you?"
"And at that point, did you not know where you were going in music for sure? You just wanted to get a better technical background."
"Yeah. I just followed my nose."
"Who did you listen to among the other arrangers? Fletcher Henderson? Gene Gifford?"
"Yeah. I used to listen to Camel Caravan on the radio with the Casa Loma band every night. And Fletcher Henderson. Sy Oliver, with Lunceford. I listened to Lunceford and Basie. And Duke of course."
Fred said, "First I heard about you was with Tommy Dorsey and Lonesome Road. I understand you just walked in with that arrangement."
"Yeah. I heard Tommy's band. He was playing at the New Yorker Hotel. I said, Tm gonna write something for him,' and I did. I met him at the New Yorker Hotel. I told him I had this arrangement for him. He told me what night they had a rehearsal. I brought it in and they ran it down."
"And he didn't change a thing."
"It required two sides of a 78 record. That was a real departure."
"Yeah. I had no idea of length in those days. I just wrote till I was finished."
"Did you study the style of the band before you did it? Of course, he hadn't totally evolved in terms of style, had he? He was doing a lot of Dixie type things."
"The band was mostly Dixieland at that time. There was a faction in the band that wanted to broaden out. So it created a kind of a stir in the band, because it was not a particularly Dixieland arrangement. The guys in the band liked it."
"Bud Freeman told me once he was crazy about it."
"That was it at that time for Tommy. He had Paul Weston and other people on staff."
"Oh yeah. He had Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston and Dean Kincaide."
"And Sy Oliver around the corner."
"Yeah, later. Miller came in to the New Yorker like about a week later and Tommy played the chart for him. And he had my phone number, and Miller called me up that same night and said, 'Would you like to write something for my band?' I'd never heard of him. I said, 'Well sure.' So I wrote a couple of things for him and sent them to him, and one thing led to another and he hired me."
"Did he pay you for the first arrangements?"
"Nope. That was kind of the way things went in those days."
"As far as I can tell, the first recording session with your charts was around February of '39. Gotta Get Some Shut-eye, Cuckoo in the Clock and Romance Runs in the Family"
"Oh yeah. Some great tunes. That was the beginning of a long string of dogs that I had to write for him."
"You had to be terribly prolific. I know the song pluggers were after him, but he had such a heavy recording schedule, pretty much from the beginning, didn't he?"
"When I first joined him, he didn't have a recording contract. Ijoined him in the winter of 1938. It was later, in '39, that he got a deal."
"Did he have the clarinet lead on the saxes in the beginning?"
"So that was pretty well established. And there would be no departing from that."
"And then you did a session that produced both Sunrise Serenade and Little Brown Jug. Boy, the movie sure got Little Brown Jug fouled up, in terms of how they used it. Because it was such an early thing."
"They had him writing it, which he didn't."
"Was there any concept on Little Brown Jug laid down by Glenn before you started working on it?"
"No. It started out, at least, like Sy Oliver style. I was heavily influenced by Sy at that time."
"It certainly was that."
"It seems to me that as the years went by, the band played it faster and faster."
"Too fast. Too fast from the word 'Go.' He would do that. He would take liberties with things I did, much to my chagrin."
Billy May had the same complaint about Miller, as did some of the players: tempos taken too fast.
"Yeah,"' Fred said. "I hear that it wasn't all roses, working for Miller."
"No, it wasn't."
"Did he ever sketch out something for you, and you took it?"
"No. For a period there, we'd get together every week and look over a bunch of tunes, and he'd pick out some tunes to do, and he would often suggest, 'Make this like so-and-so.' And I'd get the tune home, and it didn't want to go that way. So I wouldn't do it. I did it the way I thought. He never complained or said anything, if I didn't do it the way he suggested. But he wouldn't make suggestions off the top of his head. He did a lot of editing on my earlier things, cutting things out. He didn't rewrite anything, or add anything. All he did was cut out if I had too much in there. He cut down the length of things often."
Fred said, "Arrangements all had to conform to that three minute or three minutes ten second limit for recording."
Finegan said, "And they got shorter too, with the juke boxes. They had them timed." "So that you'd put more nickels into the juke boxes."
"That was the idea. The Mafia ran the juke boxes, usually. So they were determining how long the things were that we did, indirectly."
"Artie Shaw told me that lots of times he had to speed things up. He was particularly chagrined about Blues in the Night, which he did for Victor. It came in at three-twenty-nine, or something, and they had to cut it back to three-ten."
"Oh yeah, it got shorter than three-ten. Things got down to two forty-five. And a lot of juke boxes were set to cut off at two and a half minutes. The thing would just lift off the record. Most of the things, I'd try to keep 'em down around two-forty-five."
Fred Hall said, "I have to say that one of my very favorites from the beginning has been Pavanne. That was by Morton Gould, wasn't it? And I think the band played better on that than it did on anything I'd heard up to that point. The first romantic ballad, other than Sunrise Serenade, that I remember is Stairway to the Stars, which was a classic from the beginning. Ray Eberly told me once that he felt that things were often pitched too high. Was that a familiar complaint?"
"Nobody ever complained. That was just a miscalculation on my part, if it was pitched too high. There was no design there. It was just accidentally sometimes. Ray never complained. I wish he had. I'd have been more careful about it."
"His ability increased over time, I think. Well, he was just an instinctive singer, wasn't he? And he had his brother Bob to live up to. In a standard arrangement, you get to the point where the singer is going to be introduced, and you modulate a key. Whoever started that?"
"Oh yeah. The average thing with the clarinet lead, which was a built-in must, I'd pick up a good key for that for the first eight or sixteen that came before the vocal. It was never a good key for the vocal, so you'd have to change to suit the vocal. It was just a practical matter."
"My two most favorite arrangements of yours in the early years was My Isle of Golden Dreams, which has got a tempo change in the middle."
"I don't remember the tempo change. I barely remember the tune."
"It was a lovely tune. And along came Johnson Rag. That was late in '39. That had been done pretty much as a cornball piece up till then, hadn't it? Russ Morgan, that sort of thing."
"Yeah. It was a rag. Not a legitimate rag. But it was a ragtime sounding thing. Miller picked that."
"You did an arrangement for Miller of Stardust. And that featured Johnny Best."
"As a matter of fact, Miller did the first half of that arrangement. It was one he had laying around. I think it's the only one we did that way. He asked me to finish it for him."
"I notice that the two of you share credit for it. And that has some very good Beneke on that. What was your view of Beneke's playing?"
"Tex was a good player. I preferred Al Klink. He didn't get anything to do. I used to write a solo for Klink and Miller would switch the parts, give it to Tex."
"They were very close, I guess."
"Yeah. And he was making a star, too."
"The player I never understood with that band that I've always been told was very close to Miller was Chummy McGregor."
"They were old buddies."
"How did you find Glenn as a human being, as a character, and as a boss?"
"Do you want the standard answer?"
"No, I want the truth, if you don't mind."
"He was a cold fish. He was totally preoccupied with making a go of it with that band, and human values didn't mean a hell of a lot to him. He didn't have a lot of regard for people. I'm not just talking about me. I'm talking about the whole band, the way he generally treated people."
"He was born to be a major, I guess, as he was later on."
"He should have been in the military."
Fred said, "The band managed, in spite of that, to cohere. I never heard a more polished band. But maybe that's because of the drill sergeant attitude."
"Yeah, well, we rehearsed a lot too."
"Did you generally not make records until you'd been on the road with the arrangements for a while?"
"No. Most of the records, the guys were seeing them for the first time on the record date."
"How much run-down would you get to do?"
"Enough to just get it polished up. They had to do it in a hurry. In those days, they did a three-hour record date, and they wanted four sides in three hours. You know, four of these two-forty, two-forty-five things for ten-inch 78 records."
"So you were limited in terms of number of takes, as time began to run out."
"Yeah, well, I dunno. We'd just keep doing it until we got a decent take, then do the next tune, and somehow at the end of three hours, sometimes a half hour overtime, occasionally an hour overtime, we'd get all the stuff on."
Fred said, "My first years in radio full-time were '40 and '41, and I did a lot of dance-band remotes all up and down the east coast, including quite a few with Glenn. The miking at that time was rather simple for those remotes, and yet the balance was pretty good."
"It's always my opinion that the fewer mikes you can use, the better it is — if you place them right, and get the band placed right. The guys would stand or point in or point away. The guys were wonderful with making things shape up in those days. I don't like the multiple-mike thing they do today. I think it's ridiculous."
"Did you enjoy writing the ballads?"
"Yes. The good ones. Nightingale was a nice tune."
"You must be proud of that one. You must be proud of a lot of them. You did Blue Heaven. Did Glenn use those mostly for closers for broadcasts and things?"
"Yeah. They called them flag-wavers in those days."
"Not too good for dances, though. Didn't he have some conception of playing everything at middle tempo?"
"Yeah. He was very conscious of being a dance band and he didn't want to throw the dancers a curve."
"When you did originals for the band, did Glenn put his name on them, or let you put your name on them?"
"No, he put my name on them. But he had his own publishing company. Everything went into his company, so he got fifty percent anyway."
"I have heard a story that he did get very emotional about some of your arrangements, but not till he got home."
"That's true, yeah. His wife Helen was a good friend of mine. We would just sit together wherever the band was playing, have dinner at the Glen Island Casino, the Cafe Rouge, places like that. The night of a rehearsal, she'd tell me, he'd come home raving about something of mine. And I'd say, 'Well he didn't rave at the rehearsal.'"
"And he particularly liked A Handful of Stars.
"Did you tour with the band? If there was a performance, would you be there?"
"No. I stayed home and wrote. When they'd be on location somewhere, I'd go there for a while."
"Were you there in the days when In the Mood broke at the Glen Island Casino."
"Yes. I was living in Pelham."
"I know they were working their tails."
"We were doing a broadcast every night, and some in the late afternoon from there."
"And you had the Chesterfield show, three nights a week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Did you and Jerry Gray share the duties of writing, for example, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue."
"Jerry did most of them. I didn't like to do medleys. I did one, I think."
"I don't remember hearing the show when it started with the Andrews Sisters on it. You get fifteen minutes, you've got openers, closers, and lead-ins to everything. How they got more than two or three tunes done, I don't know. But it was a wonderful show later. I've got to tell you, I miss the dance-band remotes terribly."
"Yeah. Wasn't that great in those days?"
"When you weren't working, you could turn the radio on at night. And the later it got, the more stations you got coming in from the mid-west and so on."
"That was a big part of my musical education through high school," Finegan said.
"Starting about ten o'clock at night, every half hour there'd be another band on."
"Sure. You could go from CBS to NBC red to NBC blue to Mutual. I worked for mutual in those days. Mutual would half the time have a class C circuit to the remote, which was a shame, because you lost the high and low ends on the sound. But nobody seemed to pay any attention."
About the same time that Miller took on Bill Finegan, he hired one of the finest trombone players ever to play in his — or any other — band, Paul Tanner.
In addition to his work with Miller, Charlie Spivak, Les Brown, Tex Beneke, Henry Mancini, and Nelson Riddle, Eugene Ormandy, Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein, and Zubin Mehta, he took master's and doctor's degrees at the University of California at Los Angeles, and then taught there for 23 years: performance, theory, musicology, and music education. He went on to lecture internationally on the history of jazz. His days with Miller left an indelible and happy memory on him, and he wrote a short book about the experience titled Every Night Was New Year's Eve: On the Road with Glenn Miller.
He was born on October 15, 1917, in a small town improbably named Skunk Hollow, Kentucky. By the age of nineteen, he was working in a band playing a strip club called the Swing Club in Atlantic City. The advantage of the location was that many of the "name bands" of the period played Atlantic City, and a young musician had a chance to be heard. Miller played the Million Dollar Pier that summer. One evening Tanner looked out past the stripper at the audience, and thought, "Oh my God, it's Glenn Miller! What a way to audition!"
Miller had formed his second band only a month or two earlier. He was sitting with his wife; Helen was apparently unperturbed by the strippers.
"When the band took a break Glenn motioned me over to his table. I remember, as I stumbled across the floor, that I'd played well and that maybe, if he liked my playing, he'd recommend me to someone in the business. When I arrived at the table, he smiled at me, waved me into a seat, that he'd been impressed by my playing, and that he'd been particularly taken with my high register."
Helen Miller said, in years of retelling the story, that after about a half-hour of stammering, Tanner got up the nerve to ask Glenn if he might use him as a reference when looking for work.
Miller smiled and said, "You're coming with me. How soon can you be packed?" Paul blurted that the only thing he had to pack was his toothbrush, and he had it with him.
The Miller band went from Atlantic City to Hunt's Ocean Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey, where Tanner joined them. He wrote:
"Typical of the period, Hunt's had a huge ballroom with rows of folding chairs along each wall facing the stage area. I wasn't scheduled to play that first night — the trombonist I was replacing was still with the band — but I was eager to establish myself as one of the Miller bandsmen, so I ambled into the ballroom just before they began to play .... I headed for the only unfolded chair on the floor and plunked myself into it. The chair collapsed with a monstrous clatter, sending me — arms and legs flying — into a disorganized heap on the floor. I had blown my cool, and it came to me as I lay there in my only suit — with peals of laughter from the band ringing my ears — that I had been framed ....
"Glenn, who was wont to bestow bizarre nicknames on those close to him, looked over at me and yelled, 'Come on, Lightning, get your horn and play with us.'
"I knew, as I untangled my six-foot-three frame and struggled to my feet, that I had been christened, and more importantly, been accepted.
"I learned later that it had taken a two-hour effort on the part of the band members to fold and stack all the chairs and to engineer the break-away aspects of the one that had undone me. Then, as now, musicians were known as notorious practical jokers.
"As I uncased my horn and mounted the stand, Glenn shot a sidelong glance at the venerable instrument and asked if I had made it myself. I hadn't, of course, but Glenn's remark hit uncomfortably close to home. The horn had been with me since 1930, had been repaired many times, and had once been rejected for a welding job by a Pascagoula, Mississippi, blacksmith who told me ruefully as he handed it back, 'I'm sorry, son, I only do horseshoes.'"
A few days later, Glenn asked a friend, Simon Mantia of the New York Philharmonic, to test thirty or so trombones to find a good one for Tanner. Tanner paid for it in instalments of five dollars a week for the next five months.
"Before the first week had ended,"my acceptance by the band included being drafted as a somewhat reluctant participant in the football wars waged daily on the beach. I'd never been fond of contact sports .... Once in the arena, however, I covered myself with glory by being able to consistently kick the ball farther than any of the other combatants — and that while barefoot. Glenn was himself quite an athlete and seemed impressed by my ability to gain airborne yardage."
Tanner said that over the years, he was constantly asked what Glenn Miller was really like. He wrote, "It's a difficult question to answer, and I always hedge a bit by pointing out that I don't actually know. I traveled with him, played music with him and — whenever he invited me, socialized with him, but I knew him only from the point of view of a young starstruck trombone player sitting in his horn section and must describe him from that perspective.
"Glenn Miller was an extremely knowledgeable musician, an astute businessman and a great organizer. He was ambitious, he meant what he said, worked very hard, but was impatient. As the band became more and more famous, his workload kept him occupied to the point that misunderstandings sometimes crept into his personal relationships.
"Although Glenn fronted the most popular band in the world at the time, he played few solos, feeling that if his playing skills were compared to those of Tommy Dorsey, he would come off second best. He was equally reticent about competing with Teagarden, Miff Mole, J.C. Higginbotham and others whom he greatly admired. Yet he played lead for his trombone section with a fine solid tone, good intonation, and consistent quality. In my opinion, Glenn has always been underestimated as a trombone player.
"Glenn continued his study of musical composition until the band's busy schedule forced him to stop. When other arrangers brought him works to be tried out in rehearsal, he either bought or rejected them on the spot, knowing within a few minutes whether or not the material was worth his time, efforts, or financial investment, usually upsetting the writer who had, in most cases, spent weeks preparing the arrangement. On those occasions when he did purchase the music, he would spend hours reworking the entire score in order to achieve a sound consistent with his standards, quite often deleting as much as he retained.
"Glenn had an excellent ear. No questionable note or poor intonation ever escaped his attention and he did not hesitate to fire any player who could not play in tune or read well. To miss a note once in awhile was not considered a major sin for a brass player, but to play at the wrong spot in the music was entirely against Glenn's code of professional ethics. He looked upon such an error as an example of carelessness and would not tolerate it. On the other hand, whenever our lead trumpet player Mick McMickle thought a high note seemed particularly risky, Glenn would honor his opinion and change the arrangement.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Glenn Miller was the greatest musical businessman since John Phillip Sousa, and I'm convinced that almost any band leader, with even minimal talent, could have been successful in those hectic days of ballrooms and early radio had he taken the trouble to follow Glenn's lead."
In 1938, the same year that Tanner and Finegan joined the band, Glenn took on a "girl singer" named Marion Hutton, born Marion Thornburg on March 10,1919, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her sister, Elizabeth June Thornburg, was born February 26, 1921. She would change her name to Betty Hutton, and Marion took the same surname.
There was a tragic quality about both of them, despite their madcap comedic quality in performance. Their father was a railroad foreman who left their mother for another woman. They heard nothing of him until 1939 when they received a telegram telling them he had committed suicide. With two children to raise, the mother ran a Prohibition-era speakeasy where the two little girls began singing careers. Harassed by the police, the mother moved to Detroit where both girls sang with local bands, and in due course they sang with the Vincent Lopez band in New York. Betty would become one of the biggest film and recording stars of the 1940s, specializing in comic songs such as Murder, He Says; His Rocking Horse Ran Away, and The Fuddy-Duddy Watchmaker. The sense of sadness is often found in very funny people, the attempt perhaps to conceal or escape from heartbreak. If you watch them in movies — Betty perhaps reached her career peak in Annie Get Your Gun and Marion appeared in the two films Miller made — you will be struck by their physical resemblance to each other, right down to the gestures, the very way they moved their heads. Betty was partly responsible for Marion's joining the Miller band. While Marion was working with Lopez in Boston, Betty pressed Miller on her sister's behalf. Marion told George Simon:
"Finally, Glenn said, 'Come to New York. I'll pay your expenses.' So I went to New York and auditioned with the band. Glenn was kind but he was clipped and not very warm. Betty was so firmly entrenched and I kept apologizing for not being as good. But Glenn kept encouraging me.
"I was only seventeen then, and so Glenn and Helen became my legal guardians. I grew terribly dependent. He represented a source of strength. After all, isn't a little girl always in search of a father? He fulfilled the image of what a father ought to be. If he had told me to walk up Broadway naked, I would have. Of course, I was a people pleaser to begin with. But I was terribly afraid of incurring his wrath."
Marion never considered herself a great singer, nor for that matter did Glenn, who once told a friend, "We'll cover up her singing with good arrangements." At one point, hoping to impress him, she went to a noted voice teacher, and Glenn detected a change in her singing. He asked what she was doing, and she told him. He told her, "Knock off the goddamn lessons. I want you to sound like Marion Hutton." Art Lund had a similar experience when he was singing with the Benny Goodman band. Marion told George Simon: "I was crushed. I realized then there was nothing in the universe except what he wanted. It was the Doctrine According to Glenn."
A number of the big bands carried vocal groups, such as the Pied Pipers with Tommy Dorsey and the King Sisters with Alvino Rey, and before that the Rhythm Boys with Paul Whiteman. The Modernaires started as in 1935 as a trio at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, New York. The members, Hal Dickinson, Chuck Goldstein, and Bill Conway, joined the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra, after which they went with the Ozzie Nelson band under the name the Three Wizards of Ozzie. When they joined the Fred Waring Orchestra and took on a fourth member, Ralph Brewster, they became the Modernaires, then went on to a feature position on the Paul Whiteman radio show in 1937 and recorded many of the current songs with Jack Teagarden.
They became part of the Miller band —and a definitive part of its sound —in 1941, recording Perfidia, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, which purportedly became the first gold record with more than a million copies sold, I Know Why (and So Do You), Elmer's Tune, Serenade in Blue, and I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.
In an autobiography, journalist and one-time Down Beat editor Dave Dexter wrote:
"Hal Dickinson was sort of the founder of the Modernaires, in Buffalo, with Chuck Goldstein, Ralph Brewster, and Bill Conway. They were the original four boys. They were with Miller later on. They were with Paul Whiteman prior to that. Hal told me a story. When they were Glenn was riding high, they were appearing in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hal at that time was dating Paula Kelly, who was singing with Al Donahue's band. They were working in Cincinnati. Hal figured out that if they finished the job in Hershey, he could go to Pittsburgh or the nearest big airport, get a plane to Cincinnati, meet Paula maybe for breakfast and they'd spend a few hours together, and he'd fly back to the next Miller one-nighter, which was in Allentown.
"He got in a taxi, got on a plane early in the morning, flew to Cincinnati, and they spent a good part of the day together. He went to the airport, and the flight was booked up or whatever. He got a plane to Philadelphia, and spent all his money, and there was a limousine strike in Philadelphia. Now he had to get a private taxi to get to Allentown. But he had to make that job. Miller was very strict. The job started at eight o'clock. And the cab pulled up about a quarter to eight. He'd arranged with Al Brewster to have his uniform ready in the dressing room. He ran in, quickly changed his clothes, ran out on stage for the down beat. He's sitting there with the other Modernaires.
Fred Hall asked Bill Finegan, "When you were working with the Modernaires, did the singers have any input? Were the orchestral arrangements written around them?"
"Most of the time, the things with the Modernaires on them, I did the vocal arrangements. I'd play it for Bill Conway, who was kind of the brains of that group. He'd teach it to them. They didn't read. But they had fantastic memories. He'd play a phrase down for them once, and they'd have it."
"Some of their later stuff is so gorgeous. Rhapsody in Blue and Moonlight Sonata, were those things you brought in or were those things you were asked to write?"
"Rhapsody in Blue turned up in the one medley I did. The slow theme. And then Glenn asked me to enlarge on it and make a separate thing on it."
"Was the thought in mind from the very beginning to showcase Bobby Hackett?"
"No. But with Bobby there, how could you not use him? He was wonderful."
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The kind of mass success Miller had can only be achieved with a music which is both simple and single-mindedly distinctive, reduced to an easily recognizable formula. And this — eventually — Miller accomplished to a T, whether fully consciously or in part inadvertently, is hard to say. But then the processes of invention and creativity in the arts are not entirely rationally explicable. They remain mysterious and defy exact analysis. And for their most hidden aspects we reserve the word "inspiration."”
- Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era
The Glenn Miller Years VI
“George Simon wrote: "As the band's first regularly employed arranger, Finegan represented a new challenge to the competitive Miller. Heretofore Glenn had written almost all the arrangements himself, and so he had maintained complete control over everything the band played. But Bill began writing 'some wild things. I was experimenting and discovering.' Glenn obviously wasn't pleased. He wanted more conformity. So be began to try to exercise a great deal of control over the young Finegan. 'I used to complain about his continual editing of my arrangements. It was OK at first, when he had to cut down to fit the tune onto one side of a record. But for a while Glenn would start editing just about everything, and soon it became a battle of wits between us. I would try to anticipate what he was going to do by black-penciling my own arrangements before he could. Finally he told me, 'You keep writing. I'll handle the black pencil.' Today, when people ask me what I think was the best arrangement I ever wrote for the band, I really don't know, because everything I wrote went through a meat grinder.'
"Finegan's plight later received sympathy from some fellow-bandsmen, like arranger-trumpet Billy May, who told me, 'My heart used to bleed for Billy Finegan because Glenn's ideas were really not that good. And to make it worse, Chummy MacGregor was always adding some crap, like three clinks."
Billy May told me: "Miller was cruel to Bill Finegan, he really was. He messed with everybody's charts, but especially Bill's. 'That introduction, take that out. Start down here.' Merciless. The intro would be beautiful. 'Take that out.'"
Finegan throughout his career, George Simon said, was plagued by self doubt, a not unknown ailment in truly gifted artists. Maurice Purtill told Simon: "Sometimes Finegan would hole up for a few weeks and just write and never show up. Then he'd return with his arrangements and Glenn would be very sarcastic."
Finegan told Simon, "I reacted to his ice-cold personality in a cocky sort of way. He always had the barb out and he would bring it out in me.
"Tommy Dorsey played loud, so Glenn felt he had to play loud also. Sometimes he'd play so loud that I'd have to find ways for him not to demolish the brass section. He wasn't a great trombonist, but he was better than his records show him to be. He felt secure within the brass section, rather than as a soloist. There he would belt out his parts so much that the section would be out of balance. So I began writing bass trombone parts for him because I loved to hear them belted out the way he could. 'What are you doing, Finegan?' he'd ask me, and I'd tell him he was the only one who played so loud that I could hear those parts. I don't know whether Glenn appreciated not playing lead trombone. But I know I did. It was a pleasure, really, hearing him play 'way down low."
Finegan, like everyone else who worked with him, saw Glenn as essentially an executive, and of course it was in his nature to be attracted to the Schillinger mathematical approach to music.
"I felt math should not be the instigator of music," Finegan said. "But this organized method suited him perfectly. It was a practical rather than an idealistic approach to music, which is exactly what that band was all about."
Simon points out that the one subject in which Glenn achieved top high school marks was algebra.
Finegan told Simon:
"And still there were times when he could be very emotional. On more than one occasion I moved him to tears. He'd break down, but he wouldn't want anyone to see he was affected, so he'd go over in a corner. I remember he did that when he first heard my arrangement of A Handful of Stars.
"Glenn loved Delius and Ravel, especially Delius' On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and Ravel's Introduction and Allegro and String Quartet in F. Once, when we were at Meadowbrook and I was down in the dumps, he and Helen brought me back to their hotel room in Paterson and he played Ravel for me ....
"All in all, Glenn was very patient with me. He'd explain to me that I was not the only one who could get stuck writing under pressure and he admitted that he'd be sometimes gotten stuck too and that he had called Claude Thornhill to bail him out. And there were times when I would even call Glenn in the middle of the night and say, 'Hey, I'm stuck on an ending.'And he would talk with me and get me off the hook — even if I'd woken him up at four in the morning. He was very good to me that way.
"You know, as I look back at it all now, I realize that there was probably one thing that Glenn wanted more than anything else. It may be hard to believe it, but I think what Glenn wanted most of all was to be needed."
If the members of the band were not drunks, they were about to get a good one, and one of the most brilliant writers jazz ever had, and one of the worst procrastinators. Paul Weston used to say that Billy May would be writing the third chart for a record date while the first one was being recorded.
"That's kind of an exaggeration," Billy said, and laughed. There was a bubble of laughter in almost everything he said. "No. I would time it so that if the date started at four o'clock in the afternoon, I would finish about five minutes to four on the last tune and give it to the copyist."
Billy once got so drunk on a record date that he lay down on the studio floor and conducted the orchestra from that position. Further legend has it that he wrote his arrangement of Ray Noble's Cherokee right on the Charlie Barnet record date that made it famous. Is that story true?
"More or less," he said. "I wrote most of it at home and part of it on the way down to the date. I finished it up on the date. Then after that I wrote Pompton Turnpike and a bunch of stuff like that for Charlie."
Billy was born on November 10,1916 in Pittsburgh, whose steel millionaires, such as Carnegie, Mellon, and Frick, gave huge endowments to its schools, leaving it culturally rich: its natives included Ahmad Jamal, Kenny Clarke, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll Garner, the Turrentine brothers, Henry Mancini (technically, from the suburb of West Aliquippa, but trained in Pittsburgh), Earl Hines, Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, George Benson, Joe Pass, Sonny Clarke, Dodo Marmarosa, Jerry Fielding, Ron Anthony, Paul Humphreys — and even Oscar Levant. Gertrude Stein was born in Pittsburgh. So was Gene Kelly.
"Some of the money must have trickled down," Billy said. "I first learned music in public school. They taught me solfeggio when I was in the second or third grade. I learned to sight-read. And I had some piano lessons, but I didn't practice. Then when I got into high school, I had a study period and I learned the intermediate band was rehearsing. So I went around. The teacher said, 'Do you want to try something? Come after school.' One of the kids showed me a tuba. By the next semester I was good enough to play in the intermediate band. I just went on from there.
"My father's father was from the Ruhr Valley and worked in steel mills," he said. "My grandmother was a farm girl from eastern Germany. My mother's people were English and Scotch-Irish. Of all the people in the world, they were all good but the Catholics. That was her attitude.
"In high school I fooled around and watched the other guys and I got interested in why they did what they did. I figured out that the valves worked the same, whether it was a tuba or a trumpet. Then I had a pal who was a clarinet player, and I looked at that. Then I took bassoon one year and I ended up playing second bassoon in the high school orchestra, and that was good training. And I had a couple of semesters on bass.
"One of the kids hipped me up to the Casa Loma orchestra, and Billy Rausch used to hit a high every night. It impressed the hell out of me. Still does! They had wonderful arrangements. Gene Gifford wrote most of them. By the time I got out of high school in 1935, I was writing arrangements, trying to copy Casa Loma. But it was a very stiff band, reminded me of Glenn's band." He sang the kind of stiff phrasing one heard in Miller's up-tempo work. Maniac's Ball and all that. They were too labored. Tonight we're going to be hot! New Year's Eve hot, kind of shit. "But swing music should be relaxed"
By the time he was graduated from high school, Billy had played something from almost the entire family of instruments. "By then I was writing for little bands. In 1935, like now they have rock groups, they had little dance bands. Some of the mothers wanted their sons to become another Rudy Vallee. There were always bands around. The Depression was on, and I was working three or four nights a week, making three bucks a night. Pittsburgh was where Blue Barron got started. Lawrence Welk too, and Sammy Kaye.
"I got a job with Baron Elliott, Pittsburgh's answer to Guy Lombardo. It was a good-paying job. I bought myself a new Chevrolet, $900, that was 1937. But it was a shitty job. I was playing trombone, and I had it down so while the guy was singing the vocal, I could write the next arrangement. We tried to do some of the hot things. Benny Goodman was making records then, so we had to do things like that. The two trumpet players were great playing Lebert Lombardo ..." He imitated the ricky-tick phrasing. "But they couldn't play shit for chords. 'Gimme a G chord!' So I started doubling trumpet. And that's how come I became a trumpet player, 'cause I could belt it for them. When you're young, you've got good chops. So I slowly diminished my trombone playing and increased the trumpet playing.
"And then Barnet came through Pittsburgh. I heard them on the radio, and I thought, 'Oh boy, what a great band.' He had six brass, four saxes, the rhythm section, and himself. So I went out and asked him one night if I could write an arrangement for him. He said, 'Yeah, we're gonna rehearse tomorrow, if you can get it ready.' So I stayed up all night and made it and took it to him and he liked it and bought it and hired me for six or seven more. So I wrote them and sent them in, but he got married then and broke up the band.
"That was in June or July of '38. Then he put the band back together, and I heard him on the air from the Famous Door in New York just before New Year's Eve. I wrote him a letter and asked for my money. He called me and offered me a job to come to New York and write four arrangements a week for $70. So I took it.
"I checked into the Park Central Hotel with him. I was there for about three weeks. I brought my horns. He said to me one day, 'Do you think you can help me out? One of the trumpet players is sick. Can you work the show?' So I went down to the Paramount theater and played first trumpet for the shows that day, and that cemented my job with him forever. I knew the book. I was able to sit in and play it. I went back to just writing.
"But then Charlie always had it in mind that he wanted four trumpets. Basie came in to New York and played the Famous Door, and he had four trumpets. Barnet told me, 'We're going to have four trumpets. Get a coat. Get down to the tailor and have one made like the guys.' We made a new deal for the money, and I said, 'What am I going to do for a book? The book's written for three trumpets.' He said, 'Well you wrote the son of a bitch, you can make up a part.' And I did, I just made it up as we went along.
"That was about August. We were playing the Playland Ballroom in Rye, and that's where we did Cherokee and all those things. Right after that we went into the Meadowbrook, and that's where I broke in on fourth trumpet. After that we did one-nighters all the way out to the Palomar in Los Angeles. We went into the Palomar.
"The war had started in Europe on September first of 1939. A couple of nights, Phil Stevens, the bass player, ran over to the curtains with a pitcher of water: the curtain had caught fire from the heat of the lights. The management never did anything about it. The night of October first, a Sunday night, we were doing a remote broadcast. When we were off the bandstand, the fire started and there was no one to throw the water on the curtains, and the whole friggin' ballroom burned down. So it was a good thing I didn't write too many fourth parts, because I had to write the whole library again. Skippy Martin was in the band, playing saxophone. He and I rewrote the whole goddamn library."
"Barnet took the fire philosophically, saying, 'Hell, it's better than being in Poland with bombs dropping on your head.' He recorded a tune called All Burnt Up.
"After the fire, it took us about six weeks to get the band back together. Everybody lost their horns. We got back on the road and did one-nighters all the way back from California. We played in Boston. That was in November, 1939. That was the first time we went in the Apollo theater. I think we were the first white band to play the Apollo. We played Cherokee and they loved us. We did a bunch of Duke's things. We played the Lincoln Hotel, and did one-nighters."
Barnet was famous among musicians for his wild behavior. Nor did he discourage it in his musicians. That was, by all accounts, the craziest band in the business, and one of the best, and so different from Miller's. Once, in some city or another, one of his musicians (I'm sorrow to say I can't remember who) bought a bow and arrow. He was practicing with it in his hotel room, shooting arrows at the door. When the band came to check out, a bellboy noticed the damage and informed the manager, who told the musician he would have to pay for it. The musician gave him the money, then got another member of the band to help him take the door off its hinges and carry it downstairs to the band bus. The manager stopped him, and the musician said, "What's the problem? I bought it. It's my door." Barnet told him, "He's right, it's his door." When the manager asked him what band this was, Barnet said, "Les Brown."
Barnet's sexual escapades were legend, and a lot of them unprintable. "He liked the dames," Billy May said. "We played some one-nighters somewhere around Youngstown, then a one-nighter in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Italian promoter, he came up and said, 'Now we're gonna have a jitterbug dance.' The contest was going to be between Mrs. So-and-so, the wife of the promoter, and Mrs. Charlie Barnet. We thought, 'Who the hell is Mrs. Charlie Barnet?' And up comes this goddamn sleek-looking chick, some broad he got out of a house of ill repute in Youngstown the night before. So she's sitting up there on the stand. She was with the band four or five days. We were working all around those coal fields in Pennsylvania, Middleport, Johnstown, and we ended up in Buffalo, New York. We played a battle of music with Andy Kirk.
"So we get off the stand, and we're standing around and Andy Kirk's band's playing. I notice there's a whole bunch of guys in overcoats standing around us, they've got us surrounded. And one of them says, 'Which one is Bahnet?' So we said, 'There, right there.' So they surrounded Barnet. That was the last we saw of the lady. She was a whore, she was a good money-maker for them. That's one of his adventures.
"With Charlie it was New Year's Eve every night."
Billy said, "From what I was told, Glenn got wondering about who was doing the writing for Charlie." By then Barnet had hits on Cherokee, Pompton Turnpike, and a number more.
"Barnet worked Atlantic City. We were back in New York, then we went to Boston. Miles Rinker, who was an associate of the Shribman brothers, came to me and said, 'When you get to New York, go into Hurley's bar on Sunday night. Glenn Miller wants to talk to you. Don't talk to anyone about it.'"
Hurley's was (and still is) at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street. "So I went into Hurley's," Billy said, "and I met Helen and Glenn, and he offered me a job. I tried to work it out, saying, 'Well I'll let you know.' I was going to go to Charlie and ask him if he would match the offer. But Glenn said, 'No, you gotta let me know right now.' I gave Charlie my two weeks and joined Miller the night Roosevelt was elected in 1940, for the second term.
"Actually, there are two versions of the story. One version is that he wanted Bernie Privin, who was in Charlie's band at the time. Or he wanted me. And he wanted me to screw up his arrangements. So he hired me. Ray Anthony and I joined the band at the same time — November, 1940.
"John O'Leary made sure we were on the train and all that. He was Glenn's road manager, and a good one too.
"John was a good Catholic. He was an old man. We'd be riding on the bus, doing the one-nighters up in New England, and Sunday you'd wake up at six o'clock, seven o'clock in the morning, and the bus would be stopped. A nice bright sunny day in New England. Outside a Catholic church. And the bus driver, with his hat down over his face, said, 'John O'Leary just went in for Mass. We'll be going in a minute.'
"Miller was a number one fixer. You'd get at the rehearsal, and the tunes were running too long, or somebody's key didn't fit. He was a demon at fixing things like that. He wouldn't transpose it, but he'd be able to patch it together so that it was presentable for a program. I learned an awful lot from him when we did those fifteen-minute Chesterfield radio shows. 'Cause he was always adjusting them, or cutting them down, or putting them in medleys — you know, he had a lot of hit records — and he'd make them fit the program, and he'd get as many tunes in as he could. And the song pluggers were busy in those days; I'm talking 1940 or '41 now. He'd get all the plugs in he could for the guys, and things like that. He cut here, put in a bell note there, and then maybe he'd write a little thing for the saxes — dictate it to them — and it would be ready. He really knew how to run a rehearsal.
"But with Glenn, everything was always the same. You'd come to work, if you didn't wear the red socks, Jesus Christ, there'd be a big scene. I learned to live with the routine; I was newly married. We were making good money — 1940, '41, I was making $150 a week guaranteed, but some weeks we'd make four or five hundred, because we were doing the Chesterfield show, and working in New York doing the Paramount Theater, and stuff like that. I bought my first house out here with that. Then I made the two pictures with Glenn, Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives."
The two films often run on television. If you look closely, you can see a young — he was twenty-four — and chubby Billy May back in the trumpet section. The actor pretending to be the bass player in Orchestra Wives is Jackie Gleason.
"After the second picture," Billy said, "we were supposed to have some time off. Instead, all of a sudden, we take the train back to Chicago. And that was a surprise. We were going back to work. We were working out of the College Inn at the Sherman Hotel. And every weekend, we'd go out somewhere, working an army or navy base somewhere. And it soon became apparent that Glenn was scouting around for something. Meanwhile, I had some friends who were publishers. I let it be known that I didn't want to play that much any more, I'd rather be writing. And I got a deal with Alvino Rey and the King Sisters.
"The Miller band had a couple of weeks off. I went down to Philadelphia, did two or three charts for Alvino, and I got a good deal with them. They gave me 150 bucks a week to write two charts. I went back with Miller. We were playing in Youngstown, Ohio. I went in and told him, I said, 'I've got a chance to stay in New York writing and I won't have to travel any more, so I'd like to leave the band.' He said, 'It's no surprise. I'm going into the service, that's why we've been working all these places. I'm expecting a commission to come through any time. I'd like you to stick it out just until the end. Because I don't want people to think the rats are leaving the ship.' That's the term he used.
"So I said, 'Okay,' because he'd been pretty good to me over all. He was a pain in the ass to work for, but the deal was okay. He said, 'I'm going to come out of this war as some kind of a fuckin' hero, you wait and see.' It came out a little different than he planned.
"Chummy MacGregor was the first guy that told me about DTs. He'd wake up in the morning and there was nothing there to drink, so he'd have to get down to Plunkett's speakeasy. That was the only place you could get it. He'd run down and get a cab. And when he tried to get in, the back seat would be full of lions and tigers, and he would have to run down on the street. Chummy had been dry for six or seven years when Glenn started the band.
"And I know a couple of times Glenn was drunk when we were working a theater somewhere. And he was staggering, emceeing a show, and Chummy didn't let him up. Every time he'd come near Chummy, Chummy would say, 'Whatsa matter, someone hit you with the bar rag, for Chris'sake?
'"Dry drunk' is an expression in A.A. — when a person stays sober but hates it. He wants to let all that stuff out, but he doesn't know how to do it unless he gets drunk.
"He was a terrible drunk. But when he'd go on the wagon, he'd be one of those stiff people. He never learned to be a decent sober man. He needed a couple of good A.A. meetings.
"I know other people with the same personality. And I've been around A.A. myself. And I knew when I drank before and I'd stop, I'd grit my teeth, and say, 'I'll stay sober, god damn it!' And then when you'd let go, you went crazy. And A.A. showed me the way to get over that."
"The rest of the time Glenn was kind of mad at the world. He was bitter about everything. Kind of a down kind of guy. Putting things down all the time." Billy affected a grousing snarl: ""Ah for Chris'sake, Dorsey did that.'
"He used to like some of the stuff I wrote. But then he'd get around to Duke:
'Bunch of sloppy bastards.' True, but it was also good.
"When he got the power of being a leader, and got his own publishing company, he got to be a power maniac there.
"I was in the band about two weeks when I got to know Willie Schwartz, who was playing clarinet. He used to say about Glenn, 'Fuck him.'
"The one guy who had Miller buffaloed was Moe Purtill. As a drummer, his playing wasn't that good, but we liked him as a guy. He was a good guy, and he didn't take any shit from Miller."
Miller's struggle to launch the second band was fully as parlous as the effort that went into the first, and it might have failed but for one college student, who would prove important in the life and career of Glenn Miller, born in Mount Vernon, New York, April 25, 1916. His father, William J. Shiels, a surrogate court judge for Westchester County, in time became a New York State Supreme Court judge. Tom was graduated with a degree in business administration from Notre Dame.
Tom told me:
"In 1938, the kids who were at my old high asked me that year if I could help getting a band for their senior prom, which was always at Christmas time. That Christmas at lona Prep, I was trying to give these kids help. I went down on Broadway and knocked on doors of different agents. I got one named Charles Shribman. He was from Boston, but he had a New York office. Bob Bundy, a little pudgy guy with a real Boston accent, worked for him. I told him I was looking for a band for my high school. He said, 'How much have you got to spend?'
"I said, 'The max is $500,' which in those days was a lot of money for those kids.
"He said, 'Look out across the street. See that marquee there?' I looked out the window and it was the Paradise restaurant. It was headlining: Freddie Schnickelfritz and his orchestra." It was a comedic band, of a kind common at that period.
"It said in lower type: also Glenn Miller Orchestra, Marion Hutton, Ray Eberly.
"He said, 'What night is your prom?'
"I told him it was a Monday night.
"He said, 'That's their night off at the Paradise. They'll be available. I'll see if I can get them for you for five hundred.' He said he got ten percent of that. He said he'd give me half, which was twenty-five dollars. So they booked the band, and Miller netted $450.
"Midway during the evening, they took about a half hour intermission. This school, lona Prep in New Rochelle, was all boys. These Irish Christian Brothers invited us over for coffee and donuts. Marion and Ray and Tex and Miller.
"Miller walked over to me and said, 'I'm Glenn Miller. I want to introduce myself.'
"I said, 'You don't have to. I know who you are.'
"He said, I just wanted to thank you. The guys tell me you're responsible for us getting this job.' And these were his words: 'Without this job tonight, I couldn't have made the payroll this week.'
"That's $450 for sixteen musicians, the band boy — Bullets Durgom was the band boy — and the truck and all. And he was thanking me profusely. [Ed. Note Bullets Durgom later became a prominent manager.]
"I had been hanging out at Glen Island every summer. I was just a band nut. I just loved music. The Glen Gray band was there. And Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard. I got to know the management there. Lockwood Conkling ran Glen Island. They called themselves The Cradle of the Big Bands. So I kept bugging them. I said, 'You ought to go to the Paradise restaurant and hear this Glenn Miller band. If you're looking for a band that's on the way up, that's going to be super-popular, grab'em.
"So they went down to see Tom Rockwell. At that time it was Rockwell-O'Keefe, the booking agency. Cork O'Keefe was a neat guy. Rockwell was a very big help to me in the early days. He was kind of my role model. I wanted to be something like him in the management end of music.
"Rockwell or Cork O'Keefe took Conkling over to hear the Miller band. They bought the band, and that's when it all happened."
Rockwell-O'Keefe booked the band into Frank Dailey's Meadowbrook. They opened on March 7, 1939 with a four-week contract, which was extended to seven after their first week. They opened on Wednesday, May 17, at the Glen Island Casino. Both ballrooms had a radio wire. The radio networks did not pay the costs of these connections. On the contrary, a ballroom paid a hundred dollars a week for a wire. The band members got three dollars each per broadcast on top of their regular pay. The network powers knew perfectly well the value of the exposure thus generated. And they were right, extortionist though their policy was: by the mid-summer of 1939, Glenn Miller had a national following, and by the time it left Glen Island to begin broadcasting for Chesterfield cigarettes, it was the most popular band of the whole swing era.
The Miller band did not play out its contract at the Glen Island. Glenn asked the management permission to leave a week early to take advantage of its startling popularity by going on a road tour. The management booked the Woody Herman band to replace him. It was, as Woody put it, like "following the World War to follow Glenn." One night the place was packed, with fans standing outside in lines. When Woody opened, it was all but deserted. "It was pretty heartbreaking," Woody said. But he did not begrudge his friend his sudden success. And Woody would soon find his own popularity.
Tom Shiels said:
"Some book I read said that opening night at Glen Island was packed. But that's not true. There were maybe forty-eight people there, and twelve of them were waiters. But closing night, it was wall-to-wall! They opened maybe the 17th of May and closed around the 15th of August. When they left the Glen Island Casino, they went to Lake Compounce in upper Connecticut or Massachusetts. It was one of the Shribmans' ballroom. The place was just mobbed. I remember sitting next to Helen Miller in the stands there. She said, 'Pinch me.'
"I said, 'What for?'
"She said, 'I can't believe what I'm seeing.'
"Gene Krupa came in that night to see the band. He was doing a one-nighter close by. Then the Miller band went to, I think, Schenectady, and then to Washington. The theater where the big bands played. They went through the roof.
"I remember seeing the difference between when they opened at Glen Island and what had happened during that summer with In the Mood and other things. Stairway to the Stars. They had so much air time. They'd come in the afternoon, with no people there, and broadcast.
"I got friendly with the musicians. My parents had a big home in New Rochelle.
They'd take a home up in Carmel, New York for the summer. I begged out because I had hay fever. I pleaded with them to let me stay there in New Rochelle. I stayed there in an empty house. After the guys had finished their job at night, I'd invite them all over and get a case of beer and play records and sometimes they'd jam a little. I got friendly with Hal Mclntyre mostly. And with Chummy. Chummy didn't hang out with the guys; he was Glenn's close friend. And so was Mclntyre. But Mclntyre was quite a bit younger, about my age. And he interceded with Glenn to give me a job. Chummy and Mclntyre. And later George Evans, who was his press agent. I was in his office when Frank Sinatra came in to give him his biography, the first day he signed them. Sinatra gave him the names of the presidents of his fan clubs. He contacted them. I remember him making the deal to give them a dollar if they'd show up at the Paramount with their friends and go crazy when Frank came out on the stage.
"My dad couldn't stand me hanging around the house, playing the drums in the living room, with Benny Goodman's Sing Sing Sing record. He said, "You're never going to amount to anything playing the damn drums.' Then I worked for the Journal-American.
"Finally Glenn told Mclntyre, 'All right, send him up. I'll talk to him during the Chesterfield rehearsal.' So I went up to the CBS Playhouse on Broadway. And Glenn said, 'We're finished rehearsing now. I'm going to get a haircut before the first broadcast.' He'd do two broadcasts, the first for the east coast, and the west coast second, because they were three hours behind. So he went over to the Victoria Barber Shop. I was sitting next to him, talking. He offered me fifty dollars a week. At that point at the paper, my salary had gone up to thirty-five dollars a week. I was selling classified advertising. They gave me the toughest assignment — furnished rooms in Harlem. I'd call up some woman in Harlem who had to go up maybe five flights of stairs to take care of her rooms. They were like six dollars a week. And the pay phone would ring in the lobby. I could just picture the poor woman coming all the way down the steps thinking, 'Finally I've got somebody to rent a room.' And I was just trying to get her advertising, because I had seen her advertising in one of the other papers. That was difficult. But it was good training to sell.
"That's what I was doing when Miller hired me and bumped me up to fifty. I was king of the hill then. Fat City! Fifty dollars a week!"”
© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Miller continued to expand the string section until it stabilized at twenty. It was superb. He could never have had such a section or such an orchestra in civilian life. Here were the wages of naughty wicked socialism. Able to draw on the resources of the entire U.S. military for personnel, able to select the best of them (and he sent other excellent players on to other orchestras, … ), not restricted by union rules on the length of rehearsals, freed of the necessity of turning a profit each night of performance, Miller built one of the most remarkable orchestras ever.
I visited Ray McKinley at his home in Florida, shortly before his death in May 1995. ... he said of the Miller Air Force band: "That was the greatest orchestra ever to play American popular music."”
- Gene Lees
"The incredible thing about Glenn Miller's career is that he really only had about two and a half years as the top band. That was from the day that he made his first hit record to the day that he gave it all up to go into the Air Force. When you think about the impact the Glenn Miller music has made on the whole world, then you've got to see how incredible the whole thing seems."
- Johnny Desmond, vocalist with the Miller Band
The Glenn Miller Years VII
"Glenn," Tom Shiels said, "bought a station wagon from Ralph Brewster's dad. Ralph Brewster was one of the original Modernaires. His father had the Oldsmobile agency in Atchison, Kansas. Glenn wanted me to take it on the road and promote his records. This was 1942.
"He had great business sense. He knew there'd be a freeze on a lot of civilian products. So he sent me to Wisconsin to buy some Shastock mutes for trumpets and trombones. I bought a few hundred of them, bucket mutes, harmon mutes, and put them in Manhattan Storage Warehouse on Seventh Avenue. I said, 'What do you want those for?' He said, 'Some day we'll have use for them.'
"Subsequently he did. When later on he started these Army Air Force bands around the country, he supplied all the mutes for them.
"The same when we did the Sunset Serenade program. He bought all these RCA radio-phonographs from Victor at cost, because he was a Victor artist. He gave them away as prizes on Sunset Serenade. That's why I never got on the road with the records: he put me in charge of the logistics on that. I would have to contact the military base and arrange for them to pick their favorite song for Sunset Serenade, and then urge their friends to send in a penny postcard saying something like 'My favorite song is I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire,' from Fort Dix, New Jersey. Or Can't Get Out of This Mood. They'd have their families send in these postcards. Whoever got the most postcards would win the phonograph. I would go and have the plaque made: 'To the men at Fort Dix, compliments of Glenn Miller.'
"One week five camps picked I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire. That week we sent out five phonographs and plaques.
"I think Glenn would have been successful no matter what kind of business he went into.
"I loved Helen Miller. She and my Helen, Helen Burke, who later became my wife, were close friends. She came to our wedding with Polly Haynes, Don's wife. I think June Allyson did a good job as Helen Miller." Don Haynes was Miller's manager and later, during the war, his executive officer.
Paul Tanner said: "Glenn was also keenly aware of the value of publicity, many times accepting location jobs offering free radio time instead of the higher-paying one-nighters, and going out of his way to make friends with as many disc jockeys as he could, realizing, even then, their power in making or breaking a record. By the same token, he bypassed large sums of money every week by tying the band up with a series of hour-long Saturday radio shows, calculating correctly that they would tend to bring thousands of fans in to see us on the road; fans who never failed to walk away with Glenn's autograph if they wanted it."
Among the best musicians in the band was Johnny Best, one of the finest of all lead trumpets. Johnny was born on October 20, 1913, in Shelby, North Carolina, population at that time about three thousand. He attended Duke University and played in the Blue Devils, probably the most famous of college bands. Eventually he went with Artie Shaw.
"That's when Billie Holiday was with the band," he told me. "That was at Roseland State Ballroom.
"Artie started criticizing a little bit. Said I was playing too many notes. Something went on that I'd rather not talk about. It had to do with a woman. I left that band at the Capitol Theater in Washington, D.C. and joined the Miller band immediately. Glenn had just closed at Glen Island Casino. Glenn had offered me a job a year before that. He said, 'I can't pay you as much as Shaw.' I knew him as a friend. He said, 'I want you to play solos on ballads and play relief lead trumpet.' He just had three trumpets then.
"Glenn was a friend of mine. He was always nice to me. He was a sorehead, in ways. If you got in a crap game with him, you found that out. I made three passes on a rug in an apartment in Hollywood. Hal Mclntyre, Glenn and I were playing. We were on the floor. The dice hit the wall and bounced back. And he said, 'They didn't touch. Three in a row.'
"When I first joined the band, I was riding with Glenn and Helen Miller. We were talking about mountains. I said Mount Whitney was the highest mountain in the United States — not counting Alaska. He said, 'Oh there are fourteen mountains in Colorado higher than Mount Whitney.' I said, 'Glenn, you wanna bet?' I said, 'Sure, I'll bet you five dollars.' Next day he said, "You don't bet unless it's a sure thing, do you?'
"Toward the end, when the band was losing popularity, I was walking across the street with him. We were playing the Stanley Theater. We were coming from the hotel. He had a hangover from the night before. Harry James was getting hot in record sales. He said, 'Now I know how Benny must have felt when Artie started coming up.'
"I could say the same thing about Artie. Artie gave up his band when Glenn Miller was coming up. We were both booked in New York City at the same time. He was booked at the Strand Theater and Glenn was booked at the Paramount. This would be in late '39.
"I rode it out with Glenn to the end, three years. When he broke up the band, he wanted many guys to go with Charlie Spivak, who he was backing. I was one of them. I guess I said, 'Okay.' I had spoken to Charlie on a long distance call from Chicago to New York for thirty minutes, trying peacefully to get out of that. I liked Charlie very much, but I didn't want to go with a trumpet-playing leader. That wouldn't be any fun. Benny Goodman wanted me, and I talked to him. And I talked to Bob Crosby. I went with the Crosby band. They were doing nothing but theaters. Every band started breaking up. I had my draft notice in my pocket. I knew I had to go in December. Miller had said, 'Don't do anything until you get in touch with me. I'm going to do something in the military.'
"You want to hear a million-to-one shot? We were at the Chicago Theater. We were all through, finished the last show. We were walking to the hotel. I was with Yank Lawson. We got half a block away, and Yank says, 'Walk back to the theater with me. I want to send my jacket out and have it pressed.' The theater was dark. The night watchman let us in. I stayed there by the door. Yank went over to the dressing room. The night watchman took off. The pay phone rang. I picked it up. Operator said, 'Long distance call from Artie Shaw for John Best.'
"So he said, 'What's your draft status?'
"I said, I’m 3-A [registrant deferred because of hardship to dependents].’
"Artie said, 'I have permission from the Navy to recruit a band for the sole purpose of going up to the front in this war and entertaining the troops, as close as they will send us. And I have a place for you, if you're interested.'
"I flew to New York and took a day off. The guys came in with medical deferments. I didn't know what mine was. Davey Tough, Max Kaminsky, both of them. I signed up with Shaw. That's how I came to spend a year in the South Pacific with Artie instead of going to England with Miller.
"The next time I saw Glenn, I was in the Navy. He had the Army band going. This was after we'd been in the Pacific. I had Christmas dinner with him out at Tenafly, New Jersey.
"He said, 'Tell me one thing, John. Did you try to get in touch with me before you went with Artie?'
"I said, 'I tried to call you and they said you were in the hospital in Fort Mead.'
"He wanted to know my preference.
"My mind was made up as soon as Shaw called me. I said, 'Well, musically, I can't do any better than that. The Miller band was . . . Well, it was the Miller band. But today, the Miller band is still a huge thing. But Artie was a great player. A brilliant man. Funny too.”
Some comments by the late Dave Dexter are revealing.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Dexter wrote freelance articles for Down Beat, then moved to Chicago — the magazine's headquarters — as a staff member. He recalled in an interview now in the Marr Sound Archives of his alma mater, the University of Missouri at Kansas City:
"My big problem was that I had no expense account. If I wanted to see the Bob Crosby band at the Black Hawk, the best I could do was maybe get a seat at the bar and have a Budweiser and nurse it for two hours and meet the musicians between sets. Once in awhile a bandleader would invite me to sit down and have dinner and he would pick up the check. Woody Herman was marvelous that way. Benny Goodman used to do that a lot too. Glenn Miller was always picking up the check on me.
"The first time I met Glenn he had won for the first time the Down Beat poll. In those days that was a big, prestigious victory for a bandleader. And I took the train to New York from Chicago, and presented a little plaque that must have cost four dollars, on the Chesterfield show. That was in '39.
"Glenn was a nice man. A good middle-western man. He'd size you up. You'd sit and talk with him. He had a nice wife, Helen. He had been burned so many times and he'd had a couple of failed bands. He'd had a tough life. So he was a little cautious. He was cordial, but he wasn't a black slapper like some of the bandleaders. Glenn wasn't that way at all. But he was very helpful to me.
"I remember catching the band at the Pennsylvania Hotel. Boy, how they would scream — the people loved that band. It wasn't my all-time favorite band but I do believe it was the most popular big band of all time.
"Glenn was a tough boss. I sat in on a couple of his record dates for RCA Victor. He was really astonishing. He'd sit in the booth with the producer and they'd run down a new tune. He'd go out and move the lead alto chair six inches closer, and maybe have the trumpets all blow just a little bit to the side instead of directly into the mike. I never saw any other bandleader do that. He'd move each man in the band maybe a few inches. They'd each have instructions when to stand up. Boy, he was some leader.
"Glenn had really made it when I met him. I didn't know him when he was struggling so hard and all that.
"He was very courteous. But he didn't talk or tell jokes or try to impress you. He didn't try to impress anybody. But he was awfully good to me. I'd go over to the Pennsylvania Hotel. They'd have all these top music publishers who just swarmed the place. All of them had number one plug songs they wanted to get to Miller. Jack Robbins and all these big-name guys. Dozens of them. He'd walk right past them, come over and sit down at my table. And then he'd say, 'Let's go have some jelly pancakes after I'm through.' We'd go over to Lindy's or some place. He and Helen would sit and we'd talk. That was of course after I got to know him better. Once you got to know Glenn, and if he accepted you, he was loyal and generous. He'd always send you Christmas presents.
"I remember one Christmas I went to the Pennsylvania Hotel, and in the lobby was a brand-new big black Buick. I don't know how they got it in there. It had enormous red ribbons wrapped around it. The guys in the band had bought that for him.
"There was another Christmas when he had a sixteen-millimeter movie outfit. That was in the Paramount Theater. I went backstage. He'd make movies of everybody who came back there. He was so excited.
"I liked Glenn. Some of the musicians didn't like him, but most of them did. He was so strict. Boy, they had to dress a certain way, move in and off the bandstand a certain way.
"I did a long feature on him in Down Beat. I very rarely showed my copy to somebody before publication, but in this case I did, because it was a long involved story. I took it over to Glenn at a theater and showed it to him. He said, 'Whoa, whoa, it's fine up to here. You've got a paragraph in here about Marion Hutton. I sure wish you'd change it some way.'
"I said, 'What's wrong with it?'
"He said, 'Well, she's not a good singer, Dave. But she's a good little showman. She walks out there with that blond hair and a pretty gown. Play that up. Don't mention much about her vocal ability.'"
Tom Shiels told me:
"Last night I was playing a cassette of Glenn's next to last radio broadcast before he went into the service. It was a Wednesday night Chesterfield. They did Juke Box Saturday Night. If you remember the recording, they do an impression of Harry James, which my friend John Best used to play.
"Billy May said they were playing a lot of military bases. Billy was going to leave to go to another band. Miller said, 'Look, I'm going into the service, and I don't want the word to get around yet. Will you stay with me until I have to break up the band? I'm waiting for a commission to come through.' Billy and Dale McMickle went with the Paul Lavalle Orchestra so Billy could stay in New York and write.
"I think Glenn went into service the middle of September. We were at a theater out in New Jersey. I remember that night. He said, I’lll say good-bye the best way we know how.' Then they went into Moonlight Serenade. Marion Hutton was crying, everybody was crying. That was a sad night.
"I had given my notice because I'd got my Greetings from Uncle Sam. So I told him I had to leave. He got Chummy McGregor to do my job in the office. Chummy was not that kind of worker. He didn't want to do it. I got married on December 12, and I was supposed to go on the 15th for my exam. My wife and I talked. Should we go ahead and get married? So we did. Helen and Polly were there and I think Chummy too. On Park Avenue in New York City.
"I went down there with all these other draftees at Grand Central Palace in New York. They came to the final guy and he's got one rubber stamp saying Accepted, one saying Rejected. And you're watching. Your whole life's future is in his hands. He hits it Rejected. I was very patriotic. All my buddies had gone into the service. I was gung-ho to go. I said, 'What did you reject me for?'
"He said, 'It says you have severe hay fever.'
"I said, 'So what's the big deal?'
"If we're attacking the Japanese in a jungle somewhere and we're approaching in the middle of the night and you start to sneeze, you could blow out a whole battalion.'
"So then Glenn hired me back, to run whatever affairs he had. When he signed Tex and we signed the Modernaires and Ray Eberly, in addition to an employment contract, there was a personal management clause — if, as a result of their working for him and any notoriety they obtained, and they went on their own, they would hire him as their manager.
"He had another clause saying that if for any reason he was unable to perform his services, he could delegate someone else to act on his behalf. He delegated me. I was representing Marion and Tex and Ray. We did a few jobs with Tex. One was with Chico Marx at the Roxy Theater in New York City, with the Glenn Miller singers as guests.
"After that Tex went into the Navy. Marion was making so much money, or could potentially, we decided to put her out on her own and put Paula Kelly back with the Modernaires. We were supposed to collect, I think it was, ten or fifteen percent. We didn't collect anything from Eberly. Glenn said, 'Don't bother him.' He figured Ray was struggling."
Tex Beneke said: "Glenn had planned to give me a band, before the war, like he had done with Hal Mclntyre, Charlie Spivak, Claude Thornhill. I said, 'Glenn, I'm not ready yet.' Then the draft started to hit him hard. We said that we'd keep together, keep in touch, and I said, after the war, 'I want to come back with you and learn a little more about leadership.'
"He was a great businessman as well as fine lead section trombonist. Look, all leaders have to lay the law down, once in awhile, even though they love all their guys. They gotta say, 'Look, you made the mistake here, this time. Next time make it someplace else, if you gotta make a mistake. And if you don't want to play the way I want you to play, take your horn and go. Forget the two weeks notice. Just go.'
"Being in the Navy, being in charge of two bands, being in touch with Glenn, overseas, I learned an awful lot and it worked out beautifully for me when I did take the band over in '46. We had the strings and a total of 36 people. This was the Miller Air Force group that came back, which he had planned to keep together.”
Tex went into the Navy with the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was posted to the Technical Command at Norman, Oklahoma.
He formed two dance bands, the Gremlins — the term originated as U.S. Army Air Force slang because of strange things that could go wrong with an aircraft in flight, supposedly the hand work of invisible little elves called gremlins — and the Corsairs. The repertoire of neither band was in the Miller style, or very little of it. "Most of the music was written by boys who were in the band," Tex said. As an adjunct to the bands, there was a training program for young musicians coming into the Navy.
"People would ask me later on what I was doing in the Navy on the middle of Oklahoma," he said. "I always answered that if you noticed, I fought so effectively that a Japanese plane never got within ten thousand miles of Norman, Oklahoma."
Miller suffered incessant condescension from jazz critics and even some musicians. The band wasn't hot enough, it didn't swing. The band was "too" polished, too sentimental. I was not one of its most ardent fans, I must confess. My tastes ran to the crackle of Tommy Dorsey and the effortless swing of Count Basie. But my vision of the band was radically altered in 1984, in Switzerland. I was in Geneva, writing the lyrics for an album to be recorded by Sarah Vaughan. The arrangements were by Francy Boland, co-leader with Kenny Clarke of the Clarke-Boland Big Band. I consider him one of the greatest writers jazz has ever known, with an ability to turn out pieces that were not orchestrated song-form but true developed works with jazz solos beautifully integrated into them. And that band swung like hell.
I worked in close consultation with Francy on those charts, and we became intimate friends. He had two tastes I found surprising. He liked miliary music and in particular that of John Phillip Sousa. And he kept a cassette in the car of Miller' s Air Force band. It may have been bootleg because I don't think any of that stuff had ever been issued. Francy played that tape incessantly along with a lot of Prokofiev. He thought that the Miller Air Force band was one of the greatest in history.
Miller wanted to join the navy, but he was turned down because of his age. The Army Air Corps was willing to take him. He set up shop in Atlantic City and started to put a band together. And the first thing he wanted was a string section. This desire goes back at least to the days with Pollack.
String sections in popular music present a problem. They have very little volume compared to brass. And the instrumentation that had evolved in American "dance" music — in general three or four, maybe even five, trumpets, three, four or five trombones, and five saxophones, plus rhythm section — could drown a symphony string section of sixty men without breaking a sweat. No bandleader could even dream of hiring enough strings to fill his needs. But Miller now had the extended resources of the U.S. military, and he was able to get such players as George Ockner, who had been with the NBC Symphony in New York.
In Atlantic City, he had one of those encounters that, seen in retrospect, change history. It was with an eighteen-year-old Juilliard student named Henry Mancini, universally called Hank. (His birth certificate says Enrico.) Many years later, after he had changed the character and direction of American film music and I was helping him write his autobiography, Hank told me:
“I turned eighteen in April and registered for the draft. I was soon called up. Had I been drafted in my home town, I'd have been sent to the 66th Division, whose patch was a black panther's head on an orange circle. They were the grunts of that era. I would have been in the band of the 66th. But because I was called up from New York, I was assigned to the Army Air Corps. For basic training, I spent six weeks in Atlantic City, in winter. I was supposed to go to the TTC, the Technical Training Command.
All the old hotels along the Beach — the Traymore, the Marlborough-Blenheim among them— were full of servicemen. We were at the Traymore. At the Knights of Columbus Hotel on a little side street, Glenn Miller was forming his band, putting all the elements together in preparation for going to Yale. Arnold Ross was the pianist; Mel Powell hadn't come in yet. Trigger Alpert was on bass and Ray McKinley on drums.
I used to hang around with them in the evenings after dinner, and despite my awe of them, I got to know them pretty well. They knew what I did and asked, "What are you going to do after basic training?"
I said, "I'll probably be a tail gunner or something." They said, "You'll be finished basic training in two weeks, why don't you talk to Glenn?
I said, "Gee, I don't know him." I was embarrassed and frightened. Miller had gone into service at the peak of his career. People today don't realize how big these bandleaders were then, as big as Elvis Presley or the Beatles later on. I knew everything the Miller band had ever recorded. But my new friends got me an appointment with him and pushed me through the door. The office was quite small, sparsely furnished with a desk, a chair, and a coat rack. The man I knew so well from photographs was sitting there in his captain's uniform. I remember him as very trim. He was about thirty-seven at that point and I was eighteen. I didn't even sit down. I stood there and saluted.
Most of the great bandleaders of that era were severe disciplinarians because musicians in groups can behave like children, and if you don't control them, they'll control you. And Miller had a reputation for discipline. But then the only other big band leader I'd met was Benny Goodman. Each of them had a kind of chill about him, but Miller seemed to me to be very straight and his men liked him, and he was cordial to me.
He looked at me through those rimless glasses and said, "I hear you're an arranger. Do you write well, are you a good writer?"
I said, "Well enough, for what I've done. I also play flute and piccolo and piano." He said, "Okay," and took down my name and serial number. He dismissed me, I saluted again and I left. That was the only conversation I ever had with Glenn Miller and I thought that was the end of it.
I finished basic training. To my surprise I was assigned not to gunnery school but to the 28th Air Force Band, later designated the 528th. I have read that the life expectancy of a tail gunner in combat was measured not even in minutes but in seconds. Without Glenn Miller, I might have been fire-hosed out of a ball turret or the tail of a B-17. I assuredly wouldn't have been assigned to a band. Glenn Miller, for all the brevity of that conversation, was very nice to me. He didn't have to do that for me.
There was more to it than that. After the war, when a new Glenn Miller band was organized under the leadership of Beneke, Hank joined it to play piano and write for it. The band included a number of the veterans of the wartime band, and it gave Mancini his first professional experience at writing for strings. And when The Glenn Miller Story was filmed with James Stewart and June Allyson, the composer assigned to write its score was Mancini.
Unlike the compulsively contentious Artie Shaw, who seemed to tangle with almost every Navy officer he confronted, Miller smoothly cultivated the higher brass, and even had the written authority of one high general to issue any order he chose and simply sign the general's name. Thus Miller had immense power to reach out into the armed forces for the musicians, now in uniform, that he wanted. Then-Sergeant Harry Katzman, a Juilliard graduate and award-winning violinist who had spent many years leading New York network radio orchestras, recalled to British writer Geoffrey Butcher his experience at the time:
"I was stationed in the Air Force at Boca Raton, Florida. I was the director of a symphony orchestra and a large dance band, 17 or 18 men, and I also had a small dance band, six or seven men, and all really superb players — most of them down from New York. I got arrangements from New York through the people I used to work for, like Mark Warnow, Leo Reisman, and Al Goodman, who sent arrangements to help the orchestras get something to play instead of the regular stocks.
"I enlisted in the Army in, I think, late August 1942 and brought a lot of men from New York City who were on the staff in the studios and the musical field, also in the symphonic field.
"One of the men in the band was Zeke Zarchy, a first-class trumpet player of course. About January or February, 1943, suddenly orders came in for Zeke Zarchy to be shipped. We had all heard about the band being formed by Glenn Miller and we suspected that as long as he was going up there, he was going to be with Miller
"I was conducting a dance for the soldiers at the USO and one of corporals came up to me and said, 'Hey, you're getting shipped tomorrow.' I couldn't believe it because here I was with the big orchestra, the dance band, and the small dance band, and I thought it was an ugly rumor. But when I came home that night one of the trombone players, Jack Lacey, who used to work with Kostelanetz . . . said, 'Hey you're getting shipped tomorrow.' Well... when I came in the Captain called me in and said, 'You know, you have to leave today. We're going to try to do everything we can to do stop it.' I said, 'Where the hell am I going?' He said, 'Your orders will be there, we can't say anything about that.' There was another violinist there, Nat Kaproff, who was on the same orders as I was to go up to Yale. This was in April and I think the band had moved [from Atlantic City] to New Haven."
Katzman continued unhappy with the reassignment. In Florida, he'd had his own orchestra and he and his wife were living in a little home off-base near the sea. Miller sensed his discontent and said, "You seem a little unhappy." Katzman said, "Well, yes, I am. I was very happy where I was."
Miller said, "Well, you'll be making a mistake if you go back there because you think it's going to last forever but it will be broken up. I think you'd be wise to stay here."
He urged Katzman to talk it over again with his wife; if they were still determined, Miller said he'd authorize the transfer back to Florida. Next day Katzman told Miller they had decided to stay, and Miller told him he was glad.
"When I got there," Katzman said, "George Ockner was the concertmaster. They had already had rehearsals. They had eight or nine French horns. The arrangers were Jerry Gray, Danny Gool (who arranged for Hollywood pictures), Will Hudson (who had been making stock arrangements for the song publishing companies in New York) . . . and Perry Burger. Of the strings who were there already I remember there was George Ockner, Henry Bryan — at least ten or twelve.
"I asked George, 'How the hell did I get up here?' He said, 'Well, you know, Miller would ask Zeke if there were any good guys where he came from and he mentioned you and Kaproff"
One of the witnesses to the assembling of that remarkable orchestra was singer Johnny Desmond, who came to it from the Gene Krupa band. Desmond was born in 1914 in Detroit and named Giovanni Alfredo De Simone. Schooled at the Detroit Conservatory, he formed a vocal group that went with the Bob Crosby band, billing themselves as the Bob-O-Links. Then he joined Krupa as a single.
"I was about to get drafted," he told Fred Hall in a 1982 interview. "I decided to beat the draft and was sent down to Enid, Oklahoma, with a band. In fact, four of us left Gene Krupa's band in Baltimore. We went down to Enid and enlisted in the Air Force base down there. They made it easy for us to get into the Air Force. They were developing a big unit to raise money and do shows for enlistment. We were going to be on the radio and go out and do shows, very much as we did later with the Glenn Miller band. In fact, the commanding officer of the base, who wanted to do this, was transferred out a week before we got there. The whole big plan had fallen on its face. Everybody had to scramble and do something else. I found out that Miller was organizing this Air Force orchestra, so I wrote him a letter — which you're not supposed to do. You're supposed to go through channels, but I figured the channels would never get out of the base. I waited for an answer. Everybody laughed at me. Two weeks later I got a letter from Captain Glenn Miller. And he said, 'Yes. I would like to have you in my band, if you can effect a transfer from the Flying Command,' which I was a part of, to the Technical Training Command, which he was.
"I went to headquarters and talked to the commanding officer. He was glad to get rid of me, I guess. He said, 'Sure. All you've got to do is tell him this and tell him that, and when the request comes through, we'll okay it, and you'll be on your way.'"
Desmond did as he had been instructed, got the transfer, and joined the band in Atlantic City.
"They were there for about a month," Desmond said. "They got everybody they needed, and then they moved us to Yale University in New Haven.
"The band was doing its I Sustain the Wings show. We were on NBC Saturday nights. We went on at eight o'clock in New York. We'd do a repeat broadcast at eleven o'clock for the West Coast."
The shows were based on the format of Miller's old Chesterfield Supper Club shows, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
"That was Miller's thing, his way of doing a medley. That was always a part of the show. It was a wonderful show. God, we were getting to everybody.
"Everything was brand new. Ray Eberley had been with the civilian band, and Miller's army band had twenty-two strings and French horn. Everything was written specially for us. We had a battery of about five arrangers. We had three copyists. We had two instrument repair men. We had a band of forty-six, including the Crew Chiefs, with the group.
"I wasn't getting anywhere, really. Glenn Miller was magic in those days. And he still is, incidentally. He's the biggest thing in music, even today. It was a great stroke of good luck. Anybody with the Miller band in those days was just immediately accepted by eleven million GIs. And the rest of the world that got to hear the band. We were very popular wherever we went."
The band's final assembly took place at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. And the change from Miller's civilian band was monumental. A number of factors contributing to this, but the biggest, I think, was Ray McKinley, whom Miller had known since the Pollack days.
Johnny Desmond said, "Ray was wonderful. He has a marvelous time playing and singing. He's one of the most underrated talents in the whole world."
Fred Hall said, "Miller never really had a swinging rhythm section until then."
Desmond said, "We sure had one with Ray, Mel Powell on piano and Trigger Alpert on bass."
Fred said "You listen to those old things like Song of the Volga Boatmen and listen to the difference that McKinley makes with that band."
"He's marvelous. He always played with a sense of humor too, which is kind of nice."
McKinley almost didn't make it into the Miller Air Force band. He tried to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Ray said, "I ran into an old friend from Fort Worth who was in the recruiting section of the Marines. Draft notices were flying around like snowflakes to all the orchestras. I think seven of us got our notices in a couple of days. That did it. This friend convinced me we could go in as a unit, The band took their physicals in downtown Los Angeles. We had a couple of guys that physically couldn't have joined Troop C of the Boy Scouts. Lou Stein, the pianist for one. The guy said, 'Walk up to that eye chart until you can see.' He wound up with his nose right up against the board. Perry Burgett, the arranger, too looked like he'd already been in a death camp in Europe.
"I called Tommy Dorsey. I said, 'What do you need? I've got this, got that. Guys who were 4-F.' There was no way they could go in the Army. He took about four guys. Pete Candoli was one. Another trumpet player, Larry Brooks. A saxophone player and a guitar player. They all went with Tommy. The rest of us got tagged.
"Ratings were assigned. I was to have a Marine gunner rating, whatever it was, equivalent to a warrant officer in the army. The Marines were fighting a war on Guadalcanal.
"I had seen Glenn in Boston. He said, 'Should you go in, let me know. I think I'll be able to get together with you.' I contacted him when I went in at Camp Walters, right outside of Forth Worth . I got hold of Glenn and he said, 'Give me your serial number.' And first thing you know, here come the orders down there. 'Report to Atlantic City, a cadre of one.' A great big thick thing, orders written. It looked like a telephone book. And somewhere in there was my name. I thought it was plans for the invasion or something.
"Zeke Zarchy was in charge of some fellows and they were playing around Atlantic City. The band had not truly been organized, although there was some sort of library, not as large as they had later up at New Haven, but enough to play. Let's see, we had Lou Stein with the piano, Jimmy Harwood with the trombone, a whole bunch of fellows from my band. I'd told Glenn about them, too. We were all brought up to Atlantic City. I think I was there three weeks. Next thing I knew I had orders to report to New Haven, where the Technical Training Command had taken over Yale University for training of the O.C.S.
"Mel Powell was in Atlantic City for a while. We didn't even have uniforms. We were less than privates. They called us jeeps. We had on overall fatigues.
"I remember one viola player, Dave Schwartz, down at Atlantic City. He had some sort of clerical work. He told me the symphonies he'd played with. I said, 'Give me your name.' I gave his name to Glenn the minute I found they had some strings. Glenn was glad to know it. Dave's credentials were super. He was just wonderful."
Fred Hall told Ray: "I want to tell you what a difference you made with that Miller sound. All the things that were recorded for Bluebird and Victor that the Air Force band began to do sounded so vital. They came to life. I never thought Glenn had a very good drummer, to tell you the truth. I know that Maurice Purtill was a fine fellow and highly respected, but it didn't have the sock to it."
McKinley, who was a modest man, said, "It wasn't just me. After all, Chummy McGregor wasn't much of a piano player, either, and now you had Mel Powell in there. And of course you had Trigger Alpert. I think Trigger swung that pre-war band all by himself. He was the mainstay, he was a beautiful bass player. Carmen Mastren was a fine guitar player. Also, I think, the commitment to things rhythmic was a little stronger in the Miller Army band than it was in the prewar band.
"Maurice was a good drummer, a little ponderous is all. Glenn once said that to me. Up in New Haven, there was a little radio network that covered Connecticut, I think. I had my library from the band that broke up at the Golden Gate. We'd go up to the mess hall where the cadets fed. We'd go up there and play. We were there one time and the band was swingin'. We got into a little discussion, and Glenn said, 'That's one thing we never quite achieved.'"
McKinley said, "Mel Powell was marvelous. He was such a great player. But more than that, he was a fantastic arranger. He did some of the best writing, different things than you ordinarily would hear the Glenn Miller band playing. Miller wanted his arranging talents as well as his playing talents. Mission to Moscow. Pearls on Velvet, which is an almost classic composition."
Powell also brought into the band some of the pieces he had written for Goodman. Theoretically, those charts were Goodman's property, but then Goodman was one of Miller's best friends, and their association, like that with Ray McKinley, went back to the Pollack days. He was an extraordinary musician.
He was born Melvin Epstein in the Bronx. He got his draft notice and was shipped to Fort Dix where, he told me, "I encountered a southern sergeant who had a genuine hatred of Jews, and when he saw the name on my papers, he assigned me immediately to latrine duty. I changed it legally. An uncle had done it before me, taking the name Powell from Poljanowsky."
He would not have stayed on latrine duty in any event: almost immediately Glenn Miller commandeered him. Because Mel had an extensive classical education, Miller set him to work writing string quartets and chamber pieces for members of the string section he was assembling.
Probably the youngest member was a trombonist from Brooklyn named Nat Peck who, at eighteen, was not long out of high school. A Swing Sextet was organized within the Miller band, with Mel as its director. Long afterwards, Peck said that "Mel took a liking to me for some odd reason and I was chosen to do it... The reason I was picked, I think, was that I was the only one in that trombone section who had any sort of experience in playing jazz .... Mind you, at the time I was very nervous about it — I didn't know Mel that well. Mel was a very distant sort of a personality — not that he was unkind, or anything like that, but he was already very big-time ... and I used to sit in (the) band a little worried about things and he misinterpreted my attitude. He thought that I was putting him down, or being critical about what was going on in the band, when, to tell you the truth, I was more scared than anything else. He discovered that, though, soon enough and we ended up really very, very good friends."
Peck made these comments to the British writer Geoffrey Butcher. That Miller thought as highly of Powell as Goodman before him is evident in Peck's comment:
"Mel had a completely free hand. The only time Miller ever turned up was on the first rehearsal .... Probably it wasn't from lack of interest, but he listened to the broadcasts and he found them eminently satisfactory and decided not to intervene in any way and Mel was free to do as he wanted."
Miller continued to expand the string section until it stabilized at twenty. It was superb. He could never have had such a section or such an orchestra in civilian life. Here were the wages of naughty wicked socialism. Able to draw on the resources of the entire U.S. military for personnel, able to select the best of them (and he sent other excellent players on to other orchestras, as in Mancini' s case), not restricted by union rules on the length of rehearsals, freed of the necessity of turning a profit each night of performance, Miller built one of the most remarkable orchestras ever.
I visited Ray McKinley at his home in Florida, shortly before his death in May 1995. He was very ill, resting in a recliner chair, and I felt I was intruding and made motions to leave, but he said, "No, stay a little." And we talked about the Miller Air Force band. In his relations with Bill Finegan, and others, it had been said that Miller was cruel. "No," Ray said, drawing for breath. "Cold is a better word." And remember, they had been friends since 1929.
Then, he said of the Miller Air Force band, his words coming out spaced and well considered through his struggle for air: "That. . . was the greatest. . . orchestra . . . ever to play . . . American popular music."
As for the famous — or infamous — string section, certain factors have to be taken under consideration. I remember that one of the militantly leftist jazz critics said of the 1949 Charlie Parker with Strings album that "the white man shoved those strings up Bird's ass." The white man did no such thing, and Parker's unfulfilled ambition was to study composition with Edgard Varese. The problem with that comment is that the string writing on that album, quasi-Tchaikovsky, is crappy. The album was Parker's greatest commercial success.
Strings were little used in the big-band era because of the problems of balancing them against saxophones and brass sections. But balancing and mixing are the very essence of orchestration, and no one had yet acquired the knack and the knowledge to use strings in jazz. When in the mid-1950s, Gunther Schuller, J.J. Johnson, John Lewis and some others made some recordings of what Schuller called Third Stream music (a coinage I think even he came to regret) the music seemed oddly sterile. The writing simply wasn't very good, and Miles Davis (I am paraphrasing from memory) said in his usual tart and laconic manner (so like his playing) that John Lewis could take a symphony string section and make it sound like four fiddles. And Andre Previn said that a Third Stream would have to comprise something more than Percy Heath walking four in front of a string section.
The general disdain toward strings derives from the dark ignorance of "classical" music among the so-called jazz critics in the music's formative years, the spectacular exception being Robertson Darrell. Indeed, Darrell was a classical music critic schooled in composition who "discovered" jazz. But most of those early jazz writers knew next to nothing of classical music, Ralph Gleason and George Hoeffer among them, and even Leonard Feather, who had a pretty good knowledge of harmony and played passable piano. All of them would have been at sea in a conversation about Debussy or Shostakovich. That is why the "moldy figs" found the harmonic and other practices of bebop arcane and incomprehensible, when they weren't really all that new. The musicians harbored no such ignorance. Bix Beiderbecke was a devotee of Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky, Earl Hines knew the classical piano literature well, as did Fats Waller, and Dizzy Gillespie said that attending a symphony concert was like going to church. Many jazz musicians, in fact, were conservatory trained. And so the hepsters at Down Beat projected that there was some vast gulf between jazz and classical music, and I think they did a lot of damage. Growing up, I thought there must be something strange about me, since I had a taste for both. The first records I remember buying were Coleman Hawkins' Body and Soul and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.
Down Beat in fact ran a contest among its readers to find a new term for jazz. Since classical music was called longhair, the winning entry was crew cut. Oog, as Pogo used to say.
The implication was always that strings were somehow sissified, indeed downright faggoty. But every musician knows that there is nothing as magnificent against which to set a solo or for that matter a passage by one of the other choirs than strings. They offer an exquisitely transparent coloration. You can hear all the way down through the harmony, like looking through clear running water at the stones on the bottom of a creek. Interestingly, when this synthesis of strings and "classical" music with jazz was finally achieved, it would be in movies, where — like Miller with Air Force money — budgets made it possible, and one of the pioneers in this area was the kid who had stood before Miller in Atlantic City and immediately after the war joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra led by Tex Beneke: Henry Mancini.
And they never even met again.
There is no direct link of the Miller military band to the Third Stream, but there are indirect connections. The arrangers in that band got experience in using strings with big band and very American music. Then there is Mel Powell. After the war, he did not return to a jazz career. He studied with Paul Hindemith, back at Yale in New Haven, then became his teaching assistant and finally head of the classical composition department. Mel was a third stream.
The Miller Air Force band, gradually assembled at Yale University in New Haven, worked in the United States for two years, performing regularly on a network radio show out of New York City on a show called I Sustain the Wings, which was the motto of the Air Technical Training Command, of which the band was a part. It took part in morale-building performances, playing for the troops in sundry locations.
Johnny Desmond said, "There's a letter that Miller had written to Washington. If you ever get to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, they've got his hand-written letter in which he really pleaded with the powers to allow him to enlist in the Air Force. He was too old, he was over the age limit. He was married. It was General Hap Arnold, I believe, he wrote the letter to. And finally he was accepted. And he had to plead again, so that we could go overseas as a unit.
"Before we went, we had this big meeting at Yale University. He said, 'Fellows, this is what we're going to do. This is my dream. Now anybody who doesn't want to do what I want to do and go with us to Europe. Let me know privately. You can meet me in my office. Whatever your reasons are, if you don't want to go, I'll be very happy to see that you can secure a position somewhat like you have now with my band with some other group.' Everybody left except maybe one guy.
"Glenn said, 'Here's what's going to happen when we get over there. We're going to set up a broadcasting studio. And we're going to do all kinds of programs. We'll do some with the big band, and then the strings are going to have a show, and then Johnny's going to have a show, and then Ray McKinley's going to have a show with the dance band, and Mel Powell's going to have a little jazz show. We're going to fill so many hours a day in broadcasting, and when we're not broadcasting we'll be flying to some air bases and doing in-person shows. This is my dream.'
"It was all realized before he got lost.
"The incredible thing about Glenn Miller's career is that he really only had about two and a half years as the top band. That was from the day that he made his first hit record to the day that he gave it all up to go into the Air Force. When you think about the impact the Glenn Miller music has made on the whole world, then you've got to see how incredible the whole thing seems."
While the Miller band was resident in England, the Artie Shaw band came home from the South Pacific. Sam Donahue took over its leadership. The band was then sent to England. One of its members was Johnny Best. Rumors have persisted that Miller was ill and wanted to die. Johnny Best told me that this was absolute bloody nonsense:
"The thirteenth of December, our band came to town. We were a hundred and fifty miles away. There was a message for me to call Glenn Miller at the Mount Royal Hotel in London. He was having a little party and he wanted me to come. He showed me plans for his home in California.
"He had a ten-year contract with Fox, one movie a year. He wanted to play six months and then take off. He loved to play golf. He wanted the strings, just about like he had in the army band, and do concerts only. I don't think he wanted to do dances any more."
Indeed, Miller wanted to set up a large company whose projects would include sponsoring and managing other bands, as he had already done with Hal Mclntyre, Charlie Spivak, and Claude Thornhill. He planned to build a compound where he and other musicians could live under amenable conditions.
In psychology, it is known that there is a certain progression in life, particularly in creative people, especially in the sciences. The brilliant breakthroughs usually come from the young. In the years later, they explore and consolidate their discoveries.
As they reach their forties, they develop a desire to delegate the work and supervise it — to let the young get their arms in the soapy water. Thus reporters become editors.
I think Glenn was that way. An executive ability was evident from the beginning, and it appears to have been growing. Thus he loosened up and let Ray McKinley run the big band, Mel Powell run the small group, while he handled the problems of their military superiors and the sometimes annoying policies of the BBC, on which network he was broadcasting. I don't suggest he liked doing it, but he accepted the responsibility. That is part of the reason the band was so brilliant: he had loosened the reins. He knew how to handle things. He was at first assigned to building conventional marching bands, and he did so, but he wanted to play swing arrangements of conventional material. The military brass fought him on this, with one officer saying, "Sousa's marches were good enough for our troops in the last war."
Miller said, 'Tell me, major, are we still flying the planes we flew in the last war?"
In collaboration with Ray McKinley, Miller set up platforms on the backs of two jeeps to carry the rhythm section when on occasion the band was forced to march.
Harry Katzman, who had not wanted to leave Florida to join the band, said that "In New York, all the studio musicians would come in for rehearsals and they were all flabbergasted."
Miller's was not a jazz band. He never intended it to be, although he appreciated and made excellent use of jazz soloists. Katzman said: "I felt that Miller was really an extraordinary musician with immaculate taste and a wonderful idea of how music should really sound. For a man who had never really used strings in his civilian band he used them so much better than anyone else has ever done even to this day. Generally he used the strings as a cushion to soften the sounds of the brass. The sound was really extraordinary . . .
"He was just a natural musician, with immaculate taste. I think if he had gone into the classical field, he would have been just the same. But he found, of course, his medium and it was original, and that's what he went with. I think he was a musical genius, and I had the greatest respect for him as a musician and as a man too. I think everybody felt the same way."
Johnny Desmond said, "The band played in the U.S. for two years, with Miller all the time pressing to go overseas and perform directly for the troops."
Miller finally got his way. The band sailed from New York on June 21,1944. Miller flew to England to join them, and they forthwith began performances and broadcasts to the troops and civilian audiences on the BBC.
After Allied troops landed on the continent and overran France, Miller became anxious to play for them in person. The band went to Paris before him. On December 15, Miller left in bad weather in a Norduyn Norseman, a high-winged monoplane. It never reached Paris. The mystery of its disappearance is unsolved.
It has been said that if everyone who claimed to have been on that foggy English airfield when the plane took off were assembled, it would take a hall of 14,000 seats to accommodate them.
Billy May told me: "I've got to tell you a story. After the war, Willie Schwartz worked a one-nighter with Tex Beneke at the Palladium. It was a Miller memorial. When the band was off the stand, a guy came up to Willie with a shoe box. He opened it. He had some straw or dirt or something in there. He said, 'Do you know what this is?' Willie said, 'No.' The guy said, 'That's the last piece of dirt that Glenn Miller stepped on.' He asked Willie what he thought he should do with it. Willie said, 'Why don't you smoke it?'"
One day in 1972, I was having lunch with Guy Lombardo, and Miller's name came up. Guy said, "If Glenn had survived, I think he would still be in the music business, and it would be a better business for it."”
[Dedicated to the memory of Artie Melvin of the Crew Chiefs, who after the war became a highly successful studio singer in Hollywood.
In the 1980s, I was on several of the Caribbean jazz cruises of the S.S. Norway. Artie, a charter subscriber to the Jazzletter, was also on one of those cruises. He urged me to write something on Glenn Miller. I said that I thought it all had been written. He said, 'No it hasn't, and what has been written mostly isn't right. You'd get it right.'
I hope so. This is for Artie.]