The First Miller Session – Part 2

Forgot to mention the vocalist on the date!  Smith-Ballew

Smith Ballew had been around as a studio singer since the late 1920s and had sung on many Dorsey Brothers and Ben Pollack dates that included Glenn and his chums. Glenn had also played in various touring bands led by Ballew and they were long-time friends.  So this date was a chance to toss some money Smith’s way.

His pleasantly bland vocal style were already going out of favor by 1935 and Smith soon relocated to Los Angeles where his Gary Cooper-ish looks helped him to get into musical Western movies.

Tune-wise, the first three songs on the date were all written and popularized in 1926;  and the one Miller “original,” SOLO HOP, was simply a riff on 1929’s PAGAN LOVE SONG, sans melody statement.  Oddly, except for A BLUES SERENADE, the other songs had first been performed as exotica/mysterioso compositions, suggesting foreign climes and mores.

Glenn later featured a hot PAGAN chart of his making with the 1939 band and revisited A BLUES SERENADE in several of his radio medleys.

Performance-wise, the records are tightly arranged and well-performed, as one would expect from Glenn, even at this early date.  One aspect that is readily apparent is the rather plodding rhythm section, with Bauduc clomping all over the place.  This trait would plague Miller’s band throughout  the civilian days.  Friend and writer George T. Simon, who sat in on drums early on, reported that Glenn often drove his musicians hard, creating a tense atmosphere while rehearsing and recording.  Recording in those days was difficult enough and achieving a sense of relaxation on disc didn’t happen often with Glenn.

The two ballads feature the strings, Glenn with a mute and a high-pitched Ballew, with brief solos by Berigan and Eddie Miller.  The hot tunes are something else, showing off the soloists, especially Bunny,  quite well. The strings saw along gamely during SPANISH TOWN, but are dropped on SOLO HOP, a looser arrangement that gives Berigan, Eddie Miller and Johnny Mince more of a chance to jam without interference.

The attractive blue wax discs did not sell well – evidenced by their rarity today – even a Columbia red-label reissue of the two instrumentals in 1941, when Glenn was hitting his peak, made no impression.

Artie Shaw, however, took Glenn’s experimental session to a new level.  In mid-1936, after a sensational NY appearance with a string quartet at a swing concert in Manhattan, Shaw was persuaded to start his own band.  He did, using the string quartet as a nucleus wrapped around a Swing-Dixie combo. Artie got a lot of press coverage for his new and “novel” instrumentation.

The setup was almost exactly the same as on Glenn’s record date (two trumpets, one trombone (Glenn used two), two reeds, 4 strings and four rhythm). Additionally, two of Glenn’s violinists – Harry Bluestone and Bill Schuman – played with Shaw in 1936.

Decades later, Artie claimed that he had never heard of Glenn’s records and the concept of a string-swing band was his own idea.  Artie was also quite contemptuous of Glenn’s music and popularity, missing no opportunity to knock him.

Quien sabe?


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