“Runnin’ Wild” at the Meadowbrook

Same personnel, except Arthur Ens (g) replaces Allen Reuss.

RCA Victor Studios, New York – April 18, 1939, 1:30-4:30 PM

035764-1      My Last Goodbye (RE vcl)     Bluebird 10229

035765-1      But it Didn’t Mean a Thing (MH vcl)          Bluebird 10269

035766-1      Pavanne (BF arr)      Bluebird 10286

035767-1      Runnin’ Wild (BF arr)          Bluebird 10269

035767-2      Runnin’ Wild (BF arr)          first issued on CD

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Three recording sessions in two weeks, cutting a dozen discs. That was more than Glenn Miller had recorded in the entire year of 1938! Crowds continued to build at the Meadowbrook Ballroom and the band’s engagement was extended to seven weeks.  Constant live broadcasts also did their share to spread Glenn’s music to a newly rapt audience. Things were improving to the point that Glenn added a permanent guitarist to the band, Arthur Ens, who debuts here. Though Glenn never featured him, he does help to stitch the rhythm section together.

The record date was routined in a similar fashion to the last one. Two popular songs were followed by two instrumentals. MY LAST GOODBYE was written and recorded by singer Eddy Howard of Dick Jurgens’ orchestra, the first of numerous hits for Eddy that stretched into the 1950s. Glenn’s disc actually predated Howard’s by a month, but the composer’s emotional ballad version was the top seller. The Miller recording is less effective, chugging along at a “businessman’s bounce” tempo and with Ray Eberle delivering the lyrics in a rather blasé manner.

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BUT IT DIDN’T MEAN A THING was an early effort by songwriter Mack David, who would eventually chalk up eight Academy Award Best Song nominations, including melodies from Walt Disney’s CINDERELLA and ALICE IN WONDERLAND. This youthful composition was nothing special and is given a rather colorless treatment by Glenn and by Marion, who sounds very tentative.

Much more memorable are the two instrumentals. PAVANNE was a light-classical piece by popular composer-conductor Morton Gould, who wrote many similar dainty Andre Kostelanetz-type trifles and later, heavier works like FALL RIVER LEGEND (based on the Lizzie Borden case) and Broadway musicals, including ARMS AND THE GIRL and BILLION DOLLAR BABY.

Gould’s recording of PAVANNE is full of strings and woodwinds, featuring a prominent oboe solo. Bill Finegan’s arrangement maintains its flavor, adding a light swing to the catchy melody. Glenn solos briefly, as does Tex. Moe Purtill dances lightly on the percussion, nice and loose.

RUNNIN’ WILD is a real killer-diller and was often used by Glenn as the wind-up tune to broadcasts and also the opening number at the band’s Carnegie Hall Concert later in the year. Finegan’s chart pulls out all the stops, with great interplay between the saxes and brass. There are brash solos by Tex, Mickey McMickle and Moe, plus a succession of catchy riffs toward the finish. It’s likely that Glenn also worked on the chart, as the riffs bear his trademark style.

Two days after completing this session, Glenn and the band closed at the Meadowbrook and went on the road – but this time they had a big, big date awaiting them – a May 17th opening at the Glen Island Casino!

“And we’re off with the LITTLE BROWN JUG!”

RCA Victor Studios, New York – April 10, 1939, 1:30-5:00 PM

Bob Price, Legh Knowles, Mickey McMickle (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (cl,as); Stan Aronson (ts,cl); Tex Beneke, Al Klink (ts); Chummy MacGregor (p); Allen Reuss (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Moe Purtill (d). Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Bill Finegan (arr).

035729-1      Wishing (Will Make It So) (RE vcl)             Bluebird 10219-B

035730-1      Three Little Fishes (Itty Bitty Poo) (MH, TB & Band vcl) Bluebird 10219-A

035731-1      Sunrise Serenade      Bluebird 10214-A

035732-1      Little Brown Jug (BF arr)     Bluebird 10286-A

Two of Glenn’s greatest hits would emerge from this next recording date, which also marked the debut of another Miller stalwart, drummer Maurice “Moe” Purtill. Purtill was known as a fine, subtly swinging musician from his two-year stay with Red Norvo’s innovative band and a year with Tommy Dorsey, replacing the brilliant, though unreliable, Davey Tough. During the year with Tommy, Moe drummed on several of his most popular records, including BOOGIE-WOOGIE and HAWAIIAN WAR CHANT. He also shone on some small group sides by Dorsey’s Clambake Seven.

Glenn had wanted to hire Moe since 1937, but Dorsey held onto him until Tough returned from a stint with Benny Goodman at the very end of 1938. Purtill excelled at delivering a relaxed beat and was not the kind of flashy, driving drummer that Glenn seemed to want. Glenn pushed Moe to be more extroverted and that approach kept the band from becoming as loosely swinging as it might have been. Still, Purtill was a revelation and brought a buoyant feel to the band’s output, especially on live broadcasts.

This session came less that a week after the MOONLIGHT SERENADE date, and, as mentioned before, SUNRISE SERENADE provided the theme song’s flip side. Written by pianist Frankie Carle, the melody became one of the big hits of the year, recorded by Casa Loma, Hal Kemp and Bobby Hackett and featured by nearly every other band.   At the ASCAP 25th Anniversary big band concert in October, three of the four orchestras featured that evening – Miller, Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman – included it in their program!

It’s a simple, hummable theme and was likely arranged here by Glenn, showcasing the reeds, trombone “boo-wahs” and a mellow Beneke solo. It remained in the band’s book until the end, as did the next tune waxed, LITTLE BROWN JUG, one of Miller’s biggest hits. This happy ode to drinking dated way back to 1869. Bill Finegan’s swinging 1939 arrangement and catchy coda proved to be irresistible to dancers and record buyers alike.. Beneke, McMickle and Miller get solo spots, with Glenn playing an especially imaginative chorus, which he repeated on all subsequent versions! Newcomer Purtill gets his first workout on record, finally kicking the rhythm section to life.

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LITTLE BROWN JUG featured heavily in the plot of THE GLENN MILLER STORY, framed as the last arrangement Glenn wrote as a surprise Christmas gift for wife Helen before he embarked on his fatal flight in 1944. In the film, Helen hated the song since college days and always pooh-poohed Glenn’s threat to swing it with his band. Since the movie was riddled with inaccuracies, this was just one more sappy plot contrivance which likely displeased Bill Finegan, who also lost the arranger credit to Glenn on the original 78!

These two hits were preceded by two current pop tunes. WISHING (WILL MAKE IT SO) is a standard Miller ballad performance, with Ray Eberle working hard to sound relaxed at the fast tempo. The song was featured in the extremely popular film LOVE AFFAIR, which starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. It was successfully remade 20 years later as AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, which itself was then referenced in the 1993 blockbuster, SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE. Image

The song was written by veteran songwriter Buddy DeSylva, who had been one-third of the legendary composing team of DeSylva, (Lew) Brown and (Ray) Henderson earlier in the decade. By 1939, DeSylva had become a film producer and would soon be one of the founders of Capitol Records. WISHING was one of his few solo efforts and would be nominated for an Academy Best Song Award. It lost to OVER THE RAINBOW.

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Marion and Tex work even harder than Ray to deliver the wordy lyrics to THREE LITTLE FISHES, the inexplicably huge hit for the Hal Kemp and Kay Kyser bands. Another in the seemingly endless parade of nursery rhyme pop tune adaptations, this one was likely the biggest. Written by Kemp’s saxophonist/vocalist Saxie Dowell, the song was a Number #1 hit for weeks. Glenn’s record did little to add to its popularity, as it minimized the corny aspects by dispensing with the dopey lyrics as fast as possible and throwing the melody to the wind for the final nicely swinging choruses.

The next record date would follow in only eight days. Events were moving for Glenn and the band, but no one had any inkling how far and how fast they would be going.

 

MOONLIGHT SERENADE – 75 Years and Counting

RCA Victor Studio #2, New York – April 4, 1939, 1:30-5:00 PM

Legh Knowles, Bob Price, Dale “Mickey” McMickle (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (cl,as), Stanley Aronson (ts,cl) Tex Beneke, Al Klink (ts); Chummy MacGregor (p); Allen Reuss (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Frankie Carlson (d). Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Bill Finegan (arr).

035699-1      The Chestnut Tree (MH & Band vcl)          Bluebird 10201

035700-1      And the Angels Sing (RE vcl)           Bluebird 10201

035701-1      Moonlight Serenade (GM arr)         Bluebird 10214

035702-1      The Lady’s in Love with You (TB & GM vcl)           Bluebird 10229

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Sometimes magic does happen – and it happened to Glenn Miller on March 1, 1939. It was his 35th birthday and the band was rehearsing in Manhattan when word came from his agent that they had snagged a prize booking for the entire summer season, at the Glen Island Casino in Westchester. The Casino was known as a launchpad to success for bands like Casa Loma, the Dorsey Brothers, Charlie Barnet and Larry Clinton in previous years. Now Glenn would benefit from the big dancing crowds and frequent radio broadcasts, carried nationwide.

As a topper, when word of the Glen Island engagement got out, Frank Dailey, manager of the Meadowbrook Ballroom in New Jersey, quickly arranged to book the band prior to Glen Island. In fact, the band debuted at the Meadowbrook on March 7, which seems awfully fast to get all the contracts and details in place! The four-week Meadowbrook booking stretched to seven weeks and the band closed there on April 20, giving them a little breathing space before the Glen Island opening on May 17. The popular Meadowbrook also offered copious airtime, totaling three dozen NBC and Mutual programs!

So by the time the next Bluebird date came on April 4th, the band had been playing solidly for a month in the same place, giving them time to tighten and polish their performances, without the constant grind of one-night stands. Glenn must have been in heaven.

As the band had no guitarist at this point, Glenn hired freelancer Allen Reuss for the February and April sessions. Reuss had spent three years with Benny Goodman and would shortly join Jack Teagarden’s fledgling organization. Reuss was keeping very busy, as he did Victor record sessions with Lionel Hampton on April 3rd and 5th, squeezing this Miller gig in between.

Still having drummer problems, Glenn borrowed Frankie Carlson from Woody Herman just for the records and he brought a rhythmic solidity and crispness that the band had never shown before.   There would be more action on the rhythm front in just a few days!

Everyone would get a chance to shine on these four sides. Marion Hutton leads off the session with her best vocal to date, on THE CHESTNUT TREE, one of many popular songs built around children’s rhymes in the wake of Ella Fitzgerald’s blockbuster hit, A-TISKET A-TASKET. With a title taken from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, the song originated in England and then was picked up the Hal Kemp band, though the Miller version swings much more. Newcomer Mickey McMickle, Tex and Glenn all take excellent solos. Tex is especially smooth here.

Ray Eberle is next at bat with another Johnny Mercer song that was written for Benny Goodman, lyricized from trumpeter Ziggy Elman’s Jewish-inflected FRALICH IN SWING.  The arrangement sounds like one of Glenn’s, with tightly muted trombone and trumpets leading off.  Ray is more relaxed than heretofore, singing in a quietly effective manner that was not typical for him.

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Then MOONLIGHT SERENADE. What more can be said about this iconic recording? Credit goes to Glenn’s evocative and effective arrangement, featuring reeds and muted brass, showing off the Miller Sound from the first beat. The reeds continue to sing, the brass takes off their mutes and Willie Schwartz soars majestically over the saxes during the repeat of the bridge melody, before merging with them again for the rapturous conclusion. Seemingly effortless and simple, yet fresh and clean every time you hear it.

Glenn wrote the composition circa 1935 as a musical exercise while he was studying with Joseph Schillinger, a Russian-born musical theorist and composer. He had developed the Schillinger System of musical composition, which used mathematical theorums to compose and arrange music. George Gershwin was another of his famous pupils.

Miller knew he had written a potential hit and arranged it for Ray Noble, but he never publicly played it. Several titles and lyrics were tried out as the years passed, but none stuck. Glenn began using the song as his band’s theme from the beginning, but it never had a title.   When it was time for the record date, the story goes, that since the flip side was going to be SUNRISE SERENADE, how about titling the theme, MOONLIGHT SERENADE?   Who knows how true this story was?

In any case, Mitchell Parish was assigned to write a lyric to go with the title. Parish was a natural for the job, as he specialized in writing successful lyrics for pre-existing melodies, like STAR DUST, SOLITUDE, SOPHISTICATED LADY, DEEP PURPLE and MOOD INDIGO.

After completing this most famous of Miller works, Tex Beneke makes his vocal (and whistling) debut on THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU, a Frank Loesser-Burton Lane collaboration from the film SOME LIKE IT HOT (not the Marilyn Monroe version!), where it was introduced by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross as a romantic duet. Miller swings it hot, speaking a cross-talk proto-rap introduction with Tex that would become a signature routine. The saxes play some nicely arranged punctuations to Beneke’s vocal and Carlson gets a drum break leading into the swinging final chorus. The end to an all-around winner of a session!

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A Contract with RCA-Bluebird!

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 6, 1939, 1:30-4:45 PM

Charlie Hill, Bob Price, Legh Knowles (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (cl,as); Stan Aronson (ts,cl); Tex Beneke, Al Klink (ts); Chummy MacGregor (p); Allen Reuss (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Cody Sandifer (d). Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Bill Finegan (arr).

 

033607-1      (Gotta Get Some) Shut-Eye (MH vcl)          Bluebird 10139

033608-1      How I’d Like to Be With You in Bermuda (RE vcl) Bluebird 10139

033609-1      Cuckoo in the Clock (MH vcl, BF arr)          Bluebird 10145

033610-1      Romance Runs in the Family (MH vcl, BF arr)       Bluebird 10145

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Five more middling months in the saga of the Glenn Miller band unfolded, brightened mainly by a month-long engagement in NY at the Paradise Restaurant. The city was building up to the opening of the New York World’s Fair in April and tourist business was starting to flock to the Big Apple. There is a newsreel clip of a big Trylon & Perisphere (the Fair symbols) being popped open in front of the Paradise on New Year’s Eve, with a pretty girl bursting out.

As mentioned before, the club’s manager, Nils T. Granlund (known as N.T.G.), was really into busty showgirls and he was planning his biggest coup for the World’s Fair’s Amusement Area, the “CONGRESS OF BEAUTY” and “SUN-WORSHIPPERS COLONY.” Image

Basically it was a “nude ranch” of leggy women feeding cows and chickens while wearing see-through tops. Customers were encouraged to ogle, for a hefty admission fee, of course. This all fit right in with the Fair’s edifying theme, “Building the World of Tomorrow.”

But, I digress – February brought good news for Glenn, who signed a one-year no-royalty contract with RCA-Bluebird. Recording director Eli Oberstein was apparently pleased with the band, though their first pair of records didn’t break any sales records. For the second date, as Jerry Colonna would say, “Ahhhh… something new has been added!”

Having discarded a batch of girl vocalists through the summer of 1938, Glenn signed blond and bubbly Marion Hutton. Marion was the sister of Betty Hutton, who even then was making a name for herself as “America’s No. 1 Jitterbug” with Vincent Lopez’s orchestra. After checking out both Hutton sisters, Glenn decided Marion would be “easier to handle” and he was 100% right in his assessment. Marion soon became an indispensable and much beloved part of the Miller organization and a bouncy and ebullient asset to their live performances. On record, she was less effective, though the band always seemed to swing a little harder on her arrangements.

Speaking of arrangements, this date also marked the debut of Bill Finegan, whose first two charts were here recorded. Finegan had been one of a number of arrangers working for Tommy Dorsey and Glenn offered him a job after hearing his work. Bill would contribute some of the most gorgeous ballad arrangements to the Miller library until the end of the band’s existence, but he often found it tough to deal with Glenn’s heavy editing pencil. Glenn had written most of the band’s charts since its inception, and was reluctant to accept musical ideas that didn’t mesh with his own conception.

Finegan would also have trouble featuring the new tenor sax guy in the band, Al Klink. Klink joined just before this session and was recommended to Glenn by Legh Knowles. Al, like Bill Finegan, would remain with the band until it broke up. Unlike Bill, his work was rarely featured. A terrific jazz soloist, Klink just didn’t hit it off with Glenn, who preferred Tex Beneke’s solos and personality.   Finegan and the other arrangers tried to work solos for Klink into their charts, but Glenn would usually cut them or assign them to Tex.   When Klink got the chance, mostly on live performances, he really swung handsomely.

The songs recorded on this date were all current pops with vocals, well performed but not terribly memorable.

HOW I’D LIKE TO BE WITH YOU IN BERMUDA has none of the exotic, languorous atmosphere you’d expect from the title. In musical terms, the song might just as well be about Peoria.  Composers Bickley Reichner and Clay Boland wrote it for one of the renowned University Of Pennsylvania Mask And Wig Club musical revues, which Boland wrote and directed.

The composers and their publishers must have had some kind of conduit to the record labels, as many of their songs were recorded by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan and Artie Shaw on Victor alone.

Two of the songs had lyrics by Johnny Mercer – CUCKOO IN THE CLOCK and SHUT-EYE. Both had been recorded by Benny Goodman the week before. This was not surprising, as Mercer was then a regular on BG’s “Camel Caravan” radio series.

Glenn had no radio sponsorship and with this session completed, the rest of February would unspool with more routine New England gigs and little else to look forward to.  But March would be another story!

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A Bluebird Reverie – The First RCA Session

RCA Victor Studios, New York – September 27, 1938, 2:00-4:15 PM

Johnny Austin, Bob Price, Louis Mucci (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (cl,as), Stanley Aronson, Tex Beneke (ts,cl), Bill Stegmeyer (ts,as,cl); Chummy MacGregor (p); Rollie Bundock (b); Bob Spangler (d); Ray Eberle (vcl). All titles arranged by Glenn Miller.

027410-1     My Reverie (RE vcl)    Bluebird 7853

027411-1      By the Waters of Minnetonka (Part 1)   Bluebird 7870

027412-1      By the Waters of Minnetonka (Part 2)   Bluebird 7870

027413-1      King Porter Stomp    Bluebird 7853

After the band left the Paradise Restaurant at the end of June, they gigged around the East Coast and New England. Regular gigs at the Roseland Ballroom in Boston and a week in Atlantic City at Hamid’s Million Dollar Pier were the highlights of this period.

Another high point came with the signing of the band to Bluebird Records for a single date in September. Bluebird was the 35-cent budget label spinoff from the 75-cent RCA Victor label. It was the brainchild of recording director Eli Oberstein, who started Bluebird in 1933, at the absolute low point for record sales during the Depression.

Signing popular bands like Rudy Vallee, Ted Weems and George Hall, Bluebird was a success from the beginning and by 1938, its roster included Artie Shaw, Shep Fields and Les Brown, along with carefully selected reissues by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and other jazz and country artists.

Oberstein was looking for a band to record a lower-price version of MY REVERIE, which was brokered into a hit by Larry Clinton on the parent Victor label. It was one of the first Swing Era pop tune adaptations from the classics, in this case, Debussy’s REVERIE.  Hearing that Glenn had a swell instrumental arrangement of the tune in his book, Eli approached Glenn for this single date.

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This would be Glenn’s only appearance on the suave Bluebird “staff” label, which had a sleek Art Deco design.   It would soon be redesigned in a more straightforward manner.

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Oberstein requested that a vocal be added to MY REVERIE and Miller obliged. Glenn slides right into the melody sans introduction, a somewhat daring way to begin the record. The Miller reeds sing out, leading into Ray’s plaintive vocal. Ray usually sounded plaintive on his earlier records, as Glenn seemed to like pitching his keys at the upper end of his range.

BY THE WATERS OF THE MINNETONKA, Glenn’s first two-part recording, offers a relaxed and leisurely ride through the old Indian parlor ballad. Oddly, Beneke is featured on a rather meandering two-chorus clarinet solo on Part 1, the first and only time Tex played clarinet on a Miller record. Why McIntyre didn’t get the hot solo spot is a mystery. Miller, Austin and Stegmeyer each get a full chorus on Part 2. Glenn’s arrangement is quite loose and simple, free of the fussy little touches his earlier hot charts were stuffed with.

KING PORTER STOMP is taken at exactly the same relaxed tempo, with Glenn’s trombone featured in the opening and for the first chorus. Austin is muted for a change, playing one of his more imaginative solos.  Spangler plods along on drums, showing some rhythmic impetus during Stegmeyer’s sinuous alto spot.

As evidence of the band’s efficiency, they completed all four titles in well under the three-hour session schedule. Glenn had apparently gotten over his fear of Tommy Dorsey, as he solos, and solos well, at length on each selection.

With the record session completed, the band went back to their regular grind of fall-into-winter gigs up and down the East Coast, broken up by more dates at the Roseland State Ballroom in Boston and at the familiar Paradise Restaurant in Manhattan. Wasn’t Glenn ever going to get that big break?

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