Wish Upon a Star

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle, John Best (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz, Jimmy Abato ,Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Dick Fisher (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – January 6, 1940, 2:00-5:30 PM

046082-1      The Gaucho Serenade (RE vcl, JG arr)        Bluebird 10570

046083-1      The Sky Fell Down (RE vcl, BF arr)                         Bluebird 10580

046084-1      When You Wish Upon a Star (RE vcl)        Bluebird 10570

RCA Victor Studios, New York – January 15, 1940, 1:00-4:30 PM

046431-1      Give a Little Whistle (MH vcl)          Bluebird 10580

046432-1      Missouri Waltz           Bluebird 10587

046433-1      Beautiful Ohio (JG arr)         Bluebird 10587

046434-1      What’s the Matter With Me? (MH vcl)       Bluebird 10657

gmhotelpennfair1940 arrived with a bang for Glenn and the band. Their new radio program for Chesterfield was getting under way and a lengthy engagement at New York’s prestigious Café Rouge (in midtown’s Pennsylvania Hotel) began on January 4th.

gmhotelpennadNow the band could stay put in one city for several months, rehearsing, performing, recording and broadcasting. The first recording session of the year came less than a week after New Year’s Day.

gmgauchoadFor some reason, Glenn’s very citified orchestra was assigned to record a hefty slice of Western and cowboy music, beginning with THE GAUCHO SERENADE. He would eventually record enough to fill an album, though RCA never saw fit to compile one. It’s also Jerry Gray’s first recorded arrangement for the band, though airchecks exist of several earlier ones from late 1939.

gmgauchoserenadeTHE GAUCHO SERENADE was the title song of singing cowboy Gene Autry’s latest film, stuffed as usual with tunes by various composers. James Cavanaugh, John Redmond and Nat Simon wrote it; they each had a long series of hits behind them, including POINCIANA, I LIKE MOUNTAIN MUSIC, MISSISSIPPI MUD and I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART. It’s a merry little ditty, with Ray Eberle serving as an unlikely South American cowboy.

Bill Finegan surfaces as the arranger for THE SKY FELL DOWN, sung with great assurance by Ray. It’s a simple, effective chart with a sweet solo for Glenn in the last chorus. The distinguished team of Louis Alter (MANHATTAN SERENADE, YOU TURNED THE TABLES ON ME and DOLORES) and Edward Heyman (BODY AND SOUL, OUT OF NOWHERE, I COVER THE WATERFRONT) counted this as one of their big hits.

gmskyfelldownThis song also had the distinction of being the first disc recorded by Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey on the higher-priced Victor label. There would be many more songs recorded by both Eberle and Sinatra over the next three years. Eberle was the more popular vocalist in 1940, but that would soon change.

gmPinocchio-1940-postergmPinocchio_title_cardGlenn had previously recorded the 1939 Best Song Oscar winner, OVER THE RAINBOW and was lucky enough to be assigned the eventual 1940 award winner, WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, from Pinocchio.  Composers Ned Washington and Leigh Harline were regular contributors to Disney films; eventually this song became the Disney “theme,” heard on TV and in the theme parks up to the present day.

gmpinnocihioThough the arrangement is nothing special, Ray’s pleasant vocal and the song’s inherent quality carries the day. In 1947, the disc was reissued as part of a Victor 78 album of Glenn’s “star” songs, titled Starlight Serenades.

gmstar    gmwishstarNine days later, as the first tune on the next record date, another Pinocchio melody was given a spritely treatment. Jiminy Cricket’s GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE is warbled by Marion, a bit off-key, but sweetly sincere. Chummy MacGregor gets a rare boogie-woogie solo, and Tex is his usual dependably swinging self. Oddly, Bluebird didn’t release the two PINOCCHIO songs back-to-back, but on separate discs.

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For a big change of pace, Glenn next recorded two waltzes. Every swing band had a few waltzes in their book to please older or more traditional dancers, but rarely got the chance to record them. That was the territory of the sweet bands. Wanting to be recognized as a well-rounded orchestra, Glenn apparently pushed Victor to let him record a few numbers in ¾ time; certainly music publishers weren’t promoting these oldies!

gmmissouritMISSOURI WALTZ, composed in 1914 by John Cameron Eppel, eventually became Missouri’s state song.   The arrangement, likely by Glenn, is simple and effective, with several tenor sax incursions by Beneke.

gmbeauohiooOn the flip side, BEAUTIFUL OHIO, not surprisingly, was the state song of Ohio. Ballard MacDonald and Robert King wrote it in 1918 as a standard love song. A later lyric revision made the song more Ohio-specific. Jerry Gray penned Glenn’s wistful chart, featuring muted brass and brief solos by Tex and Chummy.

Back to swing for the last item on the session – WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH ME?, written by Sam M. Lewis, with lyrics by Terry Shand. Lewis’ name is completely unknown today, but his songs aren’t – IN A LITTLE SPANISH TOWN, I’M SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD (both previously recorded by Glenn), FOR ALL WE KNOW and STREET OF DREAMS, to name just four. Terry Shand was a singer who recorded prolifically in the 1930s as a band vocalist and under his own name. He also wrote the lyrics for such hits as I DOUBLE DARE YOU and DANCE WITH A DOLLY.

gmWhatsTheMatterWithMeAfter a bouncy opening, Marion chirps the lyrics in a slightly subdued manner. The record really sparks to life with Clyde Hurley’s torrid solo, happily echoed by Tex, leading to a rousing windup.

Having been out of the studio for nearly all of December, Glenn was finally back at RCA on a regular recording schedule and more big hits were about to arrive!

gmchesterfieldbanner

Way Back in 1939 A.D.

RCA Victor Studios, New York – December 6, 1939, 1:30-5:00 PM

043973-1      I Beg Your Pardon (RE vcl) Bluebird 10561

043974-1      Faithful To You (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10536

043975-1      It’s a Blue World (RE vcl)     Bluebird 10536

043976-1      Ooh! What You Said (MH vcl) Bluebird 10561

On the afternoon of the band’s last day at the Meadowbrook Ballroom, Glenn held his final recording session of 1939. All four songs had good lineage, but none became a major hit.

Chubby Mack Gordon asks George Raft for a pardon.

Chubby Mack Gordon asks George Raft for a pardon.

I BEG YOUR PARDON reportedly came about from an idea of lyricist Mack Gordon. A jolly, rotund figure, Gordon often used the titular phrase when squeezing in and out of elevators, so he decided to repurpose it as the title of a love song. J. Fred Coots, composer of SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN and YOU GO TO MY HEAD, wrote the music. Ray sings the song nicely, but no fireworks result.

More Ray is heard on FAITHFUL TO YOU, a collaboration between popular NY disc jockey Martin Block and co-writers Harry Green and Mickey Stoner. The trio would work together on several other songs recorded by Glenn in the coming years. Presumably, Block promoted Miller recordings on his Make Believe Ballroom show in gratitude for recording these tunes.

WNEW disc jockey Martin Block

WNEW disc jockey Martin Block

It’s another standard Miller ballad, with a brief, luscious clarinet solo by Jimmy Abato. Glenn took an instant dislike to the young musician and he didn’t last long in the band.

gmmusicinmyheartThere are more mournful reed sounds on IT’S A BLUE WORLD, which was introduced by future AAF Band vocalist Tony Martin in the film Music In My Heart, which co-starred young Rita Hayworth. Songwriters Robert Wright and Chet Forrest were then working as Hollywood songsmiths, but would eventually hit it big on Broadway with Song of Norway and Kismet.   Ray does his usual vocal stuff and the arrangement has some pleasantly original dynamic touches and a lovely coda.

Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael didn’t collaborate as often as they should have, but crafted some memorable songs when they did. In late 1939, they turned their sights toward Broadway, with the score for Three After Three, which was retitled Walk With Music. The show, based on the same play that would eventually be filmed as How to Marry a Millionaire, went through a rocky gestation and finally opened in June 1940. It closed in a little over a month. Hoagy never tried Broadway again, though Johnny returned with several semi-hits in the following decades.

Hoagy & Johnny

Hoagy & Johnny

Glenn recorded two songs from the show, OOH! WHAT YOU SAID and THE RUMBA JUMPS. In one of those interesting coincidences, OOH! was performed in the show by a vocal group named the Modernaires, who we’ll be hearing from later on!  It’s a welcome swinger after so many ballads. Marion Hutton sings the catchy lyrics and Tex surfaces for a good solo.

That’s it for 1939, as far as Glenn Miller’s recording sessions go. It had been quite an amazing year – from near-obscurity in January to the top of the big band pantheon in December.

The year wasn’t over yet – more road dates in December took the band for the first time as far west as Ohio. Arranger Jerry Gray joined, after the sudden breakup of Artie Shaw’s stellar orchestra. Jerry would bring some new sounds and many hits to the Miller band in the next three years. On Christmas Eve, Glenn and the boys broke all previous attendance records at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The same night, Glenn received a surprise gift of a 1940 Buick, which the bandsmen had pooled their money to buy.

Biggest news of all – the Miller band began a nationwide CBS radio series for Chesterfield Cigarettes on December 27th.  Replacing Paul Whiteman, whose music was considered old hat by now, the band was initially paired with the top-selling Andrews Sisters, since sponsor Liggett & Myers were unsure about the band’s ability to carry the show.

Once 1940 began, the band would be heard every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening on a 15-minute Chesterfield program. Continuing until the band broke up, this schedule, with some tweaks, would affect all aspects of Glenn’s itinerary, as the band had to be close to a big broadcasting center every week. Any such difficulties were far outweighed by the prestige of such a popular program, which any band would kill for. Also, the free availability of endless supplies of Chesterfields would be another plus for the hard-smoking Glenn and his personnel.  We’ll pick up the tobacco saga in our next installment.

gmchesterfiedl1940

This Changing World

RCA Victor Studios, New York – November 22, 1939, 1:15-4:15 PM

043909-1      In an Old Dutch Garden (RE vcl)    Bluebird 10553

043910-1      This Changing World (RE vcl)         Bluebird 10526

043911-1      On a Little Street in Singapore (RE vcl, AG arr)   Bluebird 10526, Victor 20-1585

043912-1      Vagabond Dreams (RE vcl) Bluebird 10520

gmdutch

The third Miller session of November 1939 led off with a pretty banal song brightened by the distinctive Glenn touch. IN AN OLD DUTCH GARDEN (BY AN OLD DUTCH MILL) is exactly what you’d expect from the title, with wooden shoes, tulips and windmills referenced.

gmolddutchgarden

Will Grosz, composer of THE DAY WE MEET AGAIN, which Glenn recorded back in June 1939, wrote the song. Grosz died at the end of the year, but did produce, as one of his last compositions, a Miller hit in 1940, ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL. Another 1940 Grosz song, MAKE-BELIEVE ISLAND, was published with Glenn’s picture on the sheet music, even though the band never recorded it.

When perusing the Miller discography, it’s apparent that Glenn had a lower threshold for selecting second-tier songs than, say, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. The latter two bands recorded far more quality show and movie tunes than Glenn. Top songwriters like Gershwin, Arlen, Rodgers, Kern and Porter rarely show up in the Miller repertoire.

Glenn got involved early on with song plugging and publishing, starting his own firm, Mutual Music, in 1941. Bands he invested in, like Charlie Spivak and Hal McIntyre, dutifully played Glenn’s favored songs, as we’ll note later on.

Back to OLD DUTCH GARDEN – it’s a pleasant enough record, with smoothly varied section playing, a touch of Beneke and of course, Ray singing, all of which doesn’t disguise the basic inanity of the song.

Miss Dana Suesse

Miss Dana Suesse

The next record has a better pedigree – THIS CHANGING WORLD, by quirky female composer Dana Suesse (her BLUE MOONLIGHT was waxed by Glenn back in August). Harold Adamson’s thoughtful lyric is well sung by Ray and the chart has some welcome variations, including a nice Johnny Best trumpet intro, Glenn’s solo modulation into the vocal and lovely sax writing in the coda.

gmsingapore

More Ray Eberle in a similar vein is heard on ON A LITTLE STREET IN SINGAPORE, which sounds, in the Miller version, about as Asian as an old Dutch garden. The Harry James-Frank Sinatra rendition is far more atmospheric.  Still, it’s a fine disc of the Peter De Rose-Billy Hill ballad. De Rose had written THE LAMP IS LOW earlier in the year and Hill was better known for his Western songs, like EMPTY SADDLES and WAGON WHEELS, but Tin Pan Alley songwriters were nothing if not versatile!

Oh, Frankie!

Oh, Frankie!

One other note about SINGAPORE – in 1944, during the recording ban, when the Sinatra-James disc was reissued by Columbia to cash in on Frankie’s popularity, Glenn’s disc was also dusted off as the flip side of the first release of BASKET WEAVER MAN, the last unissued Miller item in the RCA vaults.

Hoagy

Hoagy

Ray is upfront again to finish the session with Hoagy Carmichael’s VAGABOND DREAMS. Not one of Hoagy’s better-known songs, it has a mournful quality that might have worked better as an instrumental without Jack Lawrence’s unmemorable lyric.

Between the first and second November recording session, Glenn and the band stepped off the road for their second engagement at the Meadowbrook Ballroom, for a three-week Autumn stint that lasted from November 16 through December 6. Their next Bluebird date was scheduled for that last day at the Meadowbrook.

a souvenir bar of Meadowbrook soap!

A souvenir bar of Meadowbrook soap!

 

 

Oh, Johnny, How You Can Swing!

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

043390-1      Ciribiribin (RE vcl, BF arr)   Bluebird 10507

043391-1      Careless (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10520

043392-1      Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! (MH vcl)   Bluebird 10507

For one of the only times in his recording career, Glenn Miller devoted an entire session to songs that were already hits for other artists.

gmhjciribiribinCIRIBIRIBIN, like so many of Glenn’s 1939 recordings, was a real oldie, an Italian popular song written by Alberto Pestlozza way back in 1898. Opera singer Grace Moore had made a crossover recording of it in 1936 and then Benny Goodman swung it in 1938. Shortly after the Goodman session, featured trumpeter Harry James started his own band and chose the melody for his theme song, played at both sweet and swing tempos. Harry first waxed it in February 1939 as an instrumental.

JOHNSON RAG lyricist Jack Lawrence was assigned to write English lyrics, which were then recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in September, then by James with vocalist Frank Sinatra on November 8, followed by this Miller recording.

Bill Finegan’s cheerful arrangement is nicely played, with an equally cheery Ray Eberle vocal.

gmcareless gmcarelessd

CARELESS, written by bandleader Dick Jurgens and singer Eddy Howard (with a musical assist from Lew Quadling) was a huge hit for them, and later became Eddy Howard’s theme song when he spun off his own band. Glenn’s version highlights the reeds and the Miller Sound, along with a more serious Eberle vocal.

OH JOHNNY, OH JOHNNY, OH! brings Marion Hutton back to the recording mike after a pretty long absence. It’s a jolly rendition, beginning with a lengthy riff fade-in that goes on for more than 20 seconds before the familiar melody is stated. Surprise!

gmoh_johnny gmohjonnyaThe song goes back to 1917, written by Abe Olman and Ed Rose. It was a huge World War I-era hit, both in its original form and with an additional set of patriotic lyrics, exhorting potential Army recruits to enlist. Girl singer Wee Bonnie Baker revived it in mid-1939, in a cutsie-poo rendition with Orrin Tucker’s sweet band that became an enormous success.

The Andrews Sisters then struck gold with it and Glenn followed soon after. The Miller version didn’t make waves, but the Sisters would soon be collaborating with Glenn in unexpected ways!

Perhaps realizing that it’s always best to make your own hits, rather than ride on another’s coattails, the next Miller sessions would feature all-new, fresh songs.

Indian Summer

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Al Mastren, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz, Jimmy Abato, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Dick Fisher (g); Rolly Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – November 5, 1939, 3:00-7:45 PM

043354-1      Indian Summer (RE vcl)      Bluebird 10495

043355-1      It Was Written in the Stars (RE vcl)     Bluebird 10498

043356-1      Johnson Rag (BF arr)            Bluebird 10498

043356-2      Johnson Rag (BF arr)            first issued on LP

Once the Glenn Miller band’s three-week engagement at the Paramount Theater in New York ended on October 10, the band went on another East Coast tour of one-nighters and short engagements. Nearly a month went by without a recording session.

Three dates in November helped Glenn to catch up on some new songs. The first one to be waxed was actually very old, Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER, originally written as an instrumental composition in 1919. Fitted out with spanking-new lyrics by Al Dubin, the “new” song became a major hit for Glenn and Tommy Dorsey.  Jazzman Sidney Bechet also made a memorable disc of it in 1940.

gmindiansummerWillie Schwartz sweetly leads the reeds through the first chorus, with interjections by Tex Beneke’s sax.   Ray Eberle takes a mellow vocal despite the rangy melody; kudos to lyricist Dubin for devising an evocative set of words that adds, rather than detracts, from the vintage song. Glenn continued to play with the arrangement after the record date, a fairly rare occurrence for his ballads; there is an aircheck that adds a Johnny Best trumpet solo after the vocal.

gmdubarrypgmOpening on December 6th, Du Barry Was a Lady would be Cole Porter’s next big, splashy Broadway hit musical, starring Ethel Merman, Bert Lahr and Betty Grable. The show was full of rowdy songs, including FRIENDSHIP, BUT IN THE MORNING, NO!, KATIE WENT TO HAITI and WELL, DID YOU EVAH?, plus ballads DO I LOVE YOU? and WHEN LOVE BECKONED. Artie Shaw recorded the two ballads for Bluebird. Glenn got a decidedly lesser effort, IT WAS WRITTEN IN THE STARS.

gmdubarryIt’s a pretty nothing song, as if Cole had exhausted all his melodic invention on the show’s other numbers. Unusually, Ray comes right in with the vocal after a short introduction. Also different was Clyde Hurley’s hot solo, a rarity on a Miller ballad. Despite these innovations, the record is not a classic.

Bill Finegan looks in with his arrangement of JOHNSON RAG, a 1919 composition that proved such a hit in this Miller version that lyrics were added by Jack Lawrence (wordsmith for ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL the same year). 10 years later, Jimmy Dorsey recorded a catchy Dixie-swing rendition that also racked up sales.

gmjohnsonragThe RAG is a pretty simple melody, almost simplistic, but Finegan’s groovy-tempoed chart is hard to resist. All the hot men – Beneke, Hurley, Klink and Miller get good solo moments. The IN THE MOOD fadeout routine is reused here, which likely set the fans into ecstasies.

Only three songs were cut, as would be the case on the next session, some two weeks later.