Tuxedo Junction

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Dale “Mickey” McMickle, John Best (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Howard Gibeling, 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); Jerry Gray, Bill Finegan, Chummy MacGregor (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 5, 1940, 1:00-4:45 PM

046784-1      Sweet Potato Piper (MH vcl, JG arr)    Bluebird 10605

046785-1      Too Romantic (RE vcl)         Bluebird 10605

046786-1      Tuxedo Junction (JG arr)     Bluebird 10612 (gold label)

046786-2      Tuxedo Junction (JG arr)     Bluebird 10612 (silver label)

046787-1      Danny Boy [Londonderry Air] (GM, ChM arr)       Bluebird 10612

Dorothy, Bing & Bob harmonize on sweet potatoes.

The February 5th, 1940 Glenn Miller session was another auspicious one, including a top Miller hit and one of the oldest, sweetest charts in the band’s library. First, however, were two new movie tunes from the first Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour starrer, THE ROAD TO SINGAPORE. Dependable songwriters Johnny Burke and Jimmy Monaco crafted both. They had been turning out songs for Bing’s Paramount films for awhile and knew well how to bring out the best in his voice and manner.

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SWEET POTATO PIPER, a trio in the movie for the three stars, works neatly as another Marion Hutton-Tex Beneke swing duet routine – “you can’t jam on a yam!” The modulation into the vocal is especially pleasant. Tex runs up and down the scale during his solo and ends with an upward gliss.

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The film’s ballad, TOO ROMANTIC, begins with trombones leading into the reed sound. Ray Eberle warbles the vocal in a nicely plaintive manner and the coda is satisfyingly different.

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Four days before the Miller recordings, Tommy Dorsey recorded these same two tunes for RCA with his brand-new vocalists, The Pied Pipers and Frank Sinatra, respectively. This die-hard Miller fan must admit that the Dorsey renditions are superior, with Johnny Mince joining the Pipers on an actual sweet potato instrument and Sinatra delivering the ballad slowly and with much feeling.

By now, Glenn was starting to fall into repetitive routines with his ballads and novelty tunes, recycling familiar passages, modulations and codas.  Perhaps the band’s onerous schedule provided little time for Glenn and his arrangers to explore new creative avenues, especially on the recorded pop tunes.  As 1940 continued, Glenn gave Bill Finegan and Jerry Gray some more leeway and their arrangements began to show greater imaginative scope.

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Next on the session was a Miller blockbuster, TUXEDO JUNCTION.  It’s a rare case of Glenn adapting another band’s hit into an even bigger one.  Written by bandleader Erksine Hawkins and sidemen Julian Dash & Bill Johnson, it was recorded by Hawkins in July 1939 (on Glenn’s own Bluebird label!), becoming popular enough for the band to adopt it as their theme song.  Sensing a potential hit song, the publisher had words added by Buddy Feyne, describing the Tuxedo Junction trolley crossing in Hawkins’ home town of Birmingham, Alabama.

In quick succession from January through March 1940, the tune was recorded by Al Donahue, Jan Savitt, then Glenn, followed by Harry James, Casa Loma and Gene Krupa.  It shows how much clout Glenn had developed that he was allowed to record the number for the same label as Hawkins had, something that rarely occurred in those days.

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Glenn had first picked up on JUNCTION when his band played opposite the Hawkins band at the Savoy Ballroom on Christmas Eve, 1939.  Miller and Jerry Gray slowed the tempo down to a hypnotic lope, dropped most of the solos (except for Clyde Hurley’s emulation of Erskine’s original trumpet solo) and made it into more of an ensemble piece with repetitive riffs and blaring trumpets.  Apparently this was just what the fans and dancers wanted, as the Miller record shot to Number One on the sales and popularity charts and was programmed often on their radio shows.  The alternate take was apparently one of the few MIller alternates that was issued on 78 around the same time as the master take.  There is little difference between the two versions.

On the flip side, DANNY BOY (aka LONDONDERRY AIR) was one of the earliest entries in the Miller band library. Jointly arranged by Glenn and Chummy MacGregor (who plays the celeste introduction, adding an ethereal touch), it is a brief, one-chorus rendition of the vintage ballad. Composed in 1910 by English musician Frederick Weatherly, it quickly became a favorite for Irish audiences, who always loved a sentimental melody.  In Miller’s hands, muted brass and the reeds alternate passages, with Chummy tinkling in the background, leading to Glenn’s muted trombone at the end.

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As a change of pace during stage shows, this lovely, quiet number would hold audience attention, especially when colored lighting effects were applied to highlight the various sections of the band.

We’ve heard from Ray Eberle only fleetingly during the last few sessions. He returns with a vengeance on the next two dates, singing on all but one of the upcoming records!

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Star Dust Melody

RCA Victor Studios, New York – January 29, 1940, 1:00-4:15 PM

046735-1      Star Dust (BF, GM arr)          Bluebird 10665

046736-1      My Melancholy Baby (TB vcl, BF arr)         Bluebird 10665

046737-1      Let’s All Sing Together (MH vcl, JG arr)      Bluebird 10598

046737-2      Let’s All Sing Together (MH vcl, JG arr)       first issued on LP

046738-1      Rug Cutter’s Swing (BF arr)                        Bluebird 10754

046739-1      The Woodpecker Song (MH vcl)               Bluebird 10598

According to the discographies, Glenn Miller’s recording sessions on January 26th and January 29th, 1940 each lasted 3-1/4 hours. Normally, four tunes would be recorded in a 3-hour session. It’s surprising that only two records were cut on January 26th, but January 29th more than made up for the deficit. Three standards and two current pops were put down. The first number waxed was already a classic. “Hoagy Carmichael’s immortal STAR DUST,” as the radio announcers put it, was then part of every band and singer’s repertoire.

gmstardustSince it’s introduction in 1927, the melody had slowly grown in prominence, helped immeasurably by the addition of Mitchell Parish’s lyric in 1929. Recordings by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong soon followed. By the late 1930s, Benny Goodman had swung it in a Fletcher Henderson arrangement and Jack Jenney recorded it as a meltingly romantic jazz trombone feature.   With an assist from Glenn, Miller arranger Bill Finegan crafted a marvelous big band ballad chart, showcasing the fabulous reed section. Tex Beneke takes a relaxed solo and trumpeter Clyde Hurley plays his finest solo on a Miller record, channeling Bunny Berigan, with a pure, clean tone.

gm star dusttThis writer considers Glenn’s recording to be one of two definitive Swing Era renditions of STAR DUST, second only to the majestic Artie Shaw-with-strings rendition, recorded nine months later.

gmMy_Melancholy_Baby_coverFor the flip side, another vintage standard, circa 1912, was unearthed – MY MELANCHOLY BABY. This was the only hit for composer Ernie Burnett and lyricist George Norton, but what a hit it was! It’s hard to think of any musician or singer who didn’t perform this song. It is even credited with restoring the composer’s memory! Injured during World War I, Burnett was hospitalized with amnesia until he heard a visiting pianist play the song and abruptly snapped out of it.  Whether true or not, it’s a good story.

gm melancholyTaken at a nice, comfortable tempo, Bill Finegan’s arrangement takes some pleasant liberties with the melody, before ushering in Tex Beneke’s best recorded vocal so far. Despite these qualities and Glenn’s general fondness for Tex, the chart did not become a regularly performed feature. There is just one known aircheck, with Glenn introducing Beneke’s vocal as being “in old-time rough style,” whatever that was!

Tex Beneke

Tex Beneke

Marion Hutton comes to bat next, doing her best with a truly dopey lyric. LET’S ALL SING TOGETHER is a catchy tune and Jerry Gray crafts a kicky chart, but those words! Even the magnificent Helen Forrest couldn’t make them work on her recording with Benny Goodman.  Beneke and Hurley get their licks in, but a classic it ain’t. I couldn’t turn up any information on the composers, Joe Audino, Nick DiRocco and Billy Keeshan, but that’s just as well.

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Now comes a surprise – Horace Henderson’s RUG CUTTER’S SWING, recorded by brother Fletcher Henderson’s band and a Henderson contingent led by Red Allen in 1934 and then completely forgotten. Unlike so many other Henderson originals that became Swing Era anthems, only Glenn picked up on RUG CUTTER. The Miller arrangement is credited to Bill Finegan, but since Glenn played in on radio as early as 1938, the chart is likely his, with a light polish perhaps added by Finegan.

In any case, the Miller version probably derives from a stock arrangement, played here much more “lightly and politely” than the choppy Henderson Decca 78, which is basically a string of solos held together by background riffs.

GMWOODPECKERSMarion takes the microphone again for THE WOODPECKER SONG, whose lyrics are a cut above LET’S ALL SING TOGETHER, but not by much. However, the sheer ebullience of the song and performance lift the record immeasurably.  Discographies do not credit the musician who worked the ticking metronome!

GMWOODPECKERThe song was actually an Italian pop import by Eldo DiLazzaro, with English lyrics provided by Harold Adamson. The duo had another hit around the same time, FERRY BOAT SERENADE.

We haven’t heard from Ray Eberle lately, but he’ll be back in a week for the next Bluebird date.

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Say “Si Si”

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle, John Best (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Tommy Mack, 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); Jerry Gray, Bill Finegan (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – January 26, 1940, 2:00-5:15 PM

046727-1      Say “Si Si” [Para Vigo Me Voy] (MH vcl)     Bluebird 10622

046728-1      The Rumba Jumps (MH, TB vcl)   Bluebird 10673

046728-2      The Rumba Jumps (MH, TB vcl)   first issued on LP

Happily tootling along in New York, the Miller band worked through January on their Chesterfield program and Café Rouge appearances. Two more record dates were slotted in before the end of the month. Two tunes with a Latin tinge comprised the January 26th session. SAY “SI SI” was an authentic Cuban song by famed composer Ernesto Lecuona, published in 1935 under the title PARA VIGO ME VOY and recorded by Xavier Cugat.

gmsaysisiWith the developing craze for Latin American music, quite a few older songs by Lecuona, Alberto Dominguez and others got an American makeover with new English lyrics. Journeyman writer Al Stillman did the job here and also successfully lyricized THE BREEZE AND I and MAMA YO QUIERO around the same time. Marion Hutton sings jauntily, pushing the Miller disc into hit status. The Andrews’ Sisters version on Decca also sold well. Coincidentally, the Sisters featured the number on their Chesterfield radio appearances with Glenn, who therefore had to carry two arrangements of the song in his book!

gmrumbaUnlikely “Latin” composers Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer wrote THE RUMBA JUMPS, for their flop Broadway musical, Walk With Music; Glenn had earlier recorded OOH! WHAT YOU SAID from this score.      Future Miller stars, The Modernaires, sang both songs in the show. It tells a complicated story about a Harlem band stranded in the Dominican Republic and likely provided the impetus for a colorful production number on Broadway. On record, it serves as the first Hutton-Beneke vocal-whistling duet, with the hip “Hiya Tex, what’cha say?” patter that would become a familiar part of the band’s performances.

Just three days later, the band would be back at RCA for a lengthy session featuring Marion & Tex again.

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