Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Zeke Zarchy, John Best (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds) Chummy MacGregor (p); Jack Lathrop (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton, Beneke, Lathrop (vcl); Jerry Gray, Bill Finegan, Miller (arr).
RCA Victor Studios, New York – April 28, 1940, 1:00-5:45 PM
048963-1 Pennsylvania 6-5000 (JG arr) Bluebird 10754
048964-1 Bugle Call Rag (GM arr) Bluebird 10740
048965-1 The Nearness of You (RE vcl, BF arr) Bluebird 10745
048966 W.P.A. (TB & Band vcl, BF arr) rejected & unissued
048967-1 Mister Meadowlark (JL vcl, JG arr) Bluebird 10745
048967-2 Mister Meadowlark (JL vcl, JG arr) first issued on LP
048968-1 My Blue Heaven (BF arr) Bluebird 10994
Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, DC – that was the Glenn Miller band’s road itinerary since it concluded its engagement at the Café Rouge on April 4th. Since they were broadcasting their thrice-weekly Chesterfield shows from DC, they couldn’t venture too far from the nation’s capitol during April.
Returning briefly to New York and RCA Victor at the very end of the month, Glenn scored with one of his best-ever record dates. Every record was a winner, though the one unissued number will always remain a cipher.
Who (even today) doesn’t know that PENNSYLVANIA 6-5000 is the phone number of New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel? This most famous of phone numbers commemorates Glenn’s engagements at the hotel’s Café Rouge and will still connect you, though it is now written as 736-5000.
Earlier in 1940, Jerry Gray had written an arrangement of THE DIPSY DOODLE for one of Glenn’s radio medleys. Glenn liked catchy riff tunes and thought the countermelody that Jerry had inserted might make a good number on its own. That was the genesis of PE6-5000, which became one of the band’s catchiest riff tunes. The title, chanted by the band and signaled by the sound of a ringing telephone helped make the record memorable. Having been with the band for just a few months, Jerry Gray was already proving his worth.
On the jazz side, trumpeter Johnny Best contributes a lengthy, well-constructed solo, Beneke is his usual dependable self on tenor and Moe Purtill provides rhythmic support. As if the title riff isn’t enough to carry the piece, the increasing volume of the repeated rising and falling riffs at the end were guaranteed to send fans into swing nirvana.
BUGLE CALL RAG was an oldie in the band book, dating back at least to 1938, in the frenzied up-tempo mode that Glenn was starting to pull away from, as evidenced by the dancier pulse of PENNSYLVANIA 6-5000. Miller’s chart is very different from the dainty, refined one he penned in 1935 for Ray Noble’s band.
Still, the fans did dig the killer-dillers and this one’s a doozy, giving Moe Purtill a trademark workout. Aside from brief explosions from Glenn, Tex and Ernie Caceres, it’s all Moe and band riffs. Often, the Miller band’s jazz numbers came off as constrained in the studio, with live versions being looser and more effective. In this case, the record is a fine representation of the band’s hot style, with an imaginative Purtill solo.
Introduced by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1922, BUGLE CALL RAG was composed by band members Jack Pettis and Elmer Schoebel, with lyrics by Billy Meyers. The NORK was one of the most influential early white New Orleans jazz bands. Members also contributed FAREWELL BLUES, ECCENTRIC, PANAMA and TIN ROOF BLUES to the Dixieland repertoire, though many swing bands like Tommy Dorsey, Bob Crosby and Benny Goodman performed them as well.
Big change of pace – THE NEARNESS OF YOU, a classic song given a classic treatment. Composed by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Ned Washington, it’s a great vehicle for an inspired Bill Finegan ballad arrangement. The Miller Sound leads off, with Tex leading into one of Ray Eberle’s best-ever vocals. He is totally assured, even reaching smoothly for the high notes; the lush accompaniment makes for a memorable interpretation.
We shall never know how the next record sounded, since the masters were rejected and destroyed. The song, W.P.A., written by Jesse Stone, referenced the Roosevelt New Deal program that provided jobs for the jobless. The term was an acronym for the Works Progress Administration, which employed three million men and women at its peak, including many minority workers, handling public works, road construction and infrastructure projects. Needless to say, the program came under enormous criticism by the Republicans, as did nearly all of FDR’s New Deal legislation.
The song, too, came under heavy criticism from left-wing groups (and record producer John Hammond) for its lyrics lightly kidding the cushy jobs in the program, which portrayed minority workers as working as little as possible. That image was far from the truth. Ironically, composer Jesse Stone was himself black, with a resume that included arranging and writing for many Harlem bands, including his own.
In any case, the American Federation of Musicians condemned the song and no recordings were issued on RCA or Columbia. Apparently, Decca didn’t get the memo, as they released 78s by Jan Savitt and Louis Armstrong with the Mills Brothers with little protest.
Moving on to MISTER MEADOWLARK, a delightful Walter Donaldson melody with hip lyrics by old friend Johnny Mercer. Johnny always enjoyed writing about birds – BOB WHITE and SKYLARK, for example. Johnny made a charming disc of MISTER with Bing Crosby and while never a huge hit, it was also covered by Glenn, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.
The Miller version also marks the vocal debut of Jack Lathrop, the band’s new guitarist. In the 30s, Lathrop was a member of the Tune Twisters vocal group, who sang with Glenn and Ray Noble under the nom-de-disque of the Freshmen. Miller also employed the Twisters on his 1937 Decca date, so when the time came to replace Richard Fisher, whom he had never hit it off with, Glenn brought in Lathrop on April 26th. Figuring he had acquired a singer as well as a guitarist, Miller put him right to work. Jack’s voice had an impish quality, perfect for light tunes like this one and he acquits himself well. Jerry Gray wrote the cheery arrangement.
Last up was another oldie in the band book, Bill Finegan’s chart of MY BLUE HEAVEN, which had been played on the air as early as March 1939. Walter Donaldson (again) and George Whiting wrote it in 1927 and it provided a huge hit for crooner Gene Austin. In 1935, Jimmie Lunceford recorded the grooviest version ever, with a super-hep vocal by the Lunceford Trio.
Glenn swings for the rafters here and he plays a very assured full-chorus solo, followed by a hectic one from Tex. Moe brings it home, concluding one of the band’s best hot swing records.
Finishing up this lengthy date at 5:45 PM, the band took a dinner break, then headed right up to Harlem for an 8 PM to 2 AM performance at the Savoy Ballroom (with a break from 10 PM to midnight), which brought in 4,000 screaming fans. Heading right back onto the road the next day, we wouldn’t catch the band in a recording studio again until mid-June and at a new venue!