The Spirit Is Willing

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (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); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Dorothy Claire, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 19, 1941, 10:00 AM-2:00 PM

060911-1      When That Man Is Dead and Gone (TB & M vcl, JG arr) Bluebird 11069-B

060912-1      The Spirit Is Willing (JG arr)            Bluebird 11135-A

060913-1      A Little Old Church in England (RE, M & Band vcl) Bluebird 11069-A

060914-1      Perfidia (DC & M vcl)           Bluebird 11095-A

 

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 20, 1941, 10:00 AM-2:00 PM

060915-1      It’s Always You (RE vcl, BF arr)       Bluebird 11079-A

060916-1      Spring Will Be So Sad (RE & M vcl, JG arr)             Bluebird 11095-B

060916-2      Spring Will Be So Sad (RE & M vcl, JG arr) first issued on LP

060917-1      The Air-Minded Executive (TB, DC vcl)      Bluebird 11135-B

060918-1      Below the Equator (RE & M vcl)     Bluebird 11235-B

The Glenn Miller Band concluded a sensational three-week engagement at New York’s Paramount Theater on February 18th, 1941. They spent the next two days in the RCA studio setting down eight new tracks before leaving town again.

First up were two of Irving Berlin’s less-familiar patriotic songs, the first truly World War II-influenced numbers in the band’s library. WHEN THAT MAN IS DEAD AND GONE is a not-so-subtle jab at Adolf Hitler, referred to in the lyric as “Satan with a small mustache.” It’s rather too grim a subject to swing lightly, as here. Tex Beneke and the Modernaires blend their voices for the first time and brief hot solos by Ernie Caceres and Billy May are effective, but this is not a fun disc for repeated playing!

gm little old church

A LITTLE OLD CHURCH IN ENGLAND references the terrible destruction of the London Blitz in an oblique manner. The entire band acts as a vocal choir here, adding their voices effectively to Ray and the Modernaires. Though she gets label credit, new gal singer Dorothy Claire is not audibly present. It’s another depressing song that couldn’t have been too welcome in those dark days of the war. Since both of these Berlin tunes were published through ASCAP (Berlin was one of the founders of the organization, back in 1914), they got no radio exposure, which perhaps is just as well.

gm spirit is

THE SPIRIT IS WILLING is a more cheerful opus and totally instrumental, though “voices” are to be heard. A witty Jerry Gray original, it offers a spirited (!) conversation between Billy May and likely Mickey McMickle, alternating muted and open trumpets. They each preach the gospel, eventually resolving their differences in a plaintive coda. Another underrated disc, the number catches Gray in an Ellington-Lunceford groove and was often featured on radio by Glenn.

1940 edition of PERFIDIA with ASCAP lyric.

1940 edition of PERFIDIA with ASCAP lyric.

1941 edition of PERFIDIA with BMI lyric.

1941 edition of PERFIDIA with BMI lyric.

Next up is another biggie – PERFIDIA, one of Miller’s best-remembered hits. It had a similar history to FRENESI, another of Mexican composer Alberto Dominguez’s songs. Xavier Cugat recorded it in 1940 and co-wrote an English lyric with Will Heagney. Retitled TONIGHT (PERFIDIA), it was recorded by Gene Krupa, Ozzie Nelson and Jimmy Dorsey. This version was ASCAP-licensed, so in 1941, Milton Leeds penned a new BMI lyric, which is the one famously recorded by Benny Goodman and Glenn. Benny swung it nicely with Helen Forrest singing, but Glenn slowed it down, as he had done with FRENESI.

gmperf

Set in a lush arrangement (likely by Jerry Gray), the insinuating melody is crooned romantically by Dorothy Claire and the Modernaires, with the full band once again providing vocal support. The final instrumental chorus alternates blaring brass with hypnotic reeds, building to a completely satisfying finish – another Glenn Miller mega-hit for the grateful fans!

gm road zanzibar

Back in the studio the very next day, the band set down four more typical performances, leading off with IT’S ALWAYS YOU, a lovely Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen ballad from the second Bob Hope-Bing Crosby film, Road to Zanzibar. Glenn’s own Crosby, Ray Eberle, sings the intensely romantic lyrics in a charmingly ardent manner and Bill Finegan’s sinuous arrangement is another plus. The Miller band was earlier criticized for playing ballads too fast, but by 1941 this was no longer the case. The competing Tommy Dorsey-Frank Sinatra recording is noticeably speedier than Glenn’s. Unfortunately, being an ASCAP tune, neither of these worthy versions got any airplay.

gm alwaysyou

Glenn had recorded two songs written by his guitarist, Jack Lathrop, the preceding fall. Now he turned to a new Miller bandsman, Modernaire Hal Dickinson, for a tune, SPRING WILL BE SO SAD. Dickinson had recently composed two good numbers that Glenn played on the air but didn’t record, A LOVE SONG HASN’T BEEN SUNG and THESE THINGS YOU LEFT ME.

Ray and the Mods warble SPRING WILL BE SO SAD smoothly, backed by an able Jerry Gray chart. It’s another downer of a lyric, alluding to “this troubled world” and wartime unhappiness. The only bright spot is the exquisite coda, as the sun breaks through, via a lovely clarinet passage.

gm airminded

Johnny Mercer takes us away from current events with THE AIR-MINDED EXECUTIVE, a delightful collaboration with Bernie Hanighen. Hanighen is forgotten today, but he and Mercer had teamed up for a number of 30s hits, including THE DIXIELAND BAND, BOB WHITE and FARE-THEE-WELL TO HARLEM. By this time, Hanighen had moved away from composing to become a producer at Columbia Records, working most effectively with John Hammond on Billie Holiday’s sessions.

Dorothy Claire

Dorothy Claire

THE AIR-MINDED EXECUTIVE tells the improbable tale of a forward-looking businessman who “dearly loves to fly” and romances his secretary on his “stratos-ferry.” The Miller version gives us our main chance to hear perky Dorothy Claire on record with the band, as she and Tex neatly revive the cross-talk routine that Marion Hutton had done so often with Mr. Beneke. The wordy song doesn’t give the band much to do, but it should be noted that the “airplane revving up” effect that opens the disc would be reused by Jerry Gray on KEEP ‘EM FLYING later in the year.

Concluding the February session, we go BELOW THE EQUATOR with Ray and the Mods. Its bolero rhythm suggests another song of South American origin, but Americans Charlie Tobias and Cliff Friend wrote it. Atmospheric and moody, this fine disc would be the last Glenn Miller disc for quite a long time. The band wouldn’t find themselves before a Victor microphone again for two and-a-half months. What were they doing during that period? Why, they were making a movie, in Hollywood!

gm spirit

 

 

 

 

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