“While I’m Rollin’ My Last Cigarette…”

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); Bill Conway (g); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, Chicago, IL – June 25, 1941, 1:00-4:45 PM

064471-1      Under Blue Canadian Skies (RE vcl, BF arr) Bluebird 11219-A

064472-1      The Cowboy Serenade (RE vcl, BF arr)      Bluebird 11235-A

064473-1      You and I (RE vcl)     Bluebird 11215-A

064474-1      Adios (JG arr)            Bluebird 11219-B

From Southern California to Salt Lake City to Iowa to Chicago – the Glenn Miller band slowly wended its way through the Midwest in June 1941 for the first time, breaking records (but not making them) everywhere they played. After a week at the Chicago Theater, they played a few dates in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana and then back to Chicago for their next RCA Victor session.

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As mentioned, Trigger Alpert left the band upon receiving his draft notice and was replaced by Doc Goldberg, who would stay with the band for the rest of its existence. Goldberg can be heard on ADIOS, the biggest hit from this date. Ray Eberle is in particularly good form and sings his three numbers quite winningly, without the assistance of the Modernaires.

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UNDER BLUE CANADIAN SKIES is another example of an attractive melody (in a plush Bill Finegan arrangement) weighed down by a clichéd lyric. Written by the same trio who created BLUEBERRY HILL, Vincent Rose, Larry Stock and Al Lewis, it made little impression on record buyers.

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Ray Eberle hops into the saddle again for his last Miller excursion out West, with THE COWBOY SERENADE. It’s one of Glenn’s best forays into this genre. The song is nicely evocative, with Glenn accompanying Ray on muted trombone during the bridge. It’s also a rare early example of a “board fade,” with the studio engineer fading out the song as it ends. This technique would become de rigeur in the rock era, but was still a novelty in 1941. Composer Rich Hall doesn’t seem to have written much else, but the song was enough of a hit to be grabbed for the title tune of a 1942 Gene Autry oater.

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Glenn’s radio sponsor, Chesterfield, wasn’t too happy with the song’s opening line, “While I’m rollin’ my last cigarette.” Perish the thought that some smokers might like to roll their own. When played on the air, the line was changed to, “While I’m smokin’ my last cigarette.” A Chesterfield, of course!

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Meredith Willson, who was then the conductor/sidekick on the Maxwell House Coffee Time program, featuring George Burns and Gracie Allen, composed YOU AND I. Some 15 years later, Willson would create one of the biggest Broadway hit musicals of all time, The Music Man. YOU AND I is a sweetly unpretentious song that became a Number #1 hit for Glenn and the Bing Crosby and Dorsey/Sinatra versions didn’t do too badly, either. There’s an arrestingly arranged brass passage that leads into the vocal and Glenn once again is heard on muted trombone in the final chorus.

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The session’s sole instrumental, ADIOS dates back to 1931, written by Spanish-American bandleader Enric Madriguera. This exquisite melody had a brief spurt of popularity during the early 30s Latin music craze, which was begun by THE PEANUT VENDOR. Rummaging through the many vintage non-ASCAP Latin songs ripe for revival in 1941, Glenn selected ADIOS and hit pay dirt.

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It’s too bad that ADIOS was recorded in Chicago. For some reason, the major labels’ Chicago studios always produced the worst, most dull-sounding recordings in the 1930s and 1940s. The Hollywood/Los Angeles studios offered the most vibrant sound, with New York usually somewhere in-between. The dynamic range of this very vibrant Jerry Gray arrangement is tightly constricted. Once again, Glenn puts the mute into his trombone, as does Mickey McMickle, who solos in the first and last choruses.

1951 78 reissue of ADIOS, with echo added for "Enhanced Sound."

1951 78 reissue of ADIOS, with echo added for “Enhanced Sound.”

During this period, most recording producers favored a dry, heavily damped-down resonance with little reverberation, but the Chicago engineers often went too far. Many big band reissues in the LP era were awash in added echo, to give the old discs a more modern quality. ADIOS came to sound as if it had been recorded in a cavern!

Posted here is an interesting version of the song. Glenn’s AAF/AEF Band was a major sensation when they played in Britain in 1944. Many British bands picked up stylistic qualities from Miller, none more so than Geraldo, who had progressed from a 1930s tango ensemble to a postwar strings-with-swing powerhouse. Geraldo’s late-40s arrangement of ADIOS sounds as if it could be a lost recording by Glenn, echoing such AEF multi-tempo extravaganzas as ORANGES AND LEMONS. The vocal is by the clumsily-named “Geraldotones” group.

Having done their duty by RCA, Glenn and the entourage left Chicago for more summer touring through the Heartland of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana. Glenn also decided to give the band their first-ever (and well-deserved) vacation, from July 27th through August 15th. Chesterfield wouldn’t agree to the break, so the band had to reconvene in New York for their three-times-a-week broadcasts, but did no other work except for an August 11th record date, which we’ll examine next time.

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Take the “A” Train

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, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, H.G. Chapman (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood – May 20, 1941, 12:00-3:00 PM

061253-1      Don’t Cry, Cherie (RE vcl, BF arr)    Bluebird 11183-A

061254-1      Cradle Song (RE, M & Band vcl, HGC arr)   Bluebird 11203-B

061255-1      Sweeter Than the Sweetest (PK & M vcl, BM arr)    Bluebird 11183-B

 

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood – May 28, 1941, 11:30-3:30 PM

061265-1      I Guess I’ll Have to Dream the Rest (RE & M vcl) Bluebird 11187-A

061266-1      Take the “A” Train (BM arr)            Bluebird 11187-B

061267-1      Peekaboo To You (PK & M vcl, JG arr)        Bluebird 11203-A

061268-1      The Angels Came Thru (RE vcl)      Bluebird 11215-B

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After several sessions of quality songs, we start the May 20th date with a real woofer. Written by veterans Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, DON’T CRY, CHERIE begins well with a dramatic Bill Finegan-arranged intro, and then Ray Eberle sings the verse, an uncommon occurrence in a Miller record. The chorus, however, is pretty insipid, with verbal clichés of French folk Pierre and Cherie crying over their garden, which is not blooming anymore (wonder why?). We get the ominous sound of marching drums and even a musical quote from LA MARSEILLAISE. Too bad the beautiful sonic ambience of RCA’s Hollywood recording studio is wasted here.

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Brahms’ CRADLE SONG is up next, in a performance that manages to keep the inherent sappiness at bay. Ray sings in a hushed and restrained manner, backed by the band chorus and a bit of the Modernaires, who are not credited on the label. Being in the public domain, the melody was ripe for radio play, though it might have been more memorable handled instrumentally.

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Not a moment too soon, we turn back to swing with SWEETER THAN THE SWEETEST, one of the band’s best up-tempo novelties. It was an unlikely pop effort by jazz pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith and lyricist Neil Lawrence (who had written song lyrics for Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong). Arranger Billy May is thoroughly inspired here, with great passages for the brass and reeds, culminating in a groovy Al Klink solo. The byplay between the band and the Mods toward the end is captivating. Paula Kelly shines here, as do Ernie Caceres on baritone sax and bassist Trigger Alpert. A great example of Billy May’s influence on creating a looser swing approach for Glenn’s band.

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A week later, still in Hollywood, the boys return to the bread-and-butter ballads with I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO DREAM THE REST. A BMI winner, also recorded by Harry James/Dick Haymes and Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra, it was another song contribution by disc jockey Martin Block with Mickey Stoner and Harold Green. The trio had earlier written FAITHFUL TO YOU and MAKE BELIEVE BALLROOM TIME, but this new endeavor was even more successful.

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Ray and the Mods make beautiful music, singing throughout, with just a brief break for a Tex solo. It’s an attractive melody, with an especially lovely bridge.

1941 was a transitional year, as singers began to come to the fore. Previously, most big band ballads featured the band in the first and last choruses, with the vocal sandwiched in the middle. Now, as heard here on DREAM, the vocal choruses began and ended the records, with a band interlude midway. Tempos were slowing, too, replacing the jitterbug rhythms with romantic clinches on the dance floor. Maybe it was a reaction to the grim war news. Who knows?

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Billy May scores again with an unlikely ballad treatment of Duke Ellington’s new BMI radio theme song, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN. A vivid contrast to the rural CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO, it’s a jumper written by Billy Strayhorn that replaced SEPIA PANORAMA when the ASCAP fight started. An immediate sensation, “A” TRAIN was kept as the Duke’s signature tune forever after, to the point that most fans thought he had written it.

Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington

Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington

Billy’s witty chart features lazy clarinets blowing the train whistle and his own muted trumpet signaling the way to Harlem. Beneke maintains the relaxed mood on tenor and the reeds take it out. Very hip!

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Next is an unjustly forgotten Miller disc, PEEKABOO TO YOU. This one never had a reissue on LP or CD until the issuance of The Complete Glenn Miller sets, which is a shame. Paula and the Mods, with Trigger Alpert and the rhythm section stomping along, cheerily sing the witty Johnny Mercer lyric. Arranger Jerry Gray shifts the sections after the vocal with trombones, trumpet “boo-wahs,” Caceres’ alto backed by walking bass and Johnny Best’s trumpet booted along by drums.

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Lyricist Mercer teamed here with lesser-known writers Carl Sigman and Sol Meyer, both of whom had lengthy song hit credits. This is likely the only popular song that mentions a “fowling piece,” which is fancy talk for a shotgun!

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We haven’t had a Miller song of Latin derivation for a while, so the final song of the May 28th date is a lovely Ernesto Lecuona composition, THE ANGELS CAME THRU. No arranger is credited in the discographies, but it bears the Bill Finegan touch, with attractive organ-like chords from the band. Old friend Al Dubin wrote a serviceable English lyric, which sits very nicely on the melody. Mr. Eberle is just a wee bit sluggish on the vocal, but the record still registers as a neglected good one.

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Ending their Hollywood Palladium engagement on May 22nd, Glenn and the band began touring up and down the West Coast for the first time, greeting ecstatic fans wherever they played. The group’s personnel had been stable for more than half a year, but now several changes were occurring. Guitarist Jack Lathrop left at the end of the Palladium gig and Modernaire Bill Conway took over until a permanent replacement could be hired. Much-loved Trigger Alpert was the first Miller bandsman to be drafted and bassist Myer Rubin would soon be in his chair.

Tickets & autographs from the Miller band's appearance at the Pacific Square Ballroom in San Diego

Tickets & autographs from the Miller band’s appearance at the Pacific Square Ballroom in San Diego

More alterations were in the works once Miller left California on June 5th for Salt Lake City and points east. We’ll catch up with them in Chicago.

 

 

 

Chattanooga Choo Choo

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, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, Fred Norman (arr).

 

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood, CA – May 7, 1941, 1:00-5:00 PM

061243-1      Boulder Buff (FN arr)           Bluebird 11163-A

061244-1      The Booglie Wooglie Piggy (TB, PK & M vcl; JG arr) Bluebird 11163-B

061245-1      Chattanooga Choo Choo (TB, PK & M vcl; JG arr) Bluebird 11230-B

061246-1      I Know Why (PK & M vcl; BF & JG arr)      Bluebird 11230-A

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After six weeks taking it easy in Hollywood while making their movie, the Glenn Miller band was released by 20th Century-Fox on May 3rd. Aside from their thrice-weekly Chesterfield radio show, the group had been nearly invisible to the public during that period.

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Wasting no time, they immediately began a three-week engagement at the new Hollywood Palladium, which had replaced the fire-destroyed Palomar Ballroom as Los Angeles’ premier big band venue. Having not made any commercial recordings since February, Glenn set about to rectify that by scheduling three RCA sessions in May.

The first one took place on May 7th, cutting two tunes from their new film and two other radio-friendly BMI numbers, the first an instrumental and the second a pop novelty. We immediately note the livelier acoustics of Victor’s Hollywood studio, which has more resonance and brightness than the sound achieved on the band’s New York sessions.

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A new name appears on BOULDER BUFF – Fred Norman. A top Harlem musician from the early 1930s on, he wrote and arranged for Claude Hopkins, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and many others. The band is loose and relaxed, with welcome solos by seldom-featured Al Klink (two choruses, likely his longest solo on a Miller record) and always–dependable Billy May. The composition, however is a potboiler and not particularly memorable. Glenn thought otherwise and featured it on radio quite often staring in January 1941, months before committing it to wax.

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On the other hand, Glenn (and arranger Jerry Gray) do wonders with a truly dopey novelty tune, THE BOOGLIE WOOGLIE PIGGY. The band and the singers have a fine time, with the rhythm section really clicking. The Mods back Tex’s tenor solo with vocal “doo-wahs,” which was something of an innovation in 1941. Billy May concludes Tex’s chorus with a rip-roaring solo. Composer Roy Jacobs collaborated with a number of black musicians to write such numbers as I’M GONNA MOVE TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN, I’M IN A LOWDOWN GROOVE and SOUTHERN FRIED.

At this point in time, what more can be said about CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO? The song is inextricably linked to Glenn forever and was the biggest sales hit he ever had. The concept of a Gold Record award was conceived by RCA to honor Miller when the CHOO CHOO reached sales of 1,250,000. That was an almost unheard-of figure in March 1942, when the award was presented. Yet the song was issued as the B-side of Bluebird 11230!   The soundtrack recording from Sun Valley Serenade is longer and groovier, but the record preserves nearly all the best parts of the film arrangement (except Tex’s whistling).

Glenn's Gold Record for CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO.

Glenn’s Gold Record for CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO.

The A-side of Bluebird 11230 is I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), obviously expected to be the hit tune from the movie. The film version of the Gordon-Warren song is superb, with the record running a distant second, mostly due to Paula Kelly. Film singer Pat Friday’s succulent sound, hyped by the 20th Century-Fox engineers, is unbeatable. Though a superb lead voice with the Modernaires, Paula sounds rather limp and unsure here as a solo singer (though she does well as a soloist on many Chesterfield broadcasts).

With the ASCAP radio band still operating, Glenn was likely annoyed that he couldn’t plug these two potential hits on radio, but at least they were getting onto store shelves and jukeboxes months ahead of the movie’s release in September.

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The World Is Waiting to Waltz Again

by Mack Gordon & Harry Warren

I see Vienna,

No violins playing,

The music is through,

The Blue Danube’s blue.

I can see Holland,

No windmills are turning,

The tulips know why,

And wither and die.

There’s Venice, but no gondoliers,

And the Seine is a river of tears.

 

The world is waiting to waltz again,

The way we all used to do.

The world is waiting for music and laughter

That always comes after the storm is through.

The feet that marched to the beat of drums

Will dance for joy when that great day comes.

When love returns to the hearts of all men

The world will be waltzing again.

 

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Before leaving Sun Valley Serenade behind, I wanted to write a bit more about a song I described briefly in the last posting. THE WORLD IS WAITING TO WALTZ AGAIN is a ghostly phantom, a Mack Gordon-Harry Warren song written, recorded and filmed for the movie, but then cut and discarded.

There are few things more forlorn than a cut movie song. Unpublished and unheralded, it leaves no memories or good feelings behind. Sometimes a dialogue lead-in or musical underscore remains to show where the song might have appeared, but usually the surgery to remove it is done so well that it is not missed.

The augmented Miller band during the SUN VALLEY SERENADE finale.

The augmented Miller band during the SUN VALLEY SERENADE finale.

A few stills and home movies firmly plant the song’s original placement as part of the “black ice” skating finale, during which the enlarged Miller band with strings is visible in a few cutaway shots.  The soundtrack heard in the released film is by a studio orchestra. Fortunately, the soundtrack performance of WALTZ was included on one of the Fox studio discs pressed at the time of release.  It’s mostly a vocal by John Payne, with swirling strings and lush Miller reeds in the introduction.  Bill Finegan arranged the song for an augmented personnel; it lasts barely two minutes before it ends rather abruptly after the vocal. It’s a lovely melody with a moody lyric that hints at the wartime devastation then overrunning Europe.  Familiar tropes like the blue Danube, Venetian gondoliers and tulips from Holland are evoked in the verse, but in stark terms (for a 1941 pop song that is).  The tulips have withered and died and the Seine “is a river of tears.” The refrain is more optimistic, alluding to the joy and laughter that will re-emerge “when that great day comes.”

John Payne has a feeling that his big song is going to be cut!

John Payne has a feeling that his big song is going to be cut!

There was very little in the war news to be optimistic about in the Spring of 1941. America was doing its best to stay uninvolved, but that was beginning to seem like a pipe dream. Other songs of the era, like MY SISTER AND I, similarly reference the horrors unfolding in Europe, yet as the lyric flatly states, “But we don’t talk about that.” Here’s the Jimmy Dorsey-Bob Eberly version of MY SISTER AND I:

 

Though it was very muted, the war reference in THE WORLD IS WAITING TO WALTZ AGAIN was likely one factor in the song’s being dropped from Sun Valley Serenade. Though it would have fit very naturally with Sonja Henie’s character arc as a Norwegian war refugee, America’s strictly pacifist attitude in 1941 was keenly felt in Hollywood.  The Production Code Administration cautioned filmmakers to play down any references to current events, for fear of complaints that the movie studios were pushing a war agenda.  Oddly, the song was apparently considered for inclusion in John Payne’s next Fox musical, Week-End in Havana, where it’s presence would have been incongruous, to say the least!

In any event, the song hit the cutting room floor permanently, though some newspaper ads mentioned it as one of the film’s “hits.”

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In the 1990s, 20th Century-Fox produced three hour-long cable TV specials that consisted entirely of cut musical numbers and comedy routines from Fox productions.  Titled HIDDEN HOLLYWOOD, they included no new music by Glenn Miller and the band, but who knows? If Fox saved all this other material in their vaults, the lost Miller performances may surface one day. This discussion of missing Miller will continue when we get to the band’s next film, Orchestra Wives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sun Valley Serenade – Part 2

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, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires, Pat Friday (voice dub for Lynn Bari), John Payne, Dorothy Dandridge, The Nicholas Brothers, Six Hits and a Miss (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

Sun Valley Serenade soundtrack, 20th Century-Fox Studios , Hollywood, CA – March-April, 1941

Moonlight Serenade             TCF-70

I Know Why (PF, JP & Mods vcl, JG & BF arr) TCF-70/71

In The Mood TCF-65

It Happened in Sun Valley (Mods & Six Hits vcl, BF arr) TCF-77

Chattanooga Choo Choo (TB, PK, Mods, DD & NB vcl, JG arr) TCF-74/75

At Last (PF & JP vcl, JG & BF arr)     TCF-72/73

Sun Valley Jump (JG arr)  RCA LPT-3064

The Spirit Is Willing (JG arr)  RCA LPT-3064

Measure for Measure (BM arr)  RCA LPT-3064

The World Is Waiting to Waltz Again (JP vcl, BF arr) TCF-76

The Kiss Polka (studio orchestra and chorus, no Miller) TCF-76

The TCF catalog numbers are for the contemporaneous 78 pressings made by Fox for publicity/souvenir purposes. First commercial issues are RCA LPT-3064 (10” LP issued 1954) and 20th Century-Fox 100-2 (2-LP set issued 1959). All further releases stem from these albums. RCA’s transfers are clean, but Fox adds a bit of reverberation to the tracks (and more echo on later issues).

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The RCA LP is missing MOONLIGHT SERENADE, THE WORLD IS WAITING TO WALTZ AGAIN and THE KISS POLKA.  I KNOW WHY and CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO are complete, including the Dandridge-Nicholas Brothers segment of the latter song, without overdubbed tap sounds. The Fox album includes the same numbers, minus this version of AT LAST.  I KNOW WHY is missing the John Payne vocal portion and CHOO CHOO is cut short at the point where the commercial 78 recording ends.

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Sun Valley Serenade begins with the familiar 20th Century-Fox logo and fanfare. The next image is the Glenn Miller Band in silhouette, playing a swinging version of “The Kiss Polka” as the credits roll. Never before or since has a big band musical began with such an exciting introduction, which must have lifted audiences out of their seats as they got their first glimpse of the Miller Men. Most fans of the time had heard the band on radio and records, but only a relative handful had seen them in person, especially if they lived west of the Mississippi.

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It doesn’t take long before we get more Miller – the band appears two minutes into the film and are playing their first number two minutes later. Glenn looks handsome but quite uncomfortable, smiling as he counts off MOONLIGHT SERENADE, which segues directly into I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU). This gorgeous ballad, arranged by Bill Finegan, features close-ups of all the sections, beautifully lit and photographed. Trigger Alpert and Moe Purtill try not to look too self-conscious during Tex Beneke’s tenor solo and Glenn gets a terrific close-up immediately following. “Vocalist” Lynn Bari (wearing an extremely peculiar hat) and “pianist” John Payne are already making goo-goo eyes at each other, setting the plot into motion and the Modernaires pop up out of nowhere to back Lynn soothingly.

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Veteran director Bruce Humberstone works a comic bit of business with Milton Berle and a cigarette lighter into the number. Humberstone graduated to “A” pictures with this one, after a spending a decade directing low-budget Charlie Chan and Jane Withers films for Fox.   His smooth handling of Sun Valley Serenade led to his assignment to a batch of Technicolor Fox and Goldwyn musicals into the 1950s.

Sonja Henie makes her entrance as a rather overage Norwegian refugee, who is adopted by the band and John Payne as a publicity stunt. Henie is quite enthusiastic in her single-minded pursuit of Payne from the moment she lays eyes on him. With Lynn Bari also having the hots for Payne, this is the extent of the plot needed to keep an 82-minute film percolating.

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At the 20-minute mark, Payne realizing he’s wanted on the bandstand and we’re into IN THE MOOD, the best-ever Miller performance of their signature number. Everybody gets their on-screen moment – Glenn, Tex, Al Klink, Billy May and Trigger Alpert & Moe Purtill, both mugging shamelessly. During the false fade-outs, the saxes and trombones do a choreographed routine, angling and tossing their instruments around, which was a crowd-pleasing stunt in live performance as well.

Henie and Bari bicker a bit over Payne, and then the performers are called back to the bandstand as we hear the introduction to AT LAST, which was unfortunately cut from the film, though home movies exist showing it being filmed. It’s a great arrangement by Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan, done here as a rhythm ballad, vocalized by Lynn Bari and John Payne. Payne sings for himself, rather reedily and Bari is doubled, as usual, by Pat Friday.  RCA Victor issued the soundtrack performance on their Sun Valley Serenade LP in 1954. This wonderful song would be shelved and saved for the next Miller movie, this time in lush ballad mode. Both versions are knockouts.

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With the band booked at the Sun Valley resort in Idaho, the whole entourage entrains to that pre-war luxury vacation setting, to the tune of IT HAPPENED IN SUN VALLEY. Riding sleighs to the hotel, the whole band joins in singing the catchy number, with the Modernaires augmented by the popular vocal group, Six Hits and a Miss, who were heard in many filmusicals of the era. Meanwhile, a visual montage shows all the amenities of Sun Valley – skiing, of course, along with horseback riding, heated swimming pools, outdoor dining and cocktail lounges – reality, but in the realm of fantasy for most Depression-era viewers.

Payne and Henie decided to go skiing, not aware that a rehearsal has been called. With band manager Milton Berle doing his best to placate a steaming Lynn Bari, the ensemble gets down to business with a full-out performance of CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO. With Payne out of the way, Chummy MacGregor makes his only appearance in a Miller film (he would be replaced at the piano bench by Cesar Romero in ORCHESTRA WIVES).

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This is the definitive performance of CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO, performed in a relaxed groove, including many bits of the Jerry Gray arrangement that would be trimmed for the three-minute Bluebird version. The basic chart runs four-and-a-half minutes here, with the band beautifully photographed and charmingly natural vocal (and whistling) appearances by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly and the Modernaires.

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As the song winds down, we get a surprise – the camera pans past the band to reveal lovely young Dorothy Dandridge, quickly joined by the Nicholas Brothers. They are all in full costume, in front of a little “Choo-Choo” backdrop, taking another “hep” vocal chorus and dance. Dorothy then makes a beeline for the exit and the Brothers continue with more athletic moves as the band picks up the tempo. The overdubbed tap sounds mask a series of hot band solos, by Beneke, Billy May and Ernie Caceres. RCA’s later release of the complete, nearly 8-minute routine, reveals the solos without the taps.

The Nicholas Brothers with the Miller band.

The Nicholas Brothers with the Miller band.

There is only one brief shot of the Brothers dancing in front of the band; otherwise they are seen in isolation, an obvious ploy to keep Southern audiences and theaters from having to see what was termed “race mixing” at the time. Often sequences like this one would be cut, pure and simple, before Southern bookings. Since Dandridge and the Brothers have no part in the plot and simply appear and disappear without dialogue or on-screen explanation of any kind, a cut could have been made without notice.

At the 54-minute mark, that is pretty much the end of the Miller band in the film, though Glenn acts in several later scenes, appearing a little stiff, but good enough.  The rest of the music – THE KISS POLKA, performed at the ski lodge, a lovey-dovey reprise by Henie and Payne of I KNOW WHY and Henie’s two skating routines are performed by the Fox studio orchestra and chorus, though the final ice ballet shows the Miller band (in tuxes) now and then to create the illusion that they are playing on the soundtrack. Interestingly, AT LAST is heard again during the ballet, suggesting that it’s earlier band performance was likely cut at the last minute.  Jumping the gun, Ina Ray Hutton’s band recorded AT LAST for Okeh in July, with the label credit, “from Sun Valley Serenade.”

Joan Davis in the cut number, I'M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Joan Davis in the cut number, I’M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Posed still from I'M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Posed still from I’M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Several other performance numbers were filmed and cut – I’M LENA THE BALLERINA, a comic solo for Joan Davis that was slotted in before THE KISS POLKA at the ski lodge with no Miller involvement; and THE WORLD IS WAITING TO WALTZ AGAIN, a lovely, timely war-tinged ballad sung by John Payne during the ice finale sequence with the Miller band, augmented by strings. A tiny glimpse of LENA appears in the movie’s trailer; several stills and home movies exist showing WALTZ being filmed. Happily, the soundtrack of the latter number still exists and can be heard here.

Without her song, sixth-billed Joan Davis has less than two minutes of comic byplay with Milton Berle remaining in the picture. The film’s wrap-up is also remarkably hurried, with no final kiss or declaration of love between Payne and Henie. She skates, a quick shot of them skiing and “The End.” As the film runs only 82 minutes, there certainly was time for more music and action; reportedly, studio head Darryl Zanuck was tired of Henie’s demands and wouldn’t allow any more time or budget to be lavished on the film. It went on to be Henie’s biggest hit, anyway, with much of the success due to the presence of Glenn and the boys.

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Several other instrumental numbers were recorded at Fox, likely planned for underscoring, but none were heard in the finished film. SUN VALLEY JUMP and THE SPIRIT IS WILLING are the same Jerry Gray arrangements recorded for Bluebird in January and February. The film rendition of JUMP is faster and swingier, but as usual, cuts the Al Klink solo heard on the record. THE SPIRIT IS WILLING is almost indistinguishable from the RCA 78. MEASURE FOR MEASURE is a Billy May riff flagwaver, which Glenn played often on the air but only recorded here. The rhythm section really jumps and solos by Caceres (on alto), Beneke and May add to the excitement. A slow dynamic buildup from a diminuendo passage spotlights Trigger Alpert’s powerful bass playing.

Sonja Henie and Lynn Bari flank John Payne in his ski sweater.

Sun Valley Serenade was also influential in unsuspected ways. It started a craze for embroidered ski sweaters, as worn by John Payne and several of the bandsmen. As one of the very few American films reportedly released in the Soviet Union during and after the war, the Miller music was appreciated and copied by Russian jazz musicians, starved for modern swing sounds. As late as the 1970s, Soviet dance bands were still performing and recording the film’s tunes, sometimes in lavish, string-laden symphonic arrangements!

Soviet recording of SUN VALLEY tunes by Oleg Lundstrem's Orchestra.

Soviet recording of SUN VALLEY tunes by Oleg Lundstrem’s Orchestra.

Promotional flyer for the postwar German release of SUN VALLEY SERENADE.

Promotional flyer for the postwar German release of SUN VALLEY SERENADE.

At the conclusion of filming in early May 1941, the Miller Band could finally emerge from its enforced isolation in Hollywood. During the movie, they had maintained their schedule of Chesterfield broadcasts, but made hardly any personal appearances. Now they could  begin to perform on this first visit to the West Coast.  The hungry fans were ready for them!

Glenn looks movie-star handsome in the film, with a wild tie here!

Glenn looks dapper and movie-star handsome in the film. Catch that wild tie!