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

gm may1941

gm cherie

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.

gm cradle song

gm cradle

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.

gm sweeter

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.

gm dream the rest

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.

gm guess dream

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?

gm atrain

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!

gm a train

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.

gm peekaboo

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!

gm angels cae

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.

gm angels came

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.

 

 

 

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