Keep ‘Em Flying!

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Zeke Zarchy, Billy May (tp); Glenn Miller, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo (tb); Skip Martin, Wilbur Schwartz, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke, Al Klink (reeds); Chummy MacGregor (p); Bill Conway(g); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – December 8, 1941, 12:00-5:30 PM

068456-1      Moonlight Cocktail (RE & M vcl, JG arr)     Bluebird 11401-A

068457-1      Happy in Love (MH vcl, JG arr)        Bluebird 11401-B

068458-1      Fooled (RE vcl, JG arr)          Bluebird 11416-A

068459-1      Keep ‘Em Flying (JG arr)      Bluebird 11443-B

068460-1      Chip Off the Old Block          Bluebird 11450-B

068461-1      The Story of a Starry Night (RE vcl, BF arr)           Bluebird 11462-A

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When the Glenn Miller band assembled in RCA Victor’s New York studios at 12:00 Noon on Monday, December 8, 1941, momentous events were happening in Washington DC.  At 12:30 PM, President Roosevelt began his Day of Infamy speech, calling on the joint houses of Congress to declare war on the Empire of Japan. By 1:10 both houses had approved it and at 4:10 PM, while Glenn was still recording, the declaration was signed.

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At RCA, it was business as usual – and the world events did not affect the Miller orchestra’s efficiency. Six selections were completed in five-and-a-half hours, no longer than expected.

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MOONLIGHT COCKTAIL was first on the schedule, racking up yet another Number One hit for the band and one of the top-selling records of 1942.  Jerry Gray provides a plush setting, with velvety vocalizing by Ray and the Mods and Tex’s butter-smooth tenor sax.  This sophisticated ballad was, surprisingly, written by stride pianist Luckey Roberts. whose other compositions were mostly traditional blues and ragtime numbers.  Actually, Luckey wrote it in 1912 as a  virtuoso ragtime piece titled RIPPLES OF THE NILE.  Lyricist Kim Gannon  is more familiar to these pages, having composed FIVE O’CLOCK WHISTLE. Slowing Luckey’s finger-buster down, Gannon struck gold.

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The B-side of COCKTAIL was HAPPY IN LOVE, a sprightly tune from the Olsen & Johnson Broadway revue, Sons O’ Fun. A follow-up to the comedy duo’s 1938 blockbuster smash Hellzapoppin, the new show co-starred Brazilian Bombshell Carmen Miranda, Scotch jazz singer Ella Logan and future Three Stooge Joe Besser.  The show was a hit with wartime audiences, running 742 performances.

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Considering the hoopla which greeted Marion Hutton when she returned to the band in August, it’s surprising that Glenn kept her under wraps on record.  She had not been heard on the past few sessions at all and HAPPY IN LOVE was her first of only three recorded solo vocals between her return and the band’s breakup. Of course, Marion was featured on the band’s radio shows and public performances with Tex and the Mods, but it’s a shame she was heard by herself so infrequently on disc, considering how much she had improved as a singer by late 1941.

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Composed by Sammy Fain and Jack Yellen, HAPPY IN LOVE would normally be an ebullient love song and Jerry Gray’s arrangement is joyous enough. But the tragic mood of the day apparently hit Marion hard and she sings in an arrestingly somber manner that transforms the recording into an unintentional testament to wartime shock and sorrow. Only at the very end, after Tex’s perky solo, does she shake off the melancholy. Her voice emerges into the sunlight to punch out the rhythmic coda.

Ray Eberle is back for FOOLED, a dud of a song that is unworthy of the Miller band at this peak artistic period.  Once again, Jerry Gray crafts a lovely frame for a mediocre painting, with twining reed patterns and a sweet Beneke solo.  Composers Frank Lavere and Ros Metzger wrote little else of note and though lyricist Bob Russell collaborated on some distinguished songs with Duke Ellington, his contribution here is underpar. Ray goes off-key at the beginning of the unwieldy lyric, but Glenn didn’t bother with a retake.

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Things improve with two fine instrumentals, which have been neglected by Miller fans and on reissues. A swing original could be titled almost anything and Jerry Gray’s KEEP ‘EM FLYING was originally named THAT’S WHERE I CAME IN. Miller first broadcast it back in July and the title was changed during the fall.  The familiar phrase was devised in May 1941 as an inspirational recruiting slogan for the Army Air Corps. It would soon be plastered on posters, stamps, flyers and even was used as the title for an Abbott & Costello service comedy that opened in late November.

Repeating the “engine revving up” motif that started his record of THE AIR-MINDED EXECUTIVE, KEEP ‘EM FLYING is a screaming flagwaver from the first note. Glenn played a lot of super-fast tempoed numbers on radio, but recorded relatively few of them.  The band is at the height of swing precision here, with Beneke, Billy May, Chummy, Ernie Caceres and Moe Purtill getting their hot licks in. The fans loved this kind of number and would yell their heads off when it was played.

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CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK is a bit of a mystery – composer “Al Young” is a name unfamiliar to me, unless it is a pseudonym and there is no arranger credit in the discographies. It’s in the groovy vein of TUXEDO JUNCTION, with a little more “oomph.” Basically a succession of riffs, the high spot is an eight-bar Al Klink solo. Fewer riffs and more Klink would have made the piece more memorable, but it’s a pleasant addition to the Miller repertoire.

As with the past few sessions, the date ends with an Eberle ballad, this one with a classical pedigree. THE STORY OF A STARRY NIGHT was adapted from Tchaikovsky ‘s 6th Symphony, the “Pathetique.”  Earlier in the year, Freddie Martin had a huge hit with TONIGHT WE LOVE, adapted from Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Glenn had an instrumental arrangement of that same theme in his book and played it often on radio.  Actually, so many classical adaptations were riding the airwaves and record charts in 1941, partially due to the ASCAP radio ban, that Les Brown recorded an opus titled EVERYBODY’S MAKING MONEY BUT TCHAIKOVSKY.

STARRY NIGHT made some money for Glenn, as his Mutual Music company published the sheet music, then re-published it in 1948 with a tie-in to Song of My Heart, a low-budget film biography of the composer.  Mann Curtis, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman are credited with the musical adaptation and lyrics.

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Once again, Bill Finegan crafted an exquisite arrangement, highlighting the trademark Miller reed sound. Earlier complaints about Glenn’s overly fast ballads were long gone by now and Ray was able to luxuriate in a slow-tempoed rendition of the attractive lyrics.

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This was the band’s last recording session for 1941.  They finished out the year at the Hotel Pennsylvania and would conclude this third and final winter engagement at the venue in early January.  One bright spot during this period was the brief return of Trigger Alpert, who was given a Christmas furlough (initiated by Glenn) and played with the band at the Cafe Rouge and on radio.  War news was growing increasingly more ominous now that America was in the conflict and Miller’s recorded output would begin to reflect the changing times with their next session.

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