That Old Black Magic

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, 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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Skip Nelson, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

RCA Victor Studios,   Chicago – July 14, 1942, 11:00 AM-2:40 PM

074736-1      Dearly Beloved (SN & Band vcl, JG arr)      Victor 27953 -A

074737-1      Moonlight Mood (SN & M vcl, JG arr)          Victor 20-1520-B

074738-1      Caribbean Clipper (JG arr) Victor 20-1536-B

074739-1      Here We Go Again (JG arr)   Victor 20-1563-A

 

RCA Victor Studios,    Chicago – July 15, 1942, 11:00 AM-3:15 PM

074740-1      That Old Black Magic (SN & M vcl)             Victor 20-1523-A

074740-2      That Old Black Magic (SN & M vcl)        first issued on CD

074741-1      Moonlight Becomes You (SN & M vcl)        Victor 20-1520–A

074742-1      Juke Box Saturday Night (MH, TB & M vcl, JG arr)   Victor 20-1509-A

074743-1      It Must Be Jelly (M vcl, GW arr)       Victor 20-1546-A

Fame can be very fickle – in 1940, Ray Eberle was on top of the popularity charts. By war’s end, band singers Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes and Perry Como were now the top male solo singers and other formerly big names like Harry Babbitt, Ray Eberle and brother Bob Eberly had dropped out of contention.

Glenn’s immediate concern was to replace Ray in a matter of days, before the quickly-approaching Victor session of July 14th. He contacted young Skip Nelson of the Chico Marx band and flew him to Chicago within a day of Ray’s departure. Skip actually looked and sounded quite a bit like Ray, so he was a natural choice.

Skip Nelson with the Casa Loma Band in 1945.

Skip Nelson with the Casa Loma Band in 1945.

First to be recorded on July 14th (and the first to be issued, judging by catalog number), was DEARLY BELOVED, one of the beautiful Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer songs from You Were Never Lovelier. Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth were teamed in this A-class Columbia musical, that also featured I’M OLD FASHIONED, which Glenn got around to on July 16th.

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Skip makes his Miller debut here, backed by the band humming along. He sounds fairly grim and heavy, nervous traits that unfortunately continue through these sessions. Skip sounded a bit lighter-voiced on an earlier session with Chico Marx; he can certainly be forgiven for coming off stiff here, as he had barely spent three days getting adjusted his new surroundings!

The band sounds rich and sonorous, with organ-like textures reflecting the greater depth the band had achieved by this time. It’s too bad the damped-down sound of RCA’s Chicago studio can’t fully capture that depth, but just compare this Jerry Gray arrangement to one of his from 1940 and you’ll get the idea.

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MOONLIGHT MOOD is not of the quality of DEARLY BELOVED, but once again Jerry Gray works magic with the material. Like DEEP PURPLE, the song began as an instrumental composition by Peter DeRose. Harold Adamson added the words later.   Skip Nelson is a mite less heavy-sounding than on the preceding tune, but oddly, the original 78 omits his vocal credit, mentioning only the Modernaires.

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Skip gets a break, as the other two numbers on this day’s program are strictly instrumental. CARIBBEAN CLIPPER was a new Jerry Gray original, taken slightly below flagwaver tempo. Tex, Billy May and Moe Purtill get some welcome solo space, after a heavy diet of ballads and vocal novelties on the recent sessions. The brass and saxes intertwine gracefully and Moe’s solo breaks are especially imaginative. Doc Goldberg can also be heard, pushing the rhythm along on bass.

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HERE WE GO AGAIN concludes this all-Jerry Gray session. This swinger had been in the book for some time, being heard often on the air since May 1941. It’s a fairly repetitive riff number, allowing full-chorus solos for Al Klink and Billy May, more Purtill drum breaks and a lengthy rideout ending. Nice to get this one on wax!

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The following day, Skip and the Mods lead off with THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC, an instant standard by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer from the Paramount all-star feature, STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM. Despite the presence of Bing Crosby, newcomer Johnnie Johnston, who waxed it for Capitol, introduced the song on screen. Bing didn’t even cut it for Decca (Judy Garland did), but the Number #1 selling version was this one by Glenn. It was also his last Number #1 record, hitting the top spot in January 1943.

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One slow vocal chorus of the lengthy song takes up the entire record; Skip and the Mods give it their all and the vocal arrangement tosses the melody back and forth from the soloist to the group with enough variety to keep the performance interesting.

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The next number was introduced and recorded by Bing Crosby – MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, from the popular Road To Morocco, with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. The Miller band waxed songs from the first three Road pictures and this last one is a real beauty.  Composed by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, the recording features an exquisite opening and coda, with Mickey McMickle’s muted trumpet heard in the first chorus, along with the gorgeous sound of the Miller reeds. Skip and the Mods once again put their all into it and the result is one of the highlights of these sessions.

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Marion Hutton and Tex Beneke make their only appearance on the July dates with JUKE BOX SATURDAY NIGHT and what a rousing appearance it is! Another huge Miller standard, the song was introduced in an ice skating revue, Stars on Ice, produced by our old friend, Sonja Henie. Produced at the Center Theater in Rockefeller Center, which was billed as “America’s only ice theater,” the extravaganza ran over two years.  The Modernaires used the basic Al Stillman-Paul McGrane tune as a jumping-off point for their own arranged tribute to current pop performers Harry James (imitated by Johnny Best) and the Ink Spots.

Marion, Tex and the Mods

Marion, Tex and the Mods

This jukebox routine had been first used in 1941 for Glenn’s live arrangement of THE NICKEL SERENADE, that time featuring parodies of Sammy Kaye, Charlie Barnet and Kay Kyser. Since Miller didn’t record the routine, it was ripe for reuse in the new number.  Skittish RCA was afraid that the record would annoy jukebox operators and almost didn’t release it. They were surely glad that they relented!

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Another hot one finishes off the session – IT MUST BE JELLY (‘CAUSE JAM DON’T SHAKE LIKE THAT). Written and arranged by George Williams, the simple, catchy riff tune was later picked up by Harry James and Woody Herman, who played it often. Basically a framework to hang solos on, we hear again from Al Klink, then Johnny Best and Billy May trading fours. Skip Martin makes a rare appearance on alto before we get the patented Miller slow fade, building up to a sudden finish.  The number was published by Glenn’s Mutual Music firm. Another George Williams original, I HEAR YOU SCREAMIN’, was played by the civilian band on the air, but only recorded by the AAF Band and also Gene Krupa.

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We also do a slow fade here, picking up next time for the final Glenn Miller record date.

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The Final Sessions

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And now, we reach the sudden, unexpected final chapter in the recorded legacy of the Glenn Miller civilian band.   The first reason for this was an announcement in June 1942 by James C. Petrillo, the volatile head of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Due to a dispute over recording fees for musicians between the record companies and the AFM, Petrillo decreed that union musicians must stop all recording engagements starting August 1, 1942. Even a plea from President Roosevelt, arguing that wartime was not the moment to stop producing morale-building music, couldn’t sway Petrillo.

The record companies began a non-stop session schedule to get as many tunes on wax from their artists before the deadline. Since no one knew how long the ban would continue, even songs from films and shows that would not open until 1943 were fed into the pipeline. As it played out, younger companies Decca and Capitol, who depended heavily on current pop songs, caved in October 1943. RCA Victor and Columbia held out until November 1944, denying posterity the opportunity to fully document the Swing Era at its final peak and the early experiments in be-bop.

The second reason for these sessions preserving the last studio sounds of the Miller band was Glenn’s decision to enlist in the Army. Since the war began, Glenn had wanted to do more for his country than just lead a dance orchestra. Intensely patriotic, he likely took note of Artie Shaw’s decision to disband and enlist in the Navy in April 1942. Glenn had big ideas for what he could do for music and entertainment in the Army and after tense and lengthy negotiations, made plans to enlist in September 1942.

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Getting back to July – following some east coast dates, Miller set up shop in Chicago for a 10-day stay at the Hotel Sherman’s Panther Room, which was lushly upholstered in jungle décor and panther spots! This meant that Glenn would have to perform his last studio appearances at RCA’s Chicago studio. That was a slight disappointment, as the Chicago venue was notorious for its dry acoustics. After his recent recordings made in the sonorous Victor Hollywood and New York studios, these Chicago 78s sound dull by comparison.

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Not that the performances were dull! Thirteen songs were recorded on three back-to-back afternoon sessions. Glenn covered all bases here – swing instrumentals, ballad instrumentals, current pop vocals and novelty songs. All the familiar Miller tropes were employed and not incidentally, several top hits and enduring standards happened to be waxed.

Sadly, one of the main Miller voices would not appear on these discs. Glenn fired Ray Eberle on July 9th, after the singer showed up late for a rehearsal. Apparently, this was the final straw in a relationship that had cooled considerably over the years. Glenn discovered and nurtured Ray back in 1938 and for awhile they had a warm, almost father-son rapport.

By 1942, Ray was increasingly dissatisfied with his role in the band and his compensation. When the other musicians were getting paid for their participation in Orchestra Wives, Ray was informed that since he was under personal contract to Glenn, he wouldn’t be getting any additional reimbursement. Riding high in the vocal popularity polls, Ray likely felt he was one of the band’s biggest draws and deserved to be recognized. Supposedly alcohol was another factor in Ray’s downfall. Whatever the final reason or reasons, Ray was out on July 9th.

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Poor Ray – he could have no premonition of how fast and how far he would now fall. Without the Miller connection, he was not a hot commodity. He soon joined Gene Krupa’s band, becoming the fourth banana in a star-studded ensemble that featured the drummer-leader, singer Anita O’Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Next to these attention-grabbers, Ray went almost unnoticed. Even worse, the band broke up in early 1943, under a cloud of Krupa’s rumored drug conviction.

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Ray formed his own orchestra and signed with Universal Pictures in 1943, making a slew of B-musicals and band shorts, none of which drew much attention. Drafted in 1944, Eberle got back into music in 1946 with a new orchestra and a smattering of recordings on the Apollo and Signature labels, but by then he was already a nostalgia act.

Ray

Ray

Yesterday’s Gardenias

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, 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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).
RCA Victor Studios, New York City – June 17, 1942, 10:00 AM-3:55 PM
075090-1      That’s Sabotage (MH vcl)     Victor 27935-B
075091-1      Conchita, Marquita, Lolita, Pepita, Rosita, Juanita Lopez (MH, TB, EC & M vcl, JG arr)  Victor 27943-A
075092-1      The Humming-Bird (MH, TB & M vcl, JG arr)         Victor 27933-B
075093-1      Yesterday’s Gardenias (RE & M vcl)           Victor 27933-A
After completing their work on Orchestra Wives in late May, Glenn Miller and the band trained it from Los Angeles to Chicago and worked around the Midwest until they returned to New York on June 9th. A few New England one-nighters followed and then the orchestra hit the recording studio. RCA was likely thrilled that they had boosted Glenn Miller to their full price label, as he immediately produced massive hits with AMERICAN PATROL and the Orchestra Wives songs on the last session. This June session is something of a forgotten date, as none of the songs made any great impression at the time and none were reissued before the 1980s.

A  REAL "Yesterday's Gardenia!"

A REAL “Yesterday’s Gardenia!”

It would also prove to be the band’s last recording date in New York, Marion Hutton’s last solo disc performance and Ray Eberle’s farewell. Of course, none of the performers were aware of these melancholy milestones at the time.

THAT’S SABOTAGE was the fourth of five songs written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon for Orchestra Wives. It would eventually be cut before the film’s release, but was still in the tunestack at the time of this session, obviously. Strangely, Glenn didn’t record PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME, the movie’s jivey opening tune, which was a dilly of a production number. The soundtrack performance really couldn’t be topped, but it would have been nice to have an additional version to enjoy.

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The Victor THAT’S SABOTAGE is a close copy of the movie track, without the slight rhythmic pause heard between Miss Hutton’s verse and chorus. The dance tempo had to be maintained on record! Marion delivers an equally fine vocal and Al Klink peeks in for a bouncy eight-bar tenor solo.  Mack Gordon supplied a Johnny Mercer-like lyric, full of such snappy phrases as, “Don’t run helter-skelter, there’s a bomb-proof shelter in my arms” and “I can’t sleep, I’ve got to keep my F-B-eye on you.”

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One of the band’s most enjoyable novelty numbers is CONCHITA, MARQUITA, LOLITA, PEPITA, ROSITA, JUANITA LOPEZ, a cheeky tale about what we would today call a “mixed marriage,” in this case, Irish-Mexican. Marion, Tex, the Mods and Ernie Caceres get their vocal moments in and Al Klink provides a powerful sax outburst. The song is the work of youngsters Jule Styne and Herb Magidson, both of whom would have stellar careers.

Written for the Paramount wartime B-musical, Priorities on Parade, which starred Ann Miller, it was sung there by dialect comedian Jerry Colonna with balladeer Johnny Johnston. Colonna made a fine vocal stew of all the Latin and Irish names in the song! Other contemporary recordings by Dinah Shore and the King Sisters treat it as either an old-fashioned waltz or an unwieldy jive number. Only Miller got it to work as a hot novelty.

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THE HUMMING-BIRD was an attempt to repeat the massive success of THE WOODPECKER SONG, by the same Italian composer, Eldo DiLazzaro, with English lyrics again provided by Harold Adamson. Lightning did not strike twice, as the follow-up flopped. The song is decent enough, but Glenn tosses it off in a fairly short rendition. The proceedings briefly get interesting, when Billy May slides in for a hot muted solo after the first vocal, but he only gets eight bars before the singers come back to wrap it up. A real missed opportunity for some good jazz.

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After three swingers, it’s time for a ballad. Popular 1930s crooner Dick Robertson, along with Sammy Mysels and Nelson Cogane, wrote YESTERDAY’S GARDENIAS. Robertson would soon write G0ODNIGHT, WHEREVER YOU ARE, which the Miller AAF Band often featured. GARDENIAS is a seemingly old-style song, recalling the pressed flowers in a “book of loneliness” that remind the singer of a lost love.   The attractive melody and poetic lyrics work nicely together and though Ray Eberle has a few unsure moments, he and the Mods really deliver. The lovely, rich harmonies of the arrangement (likely by Bill Finegan) and the good acoustics of RCA’s studio help to produce a great record.

Charlie Spivak also recorded the song, memorably, but it soon was forgotten. Surprisingly, 1950s jazzmen and singers Russ Freeman, Serge Chaloff, Jeri Southern and Dave Lambert, revived it, giving it something of a “hip” cachet.

Ray, Glenn and the Mods

Ray, Glenn and the Mods

After this session, Glenn gave the musicians more than a week off (aside from the Chesterfield radio series), before building up to a heavy summer performing and recording schedule in Chicago. We’ll delve into the reasons for this next time!

 

 

Serenade in Blue

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, 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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood – May 20, 1942, 9:00 AM-3:35 PM

072283-1      I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo (TB, MH & M vcl, arr JG)        Victor 27934

072284-1      Serenade in Blue (RE & M vcl, BM & BF arr)         Victor 27935

072285-1      At Last (RE vcl, JG & BF arr)             Victor 27934

072286-1      Lullaby of the Rain (RE & M vcl)     Victor 27894

072287-1      Knit One, Purl Two (MH & M vcl, JG arr)    Victor 27894

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As their work on the film Orchestra Wives was ending, the Glenn Miller band visited RCA Victor’s Hollywood studio to record three of the songs from the movie, all of which became huge hits. They remain among the most reissued of Miller recordings. The two other songs that were recorded that day were forgotten and never reissued until the 1980s, though they are pleasant ballads.

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In three minutes and fifteen seconds, the Victor recording of KALAMAZOO manages to encapsulate all the best ingredients of the longer film rendition. Starting with Billy May’s impudent trumpet intro, the band sounds really loose and the singers readily jive their way through Jerry Gray’s arrangement.

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When Bill Finegan had trouble coming up with the free-flowing introduction to SERENADE IN BLUE that Glenn wanted, Billy May stepped in and crafted it in record time. Taking a full 45 seconds of the three-minute record, it sets an ethereal tone, which is then maintained by the saxes stating the romantic melody, garnished by Bobby Hackett’s lovely cornet. Ray Eberle delivers a fine vocal, closely surrounded by the Modernaires. It helps to have such fine Mack Gordon lyrics to work with!

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It’s a shame that this studio take of AT LAST had to omit the arresting trumpet introduction that begins the extended performance in the movie. Fortunately, room was found here for the attractive muted trombone choir that precedes the vocal. For once on these 1942 sessions, Ray gets to sing the vocal solo, without the Mods (or Lynn Bari/Pat Friday) and he softly croons a definitive rendition (at least, until Etta James came along). The high-quality acoustics of RCA’s Hollywood facilities allow us to hear such subtle touches as Chummy MacGregor’s background piano fills.

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From the heights of these Harry Warren-Mack Gordon compositions, we descend to the lyrical banalities of LULLABY OF THE RAIN. Of course, Glenn wraps the song in a sparkling package, with an arresting musical simulation of raindrops in the introduction and Bobby Hackett’s single-string guitar notes repeating the rain motif at the end.

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Songwriter Lou Ricca was best known for one of Perry Como’s early hits, GOODBYE SUE and not much else. Glenn must have had some sort of stake in the tune, as Claude Thornhill, one of Miller’s satellite bands, also recorded it, not once, but multiple times.

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There is quite a story attached to the next number, KNIT ONE, PURL TWO and not just the fact that is a rare ballad given to Marion Hutton. Collectors might have found the composer credits on the 78 to be puzzling. They read, “”Flossy Frills and Ben Lorre. Edited by Glenn Miller.” Flossy Frills just happened to be a cartoon character featured in the Sunday edition of the American Standard, a Hearst newspaper.

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Flossy had first appeared in the 1920s and was purportedly designed to resemble William Randolph Hearst’s girlfriend, movie actress Marion Davies. The character was revived and modernized by writer Carolyn Wells and illustrator Russell Patterson for The New Adventures of Flossy Frills in 1939. Flossy was kind of a fashion-plate ditz, who liked to kick up her heels at fancy parties. By 1942, like so many other folks, Flossy was buckling down to do her part for the war effort. Flossy Frills Helps Out was a strip story running from March to July 1942. In it, Flossy starts a knitting club with her friends. Deciding that she needs a song to motivate them, she visits Glenn Miller (who appeared in the strip) and asks for his help in writing and promoting a knitting-centric tune for American women. “Ladies, let’s knit for Victory!”

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This promotion served a number of purposes. It continued Hearst’s attempts to get involved in music publishing, bolstered his wobbly patriotic credentials and supported the campaign to get women knitting, to help provide sweaters and scarves for servicemen and family members (most clothing companies were overwhelmed with orders for military wear.) All kinds of plans were announced to promote Flossy Frills women’s clubs around the country, promoting recycling of toothpaste tubes, rubber, tin cans and so on. Club meetings would feature performances by name bands and Sammy Kaye, Claude Thornhill, Charlie Spivak, Shep Fields and Vincent Lopez would make recordings of the song. As far as I can determine, none of these grandiose plans ever happened. Glenn’s was the only recording made and Flossy petered out after a 1943 strip titled, Flossy Frills Does Her Bit.

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Getting back to KNIT ONE PURL TWO, which was actually composed solely by Ben Lorre (who later wrote several numbers for Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five), it’s a rather slight melody and lyric sweetly performed by Miller. It doesn’t have the oomph one would expect to galvanize women to pick up their knitting needles! Marion with the Modernaires achieves a beautiful blend and it’s too bad that no other arrangements with this ballad vocal combination were attempted.

The war was by now infiltrating into all aspects of home front life and soon Glenn Miller would be preparing to “do his bit.”

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