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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