Rhapsody 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, Skip Nelson, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

RCA Victor Studios,    Chicago – July 16, 1942, 11:00 AM-3:45 PM

074744-1      I’m Old Fashioned (SN vcl)  Victor 27953-B

074745-1      A Pink Cocktail for a Blue Lady (SN vcl, JG arr)     Victor 20-1523-B

074746-1      Rainbow Rhapsody   Victor 20-1546-B

074747-1      Sleepy Town Train    Victor 20-1509-B

074748-1      Rhapsody in Blue (BF arr)   Victor 20-1529-A

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After nearly four years of success, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra assembled in an RCA Victor studio for the last time.   The band still had more than two months of existence left, but it must have been a sad experience to set up in the quiet confines of a recording room for a final session.   The organization had not really been hit hard by the wartime draft and many of the participants had been along for the ride since nearly the beginning – Marion Hutton, Tex Beneke, Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo, Willie Schwartz, Al Klink, Chummy MacGregor, Moe Purtill, Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan had joined in 1938-39 or even earlier, in the case of Chummy.

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Despite Glenn’s reputation as a strict martinet, he obviously inspired great loyalty in his bandsmen and felt a warm family feeling toward many of the gang, which was reciprocated.

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As with the other July sessions, newcomer Skip Nelson sang on the first two numbers and the remaining tunes were instrumentals. I’M OLD FASHIONED is a sweetly pure song by Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer from the score of You Were Never Lovelier, which had also provided DEARLY BELOVED on the July 14th date.  Willie Schwartz’s clarinet once again leads the reeds in the “Miller Sound,” with Ernie Caceres’ baritone anchoring the section. There is a beautifully-scored transition to the vocal, likely arranged by Bill Finegan.   Skip still needs to relax, but he manages a pleasant rendition, sans Modernaires.

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A PINK COCKTAIL FOR A BLUE LADY is nicely arranged by Jerry Gray, but it’s a minor song, with a rather clunky lyric about the wartime displacement of a bejeweled European dame. It was written by Herb Magidson, lyricist of the recent CONCHITA, ETC., LOPEZ and popular composer Ben Oakland.  Like the earlier song, DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE, JAMES, the lyric takes the form of a monologue from a rather tiresome nightclub patron toward a patient waiter. The lady “was once the toast of Vienna, when Vienna was gay,” a line that has dated badly. Spike Jones might have had a field day with the number, but Skip Nelson delivers it straight.

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Multi-instrumentalist-bandleader-composer-arranger Benny Carter had written several charts for Glenn back in 1939, but nothing since. RAINBOW RHAPSODY is a lovely Carter composition that provides a real showcase for the Miller reeds. Carter always loved writing for sax sections! Bobby Hackett makes a welcome appearance with his melodic cornet. Tex Beneke also solos briefly, but this RHAPSODY is a mostly orchestral conception.

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SLEEPY TOWN TRAIN is the last stop on the line of Glenn Miller train pieces – TUXEDO JUNCTION, SLOW FREIGHT and that CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO. Allan Roberts, who later worked for Columbia Pictures and wrote such hits as TAMPICO and PUT THE BLAME ON MAME, penned it with Bill Fontaine. Roberts also wrote lyrics for RAINBOW RHAPSODY.   SLEEPY TOWN is arranged in a similar slow and groovy manner to TUXEDO JUNCTION, with Mickey McMickle once again playing muted trumpet.

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Finally and fittingly, the session concludes with another “rhapsody,” Bill Finegan’s exquisite arrangement of RHAPSODY IN BLUE. Using just the ravishing blues theme from George Gershwin’s seminal concert work, Finegan taps Bobby Hackett for an arresting opening solo and a bit of quiet, almost subliminal Beneke in this mainly ensemble creation. It’s one of the Miller band’s most mature and evocative recordings and a suitable testament to this wonderful ensemble, whose performances endure all these decades later.

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The popular songs from these July sessions were released over the next six months. RCA took their time issuing the instrumentals, which had no “expiration date,” parceling them out into early 1944 and backing several titles with previously-issued songs. This helped keep “fresh” material by the Miller band in the public ear long after Glenn had moved on to his stellar Army Air Force Band.

Glenn was surely aware of what RCA was doing, as he featured JUKEBOX SATURDAY NIGHT, IT MUST BE JELLY, RHAPSODY IN BLUE, CARIBBEAN CLIPPER and HERE WE GO AGAIN on numerous AAF broadcasts. The RCA recordings of MOONLIGHT MOOD and SLEEPY TOWN TRAIN were also issued on V-Disc, the Armed Forces’ program that provided records to service camps all over the world for soldiers to play in their leisure time.

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The last months of the Miller band have been chronicled in many books, blogs and articles – here we’ll just mention a few facts. Glenn disbanded on September 27, 1942. He reported for Army duty on October 9. Skip Nelson returned to Chico Marx’s band. His brief Miller tenure didn’t do much to advance his career, though in 1943, he replaced Dick Haymes in the Tommy Dorsey band. Moe Purtill also went to Dorsey, replacing Buddy Rich. Purtill had played with Tommy for all of 1938, so he was on familiar ground.

Skip went on to be featured with the Casa Loma band in 1944-45. Bobby Hackett landed with Casa Loma for awhile, too. Marion Hutton and Tex Beneke went on a theater tour with the Modernaires, billed as “the singing stars of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.” Once Tex left to join the Navy, Marion stayed with the Mods until going solo in 1944. She had several radio series, appeared in a couple of films and recorded for MGM in the later 1940s. Paula Kelly came back to sing with the Mods and fronted the group into the 1970s. Tex, of course, led the official Glenn Miller Band after the war and in the 1960s, joined Ray Eberle, Paula and the Modernaires for over a decade of successful touring as a nostalgia act.

The entire Miller trombone section signed on with Charlie Spivak’s band and can be seen in the 1944 Betty Grable musical, PIN-UP GIRL. This would actually have been Glenn’s next film for 20th Century Fox, had he not enlisted. Originally titled BLIND DATE, it would also have given us the opportunity to see Glenn and the band in Technicolor. As it turned out, the AAF Band did plug the movie’s best song on radio, TIME ALONE WILL TELL.

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As mentioned earlier, all of the recordings described herein are easily available for listening via that wondrous invention, You Tube. Glenn’s studio recordings make up only a portion of his preserved legacy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of live performances by the band, many of which have been issued legitimately by RCA or illegitimately on a myriad of LP and CD labels. Even more haven’t seen the light of day (yet). I’ll save a discussion of all the additional live Miller music for another lifetime! With a relatively small, but vociferous, fan base still active after 75 years, the final chapter of Glenn Miller on record still hasn’t been written.

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