Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Bill Graham, 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 (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 18, 1942, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM

071860-1      Shhh, It’s a Military Secret (MH, TB & M vcl, JG arr) Bluebird 11493-B

071861-1      Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (MH, TB & M vcl)            Bluebird 11474-B

071862-1      She’ll Always Remember (RE & M vcl)       Bluebird 11493-A

071863-1      The Lamplighter’s Serenade (RE & M vcl)          Bluebird 11474-A

071864-1      When Johnny Comes Marching Home (TB, MH & M vcl, BF arr)     Bluebird 11480-B

After a record-breaking run through the Midwest, in  January 1942, the Glenn Miller band hit the Paramount Theater in New York for three monumental weeks of packed houses and high grosses. They finished the engagement on February 17th and showed up at RCA Victor the following morning for a solidly commercial and artistically successful recording session.  This would be Glenn’s last appearance on 35-cent Bluebird discs. For their next date in April, the band would be raised to the full-price, 50-cent RCA Victor parent label. It made good sense, both promotion-wise and money-wise.

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When Miller signed with Victor in 1939, he was placed on Bluebird for several reasons. First, with the Depression still lingering, the lower Bluebird price would likely be more attractive to buyers. Also, as a relatively new band, they didn’t yet have the fan base to warrant a premium price.  Finally, RCA Victor wouldn’t dare place a rival trombonist up against hit-maker Tommy Dorsey on the more prestigious label.  Clarinetist Artie Shaw found himself in much the same position on Bluebird, so as not to compete with rival Benny Goodman on Victor. Benny moved over to Columbia in August 1939 and so Artie, by now a big disc seller, was bumped up to Victor early in 1940.

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Tommy Dorsey wasn’t going anywhere, so RCA waited several more years before promoting Glenn to Victor status. By 1942, the budget labels were less necessary, since record purchasers were making more money as the economy picked up steam.  Columbia had experimentally switched Benny to their 35-cent Okeh label in September 1941, in part to compete with Glenn’s similarly-priced platters.  Once Glenn transferred to Victor, Benny was immediately restored to 50-cent Columbia status.  It was also becoming ridiculous to see Miller alumnus Hal McIntyre’s new band debuting on Victor, while his former leader was still on Bluebird, even recording some of the same songs!

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For this February session, once again, the war played heavily into the music selection, as four of the five songs dealt with wartime themes.  SHHH, IT’S A MILITARY SECRET was written by black composer Walter Bishop, better known for such jive songs as THE STUFF IS HERE AND IT’S MELLOW and SWING, BROTHER, SWING.  Presumably, Earl Allvine wrote the lyrics, as the other name on the song is disc jockey Alan Courtney, who had earlier wangled his name onto Les Brown’s hit number, JOLTIN’ JOE DiMAGGIO.

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Like ON THE OLD ASSEMBLY LINE, the song is purely a propaganda poster set to rhythm, with an awkward attempt to leaven the hard-sell (“These are critical times, be careful of espionage”) with romance (“It’s no military secret that I love you”).  Yet the band and singers deliver the goods in such a jaunty manner that the results are more delightful than didactic.

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Marion, Tex and the Modernaires reappear on DON’T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE, another massive Miller hit, free of the cumbersome sloganeering of the previous number. This time, it’s all romance, with an overseas soldier cautioning his girl back home to remain faithful. Unlike the scheming miss of DEAR ARABELLA, this Army sweetheart promises to be true to her worried G.I.  Marion gets a full solo chorus to declare her love, showing how much her vocal style had improved by this time.  The bouncy arrangement, likely by Jerry Gray, helped to make this disc one of Glenn’s 1942 best.

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It was also a hit for the Andrews Sisters, who sang it with Harry James in their popular film, Private Buckaroo. The song was written by veteran hitmakers Lew Brown, Charlie Tobias and Sam Stept.  All three began composing in the 1920s and got a new lease on popularity with such timely WWII songs as WE DID IT BEFORE AND WE CAN DO IT AGAIN and THIS IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR.

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Next comes SHE’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER, a hefty slice of sentiment mixed with mother love.  Like DEAR MOM, this one goes almost over the edge into bathos, with lyrics like, “Now a soldier man you may be, but you are still her baby.”  The utterly sincere vocal performance saves it, though.  Writers Eddie Pola and Johnny Marks (Mr. RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER) had a minor hit with this song, mostly due to the Miller and Kate Smith recordings. Kate also introduced it on radio, a fact proudly trumpeted on the sheet music cover.

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A lovely, dynamic band intro (beautifully recorded, as this whole session happens to be) leads into a sweet Mickey McMickle muted trumpet lead, with the Modernaires humming in the background. Beneke surfaces briefly on tenor and then Ray and the Mods take over for the rest of the disc.

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Ray and the Mods also deliver THE LAMPLIGHTER’S SERENADE, another gorgeous Hoagy Carmichael melody, with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.  A memorable touch here are the vocal “doo-wah, doo-wah” phrases by the Modernaires echoing the band’s trumpet “boo-wahs.”  Issued as the “A” side of DON’T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE, the disc was a double-headed hit.  The sweetly nostalgic lyric describes an “old-fashioned gent” who lights street lamps (were there still gas lamps anywhere in 1942?) and casts a love spell on couples passing by.  Wonder if he’s a relative of PAPA NICCOLINI?

Glenn’s record was the most successful, though it was also recorded by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, who thought enough of the tune to include it on his first-ever solo session, coincidentally on Glenn’s Bluebird label.

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A number of World War I-era songs like OVER THERE and OH, HOW I HATE TO GET UP IN THE MORNING were successfully dusted off and recycled for the new war.  Only Glenn thought to reach even further back to the Civil War for WHEN JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME. It’s surprising that no other bands picked up on the tune.

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This authentic piece of 1863 nostalgia by bandleader Patrick Gilmore was still familiar to 1942 audiences.  Modernaires Hal Dickinson and Bill Conway slightly revised the lyric and Bill Finegan shaped and arranged the vintage march into a totally contemporary swing opus. This new version was published by Miller’s Mutual Music firm, making everyone happy.

Canadian pressing

Canadian pressing

Finegan really outdid himself, with a witty, extroverted chart full of joyful abandon. The deceptively pianissimo intro and first chorus lead into a stentorian brass passage and then the swinging vocal.  Another martial trumpet fanfare culminates in a booting tenor spot for Al Klink and the inevitable jivey rideout.  It’s another underrated Miller disc and a great ending to a very enjoyable studio session.

Postwar German pressing

Postwar German pressing

Glenn gave the band a few days off before beginning another road trip down the East Coast, finally heading west to Chicago and then on to Los Angeles. Arriving there on March 17th, they had only a few days to get used to the climate before reporting to 20th Century Fox once again for their second feature film.  One more record date would be wedged in before it was time to smile for the cameras.

Tex, Marion & Glenn got the paper doll treatment in 1942, but where's poor Ray?

Tex, Marion & Glenn got the paper doll treatment in 1942, but where’s poor Ray?

“They All Sing Elmer’s Tune…”

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Alec Fila, 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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – August 11, 1941, 1:00 7:00 PM

067625-1      It Happened in Sun Valley (PK, RE, TB, M & Band vcl, BF arr)    Bluebird 11263-A

067626-1      I’m Thrilled (RE vcl, BF arr)             Bluebird 11287-B

067627-1      The Kiss Polka (PK, EC & M vcl, JG arr)      Bluebird 11263-B

067628-1      Delilah (TB & M vcl, BM arr)            Bluebird 11274-B

067629-1      From One Love to Another (RE vcl, BF arr)            Bluebird 11287-A

067630-1      Elmer’s Tune (RE & M vcl, JG arr)   Bluebird 11274-A

Enjoying a hard-earned vacation from live appearances in July and August 1941, the Glenn Miller Band  held one session for RCA during their time off. It turned out to be a six-hour marathon that produced six selections, each one special in its own way.

Two novelty songs from Sun Valley Serenade, which was about to open in movie theaters, topped off the playlist.

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All the Miller vocalists turn out for IT HAPPENED IN SUN VALLEY, one of only three times that this occurred (the other two were MUTINY IN THE NURSERY and PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME). It’s odd to hear Ray Eberle on a rhythm song – he just sings it as if it were one of his usual ballads! Bill Finegan’s arrangement is the same as in the movie, only longer, with the full band joining in to sing. A welcome addition is a romping Al Klink solo, followed by an additional vocal chorus that ropes in Tex Beneke.

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THE KISS POLKA is a rollicking treat, especially since the Miller band doesn’t perform it in the film; the Fox studio band plays it. Jerry Gray penned a cheery chart, which Paula and the Mods deliver with relish. For the first time, reedman Ernie Caceres is heard vocally, lending an incongruous touch of Latino spice to the song. With the South American “Good Neighbor Policy” all the rage in 1941, adding Ernie’s Spanish vocals was a clever way for Glenn to ingratiate his troupe with Latin American fans.

I’M THRILLED is a typical Eberle ballad, an early effort by young BMI-ers Sid Lippman and Sylvia Dee, who later hit big with Nat King Cole’s UNFORGETTABLE. Once again Bill Finegan took a so-so song and dressed it up with gorgeous colors, especially in the introduction and first instrumental chorus. Ray is in good form on this session.

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Jimmy Shirl, who would have a hand in Johnny Ray’s 1953 hit, I BELIEVE, co-wrote DELILAH with Henry Manners. Another young BMI songwriting team, they had other snappy successes in 1941 with BRAGGIN’ (for Harry James) and GOOD EVENIN’, GOOD LOOKIN’ (for Benny Goodman). Glenn had also performed their KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR HEART on radio earlier in the year.  The powerful sound of the full band is evident from the first note and the microphone setup actually allows us to hear the guitar in the rhythm section, a rare occurrence. Billy May’s laid-back arrangement fits the song like a glove, with Tex and the Modernaires smoothly delivering the catchy lyrics.

1941 publication of DELILAH

1941 publication of DELILAH

1948 publication of DELILAH

1948 publication of DELILAH

The song was a bit of a hit for Glenn and also Horace Heidt on Columbia. In 1948, Glenn’s record was reissued by RCA (with ADIOS on the flip side) in the “Re-Issued by Request” series. The sheet music was reprinted, with a new cover featuring Tex, who by now was leading the postwar Miller band.

We next welcome a stellar addition to the band, cornetist Bobby Hackett. Hackett had been in the public eye for several years by 1941, hailed by critics as the “new Bix Beiderbecke.” Hackett had a melodic approach similar to the late Bix, though he wasn’t thrilled about being pigeonholed into such a stylistic straitjacket. Making his first records with members of the Eddie Condon mob, he soon jumped from 52nd Street small groups to leading his own brilliant-sounding big band (including future Miller sideman Ernie Caceres). Poor management by MCA quickly led to the band’s demise in the summer of 1939.

Young Bobby Hackett

Young Bobby Hackett

Now deep in debt to MCA, Hackett accepted a surprising offer to join Horace Heidt’s sweet band, where he stayed for nearly two years, enlivening a number of their discs with his lyrical solos. He also had dental problems during this period, which is very bad news for a horn man!

Glenn was a big Hackett fan; aware of his problems, Miller offered the musician a job as guitarist (Hackett’s other favored instrument), replacing Jack Lathrop and Bill Conway (who had been sitting in the guitar chair for several months). When he felt he was ready, Glenn assured Bobby that he would move him to the trumpet section. Not really a strong section player, Hackett understood that the leader wanted him around mostly as a soloist.

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Having joined the band on July 10th, Bobby apparently felt ready to take on trumpet duties by the August 11th record date. He makes his debut soaring over the reeds with a delightful opening break and 16-bar solo on FROM ONE LOVE TO ANOTHER. This was another Ernesto Lecuona composition; previously Glenn had waxed his SAY SI-SI and THE ANGELS CAME THRU.

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Originally titled DANZA LUCUMI, Artie Shaw had recorded the number in rumba tempo the preceding year, as a hoped-for follow-up to his massive success with FRENESI. English lyricist Albert Gamse (of AMAPOLA fame) smoothed the tune out into a standard fox-trot. Though it wasn’t a hit for Glenn, FROM ONE LOVE TO ANOTHER is a forgotten gem in the discography.

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If it was hits Glenn wanted, he couldn’t have been happier with ELMER’S TUNE, a thoroughly unlikely smash success. The TUNE originated with the semi-sweet Dick Jurgens band. Elmer Albrecht, a mortician’s assistant (!), liked to noodle at the piano on his lunch hour. Working next door to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, Albrecht had gotten permission to fool around on their keyboard. Jurgens, whose band was playing there at the time, heard one of Elmer’s tunes and offered to help him polish it into a finished form. They then recorded it as a bouncy instrumental in April and the 78 became something of a hit.   Bob Crosby then cut it, again instrumentally, in June and that rendition went nowhere.

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Sensing the melody had greater potential, Robbins Music took it and assigned lyricist Sammy Gallop to come up with some words. So how do you lyricize something with the title of ELMER’S TUNE? Simply by verbally describing how catchy ELMER’S TUNE is.   Not much of a lyric, but it did the trick. Glenn and Benny Goodman (with Peggy Lee making her recording debut) waxed the fleshed-out number in August and wham! Another Number One hit for Glenn, which the fans happily sang along with whenever it was played. And Glenn played it incessantly on the air and in live performance.

With this session, we said hello to Bobby Hackett and Alec Fila (replacing young Ray Anthony on trumpet) and now goodbye to Paula Kelly. Miss Kelly was not leaving due to any dissatisfaction with her work (and she wouldn’t be going far, married as she was to Modernaire Hal Dickinson).  She was leaving to make way for the return of a Miller favorite, who we’ll welcome back next time!

Paula Kelly, Ray Eberle & the Modernaires

Paula Kelly, Ray Eberle & the Modernaires

Sun Valley Serenade – Part 1

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, Pat Friday (voice dub for Lynn Bari), John Payne, Dorothy Dandridge, The Nicholas Brothers, Six Hits and a Miss (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

20th Century Fox Studios, Hollywood, March 24 – May 3, 1941

After the RCA studio sessions in February 1941, the Glenn Miller band took one more swing down the East Coast and then headed west for a series of dates, eventually arriving in Hollywood in mid-March.  Along the way, Glenn jettisoned vocalist Dorothy Claire, who, despite her fine vocal style, had not been a good fit with the band and leader.  She returned to Bobby Byrne’s band as if her two-month Miller stint had never happened. Though only heard on a handful of records, she left behind  a legacy of classy singing on a number of airchecks.

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Dorothy Claire rehearses with Glenn

As her replacement, Miller signed Paula Kelly, who just happened to be the wife of Modernaire Hal Dickenson.  Paula had been singing with the Dick Stabile and Al Donahue bands since 1938 and was a natural for the Miller band. Though not the strongest solo vocalist, she slotted in perfectly with the Modernaires, with whom she would be most often heard.

Paula Kelly

Paula Kelly

Once at 20th Century Fox, the band began rehearsing and routining the new arrangements for the soundtrack of Sun Valley Serenade. The film starred dimpled Sonja Henie, the Norwegian Olympic Champion skating star.  After her amazing sports career ended, she signed with 20th Century Fox in 1936 for a series of very popular skating musicals. Though she came across on-screen as sweet and rather simple, Henie was a tough businesswoman who demanded and got top money from studio head Darryl Zanuck.  Wisely realizing that Henie’s dimples and several skating numbers were not enough to support a successful film, Zanuck surrounded the star from the beginning with an array of seasoned stars and supporting players.

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In her movies, Sonja romanced Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Cesar Romero, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings, while comedians Joan Davis, Ethel Merman, the Ritz Brothers, Buddy Ebsen, Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur Treacher and the Condos Brothers sang and danced. The formula worked, as all of the Henie ice epics were big hits.

Sun Valley Serenade, Henie’s seventh Fox film, was designed to fit snugly into the pattern. John Payne was the love interest, Lynn Bari supplied romantic conflict and comedy would be provided by young up-and-comer Milton Berle, raucous Joan Davis (whose role was severely truncated in the editing process), the dancing Nicholas Brothers and singer Dorothy Dandridge. Since big band musicals were highly popular, the Miller band was added for extra punch.  Glenn had held off from appearing in films until he had enough clout to insist upon the best screen presentation of his organization in an “A” picture.

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In the early 1940s. it was said that big bands got big parts in “B” pictures and small parts in “A” pictures.  Top bands like Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, for example, got short shrift in films like Dancing Co-ed and Las Vegas Nights.  By integrating the band into the plot of Sun Valley Serenade, the scriptwriters gave Glenn what he wanted. The band is seen and heard throughout and is the driving force behind the plot, silly though it may be. Unfortunately, in doing so, several of Glenn’s top people were squeezed out of the film. With John Payne playing the band’s pianist/male vocalist, Chummy MacGregor and Ray Eberle were shunted off to the sidelines.  Chummy only appears during CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO, while Payne is off skiing with Henie and Eberle is left totally in the snow, which must have upset him.

John Payne & Lynn Bari with Willie Schwartz & Tex Beneke in the background

John Payne & Lynn Bari with Willie Schwartz & Tex Beneke in the background

Lynn Bari plays the band’s singer (utilizing the luscious voice of Pat Friday), but Paula Kelly and the Modernaires, along with Tex Beneke, do get their time in the screen spotlight. Songwriters Harry Warren and Mack Gordon must have been inspired by the chance to write for the Miller band, as some of their very best compositions would wind up in Glenn’s two films.

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The band also received the best sound recording it would ever get, years ahead of the fidelity achieved by their RCA studio recordings. The film studios recorded music and voices using multiple microphones on multiple channels (termed “stems” or “angles” at that time).   They were not yet attempting to produce multichannel stereophonic recordings. The various “angles” were mixed down to produce a monaural single-channel soundtrack, but with the luxury of highlighting various instruments or sections. For example, when the camera panned across an orchestra, you might hear different instruments coming to the fore and then receding.

In cases where the studios preserved the multiple angles, a form of stereo could be newly mixed for later video and theater releases, as was done in the 1990s for The Wizard of Oz. Both Miller films were mixed for stereo when issued on VHS in the late 1980s, with pretty miraculous results. So far, only Orchestra Wives has had an official DVD release in the United States.

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At the time the films were made, 20th Century Fox produced albums of  78s featuring most of the final soundtrack performances for in-house distribution and also for cast & crew souvenirs. These are the first and only 78 issues of the movie tracks.

When The Glenn Miller Story was released in 1954 to popular acclaim (and $7 million at the box office), Decca’s soundtrack album hit #1 for 10 weeks on the Billboard charts. RCA cobbled together an album of the same songs in Glenn’s original performances and that stayed at #1 for 11 weeks!

Hoping to cash in on Miller Mania, 20th Century-Fox re-released both of Glenn’s films theatrically as a double-feature package and struck gold there, too. RCA Victor licensed those soundtracks from Fox and created two 10-inch LPs, including most of the numbers from the films and several unused tracks as well.

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In 1959, with 10-inch LPs out of favor, RCA would likely have combined the two albums onto a single 12-inch LP.  20th Fox Records apparently yanked the rights back and produced their own 2-LP set of Miller film music, which added several “new” numbers, left others off or truncated them.  In order to have the most complete original issue of Glenn’s Fox soundtracks, both RCA and Fox albums are required listening.

We’ll discuss the actual Miller music in the next installment!

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Good-bye 1940

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,vcl); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – December 13, 1940, 1:30-5:50 PM

058172-1      Anvil Chorus – Part 1 (JG arr)          Bluebird 10982-A

058173-1      Anvil Chorus – Part 2 (JG arr)         Bluebird 10982-B

058173-2     Anvil Chorus – Part 2 (JG arr)         Bluebird (Canada) 10982-B

058174-1     Frenesi (BF arr)                                  Bluebird 10994-A

058174-2    Frenesi (BF arr)                                  first issued on LP

RCA Victor Studios, New York – December 27, 1940, 1:00-4:00 PM

058805-1      The Mem’ry of a Rose (RE vcl)             Bluebird 11011-A

058806-1      I Do, Do You ? (RE vcl, BF arr)            Bluebird 11020-A

058807-1      Chapel in the Valley (RE vcl)                Bluebird 11029-B

058808-1      Prairieland Lullaby (RE vcl, BF arr)   Bluebird 11011-B

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Now the top band in the land, it’s strange that Glenn Miller recorded relatively infrequently in the last months of 1940. From October through year’s end, he waxed only 20 numbers, quite a drop-off from 1939. With their comfortable perch at the Café Rouge, it would seem that the time to commission and rehearse new numbers would be available. For whatever reason, this was not the case.

The first session in December came on Friday, the 13th, but it proved to be a lucky Miller date. Not so for Count Basie – he had a Columbia session that same day and superstitious musician Lester Young refused to show up, getting himself fired from the band.

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With the ASCAP radio ban looming on January 1st of the New Year, Glenn wisely concentrated on selections that would fit under the new BMI or public domain-only restrictions. The short session of December 13th consisted of a real oldie and a BMI newcomer. ANVIL CHORUS, a swing version of the familiar choral theme from Verdi’s 1853 opera, Il Trovatore, was needless to say, in the public domain!

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Jerry Gray penned the lengthy arrangement (even though Glenn got the label credit!), which was first broadcast in October. It ran seven minutes and was taken at a very slow tempo. This was too long even for a two-part 78, so it was sped up and several sections were edited, resulting in a five-minute jazz opus.

Note that this 45 reissue correctly credits Jerry Gray as the arranger.

Note that this 45 reissue correctly credits Jerry Gray as the arranger.

The band is in fine fettle, booted along by Moe Purtill and Trigger Alpert. Beneke, Ernie Caceres and Billy May get short solos, but the star here is the tightly routined band and Moe, who is heard in a lengthy drum spot on Part 2. The repeated riffs go on just long enough, leading to a neat coda. Later performances by both the civilian and AAF bands would lengthen the drum solo, making it nearly a percussion feature. The alternate take of Part 2 is easily identified by a fat trumpet clinker near the end.

FRENESI, on the other hand, was written by Mexican composer Alberto Dominguez in 1939 and became a popular hit there. Bandleader Artie Shaw heard a local band play it while on a vacation and brought it home to record instrumentally in March 1940 with his new swing-pus strings band. Though the A-side, ADIOS MARIQUITA LINDA, was expected to be the hit, FRENESI, the B-side, took off and became nearly the biggest success Shaw would ever have.

1940 sheet music with ASCAP lyric.

1940 sheet music with ASCAP lyric.

English lyrics were hastily added by Leonard Whitcup, an ASCAP lyricist, and several additional recordings were made.   The song’s American publisher, Southern Music, then switched their affiliation to BMI and a new set of English lyrics by Ray Charles (not the singer of that name) and S.K. Russell were attached. Glenn avoided the whole lyric question by recording the number as an instrumental ballad, slowing it down from Shaw’s rhythm-rumba tempo.

1941 sheet music with BMI lyric.

1941 sheet music with BMI lyric.

The saxes lead off with the insinuating melody, first by themselves and then with the clarinet lead. Tex Beneke picks it up, followed by lovely muted trumpets. Johnny Best takes an open trumpet solo, continued by Mickey McMickle on muted horn. More reed sounds and then the full band brings it home. This Bill Finegan chart is a leisurely beauty, though Artie Shaw’s landmark version is hard to beat. The title FRENESI means “frenzy” in English. Neither of these famous recordings suggest that at all!

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After these two winning discs, the Miller band’s final session for 1940 produced four pretty forgettable sides, which made no stir whatsoever, either artistically or commercially.  All the tunes were written by composers and lyricists who had done right by Glenn in the past.

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There are some pleasant arranging touches and Ray Eberle does his usual consistent job, but not one of the songs standa out especially. THE MEM’RY OF A ROSE, by Jimmy Kennedy (of MY PRAYER fame) and Richard Young, has the fusty-sounding lyric of a Civil War-era ballad.

I DO, DO YOU sounds a little more up-to-date, written by Lew Quadling, who had penned A MILLION DREAMS AGO earlier in the year.   Also returning was Leon Rene, writer of WHEN THE SWALLOWS COME BACK TO CAPISTRANO. CHAPEL IN THE VALLEY was not much of a follow-up, though it tries to suggest the melody and lyric of the earlier song.

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PRAIRIELAND LULLABY at least has an interesting lineage. It was written by Victor Young, one of Glenn’s comrades in the 1926 Ben Pollack band. Young had risen to become a top radio, recording and film composer/conductor. The song was part of the score for a Paramount musical travelogue short, Arizona Sketches, with an added lyric by Frank Loesser (of THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU).

Victor Young

Victor Young

Bill Finegan’s pleasant arrangement drags Ray Eberle onto a saddle again, for yet another lope through the Western tumbleweeds. He sings throughout and is in especially relaxed form, riding 1940 off into the sunset.

As Bluebird’s top-selling band, Glenn certainly had a say in the material he was given to record. It appears that he was becoming aware that he should concentrate on better songs in the future and not favor those published and plugged by friends or even his own publishing firm, at least not until they had better product to promote.

1941 would feature a higher quality of material and result in many memorable recordings, plus new sounds arriving in the Glenn Miller vocal department!

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The First Miller Session – Part 2

Forgot to mention the vocalist on the date!  Smith-Ballew

Smith Ballew had been around as a studio singer since the late 1920s and had sung on many Dorsey Brothers and Ben Pollack dates that included Glenn and his chums. Glenn had also played in various touring bands led by Ballew and they were long-time friends.  So this date was a chance to toss some money Smith’s way.

His pleasantly bland vocal style were already going out of favor by 1935 and Smith soon relocated to Los Angeles where his Gary Cooper-ish looks helped him to get into musical Western movies.

Tune-wise, the first three songs on the date were all written and popularized in 1926;  and the one Miller “original,” SOLO HOP, was simply a riff on 1929’s PAGAN LOVE SONG, sans melody statement.  Oddly, except for A BLUES SERENADE, the other songs had first been performed as exotica/mysterioso compositions, suggesting foreign climes and mores.

Glenn later featured a hot PAGAN chart of his making with the 1939 band and revisited A BLUES SERENADE in several of his radio medleys.

Performance-wise, the records are tightly arranged and well-performed, as one would expect from Glenn, even at this early date.  One aspect that is readily apparent is the rather plodding rhythm section, with Bauduc clomping all over the place.  This trait would plague Miller’s band throughout  the civilian days.  Friend and writer George T. Simon, who sat in on drums early on, reported that Glenn often drove his musicians hard, creating a tense atmosphere while rehearsing and recording.  Recording in those days was difficult enough and achieving a sense of relaxation on disc didn’t happen often with Glenn.

The two ballads feature the strings, Glenn with a mute and a high-pitched Ballew, with brief solos by Berigan and Eddie Miller.  The hot tunes are something else, showing off the soloists, especially Bunny,  quite well. The strings saw along gamely during SPANISH TOWN, but are dropped on SOLO HOP, a looser arrangement that gives Berigan, Eddie Miller and Johnny Mince more of a chance to jam without interference.

The attractive blue wax discs did not sell well – evidenced by their rarity today – even a Columbia red-label reissue of the two instrumentals in 1941, when Glenn was hitting his peak, made no impression.

Artie Shaw, however, took Glenn’s experimental session to a new level.  In mid-1936, after a sensational NY appearance with a string quartet at a swing concert in Manhattan, Shaw was persuaded to start his own band.  He did, using the string quartet as a nucleus wrapped around a Swing-Dixie combo. Artie got a lot of press coverage for his new and “novel” instrumentation.

The setup was almost exactly the same as on Glenn’s record date (two trumpets, one trombone (Glenn used two), two reeds, 4 strings and four rhythm). Additionally, two of Glenn’s violinists – Harry Bluestone and Bill Schuman – played with Shaw in 1936.

Decades later, Artie claimed that he had never heard of Glenn’s records and the concept of a string-swing band was his own idea.  Artie was also quite contemptuous of Glenn’s music and popularity, missing no opportunity to knock him.

Quien sabe?

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“The Man with that Grand Band….”

March 1st of this year marked the 110th birthday of bandleader and Swing Era icon Glenn Miller. My interest in his music started 50 years ago when my Dad bought me this album:

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Little did my father know what this seemingly innocuous purchase would lead to.  This RCA Camden album reissue gave a young collector a lopsided view of the Miller band.  One ballad and two hot instrumentals, and seven (!) vocals by Ray Eberle, one shared with the Modernaires. Guess that’s why I have always liked Ray Eberle’s singing, due to his looming presence on this LP.

Thank goodness for RCA Camden! This $1.98 budget label offered a generous sampling  of RCA’s big band holdings to the low-income enthusiast – Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and Fats Waller all had one or more discs in the catalog.  And there was more by Miller:

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Great cover!  This was my second Miller Camden purchase (though it actually had been issued first, in 1963).  All vocals this time, again heavy on the Eberle (6 tracks), but at least a look-in by other Miller singers Marion Hutton, Tex Beneke, Skip Nelson and the Modernaires.  Also included were some nonsensical burblings in the liner notes describing Glenn’s original Bluebird 78s as “jewels” and “pearls of great price.”  At the time I accepted this pronouncement as gospel. Later I would find out that most of Glenn’s 78s could be acquired for less than a buck, but what did I know in 1964?

By the time the third Glenn Miller Camden LP was issued in 1967 (another great cover design and with five more Eberles!), I was well on my way to full-fledged record passion.

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As I got deeper into the music of the Big Band Era, my mother would say (often), “I lived through this era once, do I have to again?”