THE GANG’S ALL HERE! Wartime antics

Benny Goodman (cl,vcl); Lee Castle, Harold Peppie, Bobby Guyer (tp); Charlie Castaldo, Miff Mole (tb); Hymie Schertzer, Leonard Kaye, Benny Carter (as); Jon Walton, Bob Taylor (onscreen solo recorded by Eddie Miller)(ts); Joe Rushton (bass sax); Jess Stacy (p); Bart Roth (g); Gus Van Camp (b); Louie Bellson (d); Eddie Sauter (arr). Alice Faye & Carmen Miranda (vcl). String section added for “No Love, No Nothin’.”

Film studio pre-recordings, Hollywood, late March/April 1943

Let’s Dance                                        20th Century Fox TCF233

Minnie’s in the Money (BG vcl)                   TCF-233

Paducah, Part 1 (BG vcl)                              TCF-237

Paducah, Part 2 (CM vcl)                              TCF-238

No Love, No Nothin’ (AF vcl)                        TCF-240

bg title_the_gangs_all_here_blu-ray_Benny Goodman made his first film appearances with his orchestra in 1936 and 1937 in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1937 and HOLLYWOOD HOTEL. After these well-received features, he made no others for five long years, the period of his greatest popularity.

The film studios took awhile to fully embrace the Swing Era. Big bands were well featured in short films (as they had been doing so since the dawn of talkies), but features were a bit harder to crack. Duke Ellington, always a law unto himself, had made guest appearances in a batch of movies starting in 1930, as had Cab Calloway. These were always “specialty” sequences, rarely interacting with the lead characters.

After Goodman’s 1930s films, the concept of building a full-length film around a band began to take hold, though slowly. Artie Shaw actually played a role and had dialogue in his two features, DANCING CO-ED and SECOND CHORUS. With 1940’s LET’S MAKE MUSIC, Bob Crosby began a series of B-musicals starring his band.

Of course, Glenn Miller’s two movies truly showed that a band could carry a film (albeit with star support like skater Sonja Henie) as did Harry James’ PRIVATE BUCKAROO, with the red-hot Andrews Sisters. Jimmy Dorsey was well provided for in THE FLEET’S IN, with Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton and William Holden. Johnny Mercer and the film’s director Victor Schertzinger penned the finest score for any big band feature, including “Tangerine,” “I Remember You,” “Not Mine” and “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry.”

Brother Tommy Dorsey debuted with the micro-budgeted LAS VEGAS NIGHTS (1940) and then moved up to the slightly larger-budget SHIP AHOY, at MGM with Eleanor Powell. Harry James then had the distinction of being the first top band showcased in Technicolor, with future wife Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda in SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES. The hit song “I Had the Craziest Dream” was an added plus.

With the onerous 1942 recording ban and wartime travel restrictions in place, it was likely easier for bands to make Hollywood their home for lengthy periods. As the King of Swing, Benny Goodman soon began getting the call. Once World War II began, he and his band started popping up in film after film, six over the next two years.

1942 – SYNCOPATION, THE POWERS GIRL, STAGE DOOR CANTEEN

1943 – THE GANG’S ALL HERE

1944 – SWEET AND LOWDOWN, MAKE MINE MUSIC

bg Gang's All Here, The (1943)_01THE GANG’S ALL HERE remains the best-remembered Goodman film of the era, mostly for reasons that have little to do with Benny. 20th Century Fox pulled out all the stops for this one – who cared about wartime austerity? The film starred Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda and was acclaimed film choreographer-director Busby Berkeley’s first color assignment. Not just any color – Fox specialized in super-saturated Technicolor photography, which made Alice and Carmen look as luscious as cherry-topped ice-cream sundaes.

The film was also stuffed with familiar character players – Charlotte Greenwood, Edward Everett Horton, Eugene Pallette, Phil Baker, Frank Faylen and dancer Tony DeMarco. Three future stars made brief appearances as showgirls and hat check honeys – Jeanne Crain, June Haver and Adele Jergens.

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_02_blu-ray__blu-ray_After writing the wonderful scores for the two Glenn Miller films and Harry James’ SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES, Fox once again hired composer Harry Warren to write THE GANG’S ALL HERE score, but not with his usual lyricist Mack Gordon. Leo Robin was equally as adept as Gordon and crafted two lovely ballads, “No Love, No Nothin’” and “A Journey to a Star.” Alice Faye delivered both of them, memorably.

With the record ban firmly in place, neither tune got much record coverage though Judy Garland covered both songs on her first post-ban Decca session. It was surprising to find Judy singing Fox songs, rather than numbers from her home studio, MGM.

Since Benny was between vocalists at the time (Peggy Lee having just left the band) he got handed two novelties to sing, “Minnie’s in the Money” and “Paducah.” Both had catchy melodies but rather lame lyrics, with the latter tune reaching for the same sort of success that Warren’s previous two “city songs” had attained – “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” Even with Carmen Miranda joining in, “Paducah” was a dud. Never the greatest actor, Benny was only handed a few incidental lines. Glenn Miller and Harry James fared better in the acting department in their pictures.

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_X03_blu-ray__blu-ray_In addition to the opening number, the Latin classic “Brazil,” Carmen Miranda made the most of her two feature novelties, “You Discover You’re in New York,” “The Lady with the Tutti-Frutti Hat” Director Busby Berkeley made the most of Fox Technicolor, with spectacular, surrealistic effects and over-the-top set pieces, like Carmen Miranda’s dancing bananas and huge fruit hat. The “Polka-Dot Polka” finale tops them all, with neon hoops, wild color shifts and a kaleidoscopic windup, with all the cast members singing a line of “A Journey to a Star” with their heads poked through a shimmering silver curtain. “Buy Your War Bonds at the Theater!”

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_X05_blu-ray__blu-ray_The film was so stuffed with songs by the principals, comedy from Carmen, Charlotte Greenwood, Eugene Pallette and Edward Everett Horton, dance routines by Tony DeMarco and Berkeley’s lengthy production numbers that very little time was left for the mundane girl-falls-for-soldier plot, which was just as well. Berkeley was never a great dialogue director and Alice Faye pretty much sleepwalks her way though her on again-off again romance with the less than scintillating James Ellison. With all the male stars off at war, Faye had to make do with the leftovers here.

Also, Alice was pregnant during much of the shooting schedule and was not feeling at her best. This would prove to be her last starring Fox musical.

bg 800__the_gangs_all_here_X09_blu-ray__blu-ray_Getting back to Benny and the boys, this was a band in transition. The draft had decimated his great 1941-42 band and a lot of newcomers were present here, as the personnel on the heading shows. Youngsters Lee Castle, Louis Bellson and Jon Walton play alongside oldsters Miff Mole, Jess Stacy and Hymie Schertzer.

The Goodman group swung like crazy during their brief solo spots. The great rhythm section was well recorded, with Jess Stacy and Louis Bellson especially prominent. The band was augmented with strings and a liquid Benny Carter alto solo during Alice Faye’s torcher, “No Love, No Nothin’.” Carter was on the Fox lot working on STORMY WEATHER and other arranging jobs and managed to wedge in this Goodman guest appearance.

bg alice carmenTHE GANG’S ALL HERE was one of the last Fox musicals that had special 78rpm pressings done of the songs as souvenir albums for the cast and production people. As with the Glenn Miller films, these albums are pretty rare. With the war going strong, niceties like these discs fell by the wayside and Fox stopped doing them in 1944. Little surprises do pop up on these discs. The “Paducah” record, for example, has several extra band choruses before Carmen Miranda’s vocal that were cut by the time the film was released. Only the Goodman numbers are mentioned above, but there were numerous additional ones as well.

bg gangs 1974As one of the most ephemeral of World War II era musicals, THE GANG’S ALL HERE has had a surprising afterlife. In 1974, the film was reissued to theaters in an eye-popping new print and it instantly became a camp classic, primarily for the Busby Berkeley and Carmen Miranda contributions. Reviewers like Rex Reed fell all over themselves to praise Berkeley and the candy-colored backgrounds. Other theatrical revivals followed and the film eventually turned up on the AMC cable network in the 1990s. It took awhile for a home video release, apparently due to problems with the film negative elements.

A 2008 Fox DVD release as past of an Alice Faye boxed set was criticized for its blurry transfer, so a remaster was done the following year and included in a Carmen Miranda set. While an improvement, it still can’t compare with the dazzling theatrical prints seen earlier. At some point, Fox apparently transferred their three-strip Technicolor film negatives to Eastmancolor stock, which has a duller color palette. That’s all we apparently have now.

Still, it remains a delight to see Benny Goodman at his peak in Technicolor, the only one of his band musicals to be filmed that way.  It’s also a treat to hear one of the least-recorded Goodman bands in such sparkling fidelity.

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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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A Hard Day’s Afternoon at RCA

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle (tp); Glenn Miller (tb,arr); Paul Tanner, Al Mastren (tb); Hal McIntyre, Wilbur Schwartz (cl,as); Gabe Galinas (as,bar); Tex Beneke, Al Klink (ts); Chummy MacGregor (p); Arthur Ens (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d). Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Joe Lippman, Charlie Dixon (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – May 25, 1939, 12:30-4:30 PM

037152-1      Blue Evening (RE vcl, JL arr)           Bluebird 10290

037153-1      The Lamp Is Low (RE vcl)                Bluebird 10290

037154-1      Rendezvous Time in Paree (RE vcl)            Bluebird 10309

037155-1      We Can Live on Love (MH vcl, CD arr)       Bluebird 10309

037156-1      Cinderella [Stay in My Arms] (RE vcl)        Bluebird 10303

037157-1      Moon Love (RE vcl)                           Bluebird 10303

On May 17, Glenn and the band opened at the prestigious Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, NY for the summer season. Miller friend and chronicler George T. Simon had this to say about the booking: ”The personnel of the band became set just before it went into Glen Island, (which) was the prestige place for people who listened to bands on radio. The band’s first semi-hit, ‘Little Brown Jug,’ came out just when it opened at Glen Island. That helped. And the clarinet lead in Glenn’s arrangements was such a romantic sound! It caught the public fancy during this exposure.”

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With the increased radio time and more frequent record sessions, Glenn needed more arrangers on the payroll than just himself and Bill Finegan. On the May 25th date, Joe Lippman and Charlie Dixon contributed their first charts and more writing help was on the way.

Lippman had arranged for Benny Goodman since the first Let’s Dance broadcast in 1934, and he went on to play piano and arrange for Artie Shaw, Bunny Berigan and Jimmy Dorsey. Charlie Dixon was Glenn’s first black arranger, having worked for Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb.

Also new to the band was trumpeter Clyde Hurley, who moved into the hot solo chair, replacing Bob Price. Hurley had been featured in Ben Pollack’s band, where he was spotted by George Simon, who recommended him to Glenn. Glenn and Hurley never got on especially well, but Hurley stayed for a year, contributing some fine jazz to the ensemble.

This marathon six-song session focused heavily on Ray Eberle ballads, with one swing number for Marion Hutton.  First up was BLUE EVENING by Isham Jones’ alumni Gordon Jenkins and Joe Bishop, who had earlier collaborated on the popular BLUE PRELUDE.  It’s a sad little song, effectively introduced by Mickey McMickle’s mournfully muted trumpet.  Joe Lippman’s arrangement effectively frames the song and Ray’s vocal.

Next up is another winner, THE LAMP IS LOW, the first of two classical adaptations recorded at this session.  This one is a Peter DeRose setting of  a lush melody from Ravel’s PAVANE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS.  Old friend Mitchell Parish crafted the lyrics.  Sweetly singing reed passages cushion Ray Eberle in a more upbeat mode and more reed sounds take it out at a brisk dance tempo.

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Two songs follow from the soon-to-open (on June 19) Broadway revue, Streets of Paris.  With a score by Al Dubin and Jimmy McHugh, the show starred veteran comedian Bobby Clark and newcomers Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, who had begun their climb to fame through a series of guest spots on the popular Kate Smith radio show.  Future Broadway and film choreographer Gower Champion was also featured, but the rest of the cast was overshadowed by the sensational debut of Brazilian import Carmen Miranda. Abbott,_Costello_and_Carmen_Miranda

The big song hit of the show was Carmen’s SOUTH AMERICAN WAY; Glenn got two of the non-Carmen songs. RENDEZVOUS TIME IN PAREE is a rather awkwardly-constructed melody and lyric, at one point painfully rhyming the River “Seine” with “rain.”  Much better is WE CAN LIVE ON LOVE, Marion Hutton’s sole contribution to the date.  Clyde Hurley takes his first recorded solo, Glenn and Tex are heard briefly and Moe Purtill keeps the rhythm moving  with his ride cymbals, nicely recorded here.

CINDERELLA (STAY IN MY ARMS) is a rare dud of a song from top British composers Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr, who penned such hits as ISLE OF CAPRI, RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET and MY PRAYER, which Glenn would soon wax.  The lovely arrangement with Glenn featured on muted trombone gives the song more class than it deserves!

The date concludes with another hit, MOON LOVE, Andre Kostelanetz’s reworking of a memorable theme from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with lyrics by Mack David. Glenn’s reed section was made for such melodies and they really deliver. Ray is at his most relaxed, contributing his best recorded vocal so far.

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Having completed this four-hour session at 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon, Glenn and the band would head back to Glen Island for an evening of music.  They would be back at RCA in a week.