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.

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Polka Dots and Moonbeams

Legh Knowles, Clyde Hurley, Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best (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); Dick Fisher (g); Rollie Bundock (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton (vcl); Jerry Gray, Bill Finegan (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 19, 1940, 1:00-4:30 PM

047067-1      Imagination (RE vcl)                         Bluebird 10622

047068-1      Shake Down the Stars (RE vcl)        Bluebird 10689

047069-1      I’ll Never Smile Again (RE vcl, JG arr)   Bluebird 10673

047070-1      Starlight and Music (RE vcl, JG arr)            Bluebird 10684

 

RCA Victor Studios, New York – February 24, 1940, 2:00-5:15 PM

047093-1      Polka Dots and Moonbeams (RE vcl, JG arr) Bluebird 10657

047094-1      My, My (MH vcl, JG arr)        Bluebird 10631

047095-1      Say It (RE vcl, BF arr)           Bluebird 10631

047096-1      Moments in the Moonlight (RE vcl) Bluebird 10638

047097-1      Hear My Song, Violetta (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10684

047098-1      Sierra Sue (RE vcl, JG arr)    Bluebird 10638

Two Glenn Miller record sessions during the latter half of February 1940 produced ten record sides, all popular songs of the day. Nine of them had vocals by Ray Eberle, with one brief look-in from Marion Hutton. Churning out the commercial pops kept the music publishers happy; and several of these songs were hits, though not necessarily for Glenn!

gmimaginationIMAGINATION, by the prolific Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, was a major Miller success and became a standard. It’s a sweet, charming song well handled by Ray and the band. Unusually, there is no band intro, we are plunked right into the song, performed at a relaxed, medium tempo.

And who wrote the next song, SHAKE DOWN THE STARS? Jimmy Van Heusen again, this time with lyricist Eddie DeLange. The lyrics paint a pretty grim picture of thwarted love, but Miller gives it a more hopeful feel. A bluesy, Lunceford-style introduction sets the mood and Eberle’s vocal is plaintively effective.

I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN is known far and wide as a huge record hit for Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers. Their innovative, hushed chamber group approach with celeste backing was a fresh sound for the time and well suited the mournful song. In fact it was Sinatra’s first hit with the band. (Songwriter Ruth Lowe later wrote Frank’s theme song, PUT YOUR DREAMS AWAY.)

gmsmilgmgmsmiletdgmsmilefsThe story given at the time was that Ruth Lowe wrote it in the aftermath of her young husband’s death. Later it was reported that she had actually written it earlier. Whatever the case, the song certainly struck a chord with listeners.   Glenn got to it first, though. He recorded it two months before Tommy attempted it in April 1940. That first Dorsey recording was unissued; a remake a month later first hit the charts in July and was Number One for 12 weeks.

Glenn had a real head start, but his Bluebird disc was a major disappointment. Getting the standard Miller treatment, the song comes across as nothing out of the ordinary; it needed special handling, as Tommy realized.   Strangely, Glenn apparently sensed that the song had hit potential. On a March 4th broadcast, he took pains to introduce the song’s radio debut with a prediction that it would be a big hit. It was, but not for him!

STARLIGHT AND MUSIC, which concluded the February 19th session, is another forgettable recording. The song is unmemorable and it gets a decent performance, but that’s about all that can be said. Writers Maurice Hart, Al Hoffman and Walter Kent sound like nobodies, but Hoffman later wrote the score for Walt Disney’s CINDERELLA and Kent composed I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS and THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER.

gmpoladotsThe February 24th date opened with another Miller 78 hit, POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS. Whaddya know, once again the composers were Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. In the wrong hands, the cheerful lyric, referencing a “pug-nosed dream,” could border on treacle, but Glenn (and Dorsey-Sinatra) handled it well.

The lovely melody became a jazz standard, with Lester Young, Bud Powell, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans and Johnny Hodges among those who performed it in later years.

gm1940 Buck Benny rides again (ing) 01Paramount Pictures must have had some kind of deal with RCA and/or Glenn, as Miller regularly recorded songs from their musicals. Here come two more, MY! MY! and SAY IT. The great Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh teamed up for these tuneful numbers from Buck Benny Rides Again, a Jack Benny musical Western. It featured his radio cast, taking place on his fictitious Nevada ranch that was a sketch favorite on the air.  Benny was so popular at the time that the film was one of the Top Ten moneymakers of 1940!

gmmymygmsayiteMY! MY! was a familiar catchphrase of Benny’s sidekick, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, making it an appealing title hook for a song.   Rochester sang it in the film, but here Marion takes her only vocal on these two sessions. Following Miss Hutton is the first recorded Miller solo by newcomer Ernie Caceres. This talented Mexican jazzman came to Glenn from Jack Teagarden’s band and was an important addition to the band’s jazz contingent with his spiky solos on alto and baritone sax, clarinet and even the occasional vocal.

gmsay itEberle takes a nicely relaxed vocal on SAY IT, the film’s lovely ballad. It’s a song that should have become a standard.   Ray is even more hushed and effective on a broadcast version of the song a few weeks later, part of a Something Old/New/Borrowed/Blue medley.

Society bandleader Richard Himber co-wrote the next song, MOMENTS IN THE MOONLIGHT. Himber apparently was a leader who actually wrote the songs he is credited with, including his popular theme song, IT ISN’T FAIR. Lyrics were provided by Irving Gordon and Al Kaufman. Their other hits include UNFORGETTABLE, BLUE PRELUDE and Duke Ellington’s PRELUDE TO A KISS.

It’s a pleasant number taken at the perfect medium tempo, but pitched at the high end of Ray Eberle’s range, giving his voice a strained quality. It took a long time before Glenn began to lower Ray’s keys, allowing him to sing at a more comfortable pitch. Tex Beneke peeks in briefly before the windup.

gmviolettaHEAR MY SONG, VIOLETTA had a strange lineage. It was a popular German ballad by composers Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukesch, introduced in 1936. Somehow it made it’s way to these shores; Buddy Bernier and Bob Emmerich provided the English lyrics. It became a moderate hit, with recordings by Glenn, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey and Van Alexander. Later, in 1947, Irish tenor Josef Locke recorded it (with new lyrics by Buddy Pepper) in tango tempo and it practically became his theme song.

Glenn treats the melody as a fast ballad and Ray sings it unadorned, with slightly suspect intonation. The band swings it a bit in the final chorus, with nice cymbal work by Moe Purtill.

gmsierra s posterFinally, the six-tune February 24th session wraps up with SIERRA SUE, another Miller excursion into Western territory. Subtitled “A Song of the Hills,” it was written by Joseph B. Carey back in 1916. Dusted off 24 years later, it became the title song of a Gene Autry musical Western. Gene Krupa and Casa Loma also waxed it and it was performed by such diverse talents as soignee cabaret singer Doris Rhodes and jazzman Bud Freeman!

gmsierraThough the term “country-western music” didn’t exist in 1916, the tune is a typical prairie ballad, played in citified style by Glenn, who throws in some “boo-wah” brass phrases before Eberle’s vocal.

Ten songs in five days – that was a lot of recording in such a short time for Glenn.  It’s worth noting that of these ten, Tommy Dorsey would also record eight of them, all after Glenn did! It might simply be coincidence, but Tommy was feuding with Glenn at the time over money matters and it’s not unlikely that Dorsey wanted to cut into Glenn’s Bluebird record sales (at 35 cents a copy) by cutting the same songs for the prestigious full-priced (75 cents) Victor label.

More than a month would pass before we next join the band in the studio and a lot would happen in the interim!

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