G. I. Jive

Captain Glenn Miller (tb & director); Zeke Zarchy, Whitey Thomas, Bobby Nichols, Steve Steck, John Carisi, Jack Steele (tp); Jimmy Priddy, James Harwood, John Halliburton, Larry Hall, Nat Peck (tb); Addison Collins (Frhrn); Hank Freeman, Gabe Galinas, Fred Guerra (as); Jack Ferrier, Vinnie Carbone, Murray Wald, Peanuts Hucko, Lynn Allison (ts); Chuck Gentry, Mannie Thaler (bar); George Ockner (concertmaster of 20-piece string section); Mel Powell, Jack Russin (p); Carmen Mastren (g) Trigger Alpert, Joe Shulman (b); Ray McKinley, Frank Ippolito (d); Jerry Gray, Norman Leyden, Ralph Wilkinson, Bill Finegan (arr).

This is a composite personnel, from which the recording units were drawn.

 

V-Disc Session, RCA Victor Studios. New York, January 21, 1944

VP-563           Embraceable You (strings only) (RW arr)   V-Disc 183

VP-563           G.I. Jive (RMcK & CC vcl, JG arr)    V-Disc 183

VP-618           Moon Dreams (JD & CC vcl)            V-Disc 201

VP-655           Stealin’ Apples  (Fletcher Henderson arr)         V-Disc 223

 

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By the time of the third Glenn Miller AAF Band V-Disc recording session, the V-Disc program directors were making arrangements to acquire fresh material for their releases. In addition to reissuing older commercial records and producing their own sessions, they were now able to use performances from CBS and NBC radio broadcasts and rehearsals. This opened a vast library of material to choose from, and bands like Glenn’s did not need to record specifically for V-Disc, as their regular broadcasts provided quality music to select from. After this January date, a dozen later Miller V-Discs came from his radio shows, specifically the weekly I Sustain the Wings NBC series.

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Two standards and two new songs make up the program. The strings have it all to themselves for the Gershwins’ lovely EMBRACEABLE YOU, with concertmaster George Ockner’s fiddle leading the way.   Fourteen years earlier, Glenn was in the pit band of Girl Crazy, the Broadway musical in which the song was introduced. Perhaps he was thinking of how far he had come when recording this version!

Bobby Nichols’ trumpet starts off G. I. JIVE, an amiable showcase for Ray McKinley’s singing, with able assistance from the Crew Chiefs. Jerry Gray’s swinging chart is a winner, with an especially delightful windup. Johnny Mercer wrote both words and music and was the first to record it for his fledgling Capitol Records at their first session after the recording ban, held on October 15, 1943. It was a much-needed hit for the new label.

Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman, 1938

Martha Tilton with Benny Goodman, 1938

Mercer also lyricized MOON DREAMS, a melody by Glenn’s old friend and pianist, Chummy MacGregor. This song had also debuted on Capitol, at the label’s very first session – April 6, 1942, sung by Martha Tilton. In fact, it has the distinction of being Capitol master #1. Capitol didn’t have much time to get going before the recording ban struck on August 1; they had waxed barely 80 masters. Despite that tiny backlog, the Tilton rendition of MOON DREAMS languished in the vault until late in the summer of 1943. Perhaps Mercer wasn’t pleased with it. Martha’s vocal is fine, but the band accompaniment is rather anemic.

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Not so for the Miller arrangement! Running just over five minutes, this “symphonic” chart is reminiscent of Paul Whiteman’s lavish 12-inch recordings of pop songs from the late 1920s. It’s a lovely, moody performance that shows off the oddly impressionistic melody and lyrics. Johnny Desmond and the Crew Chiefs deliver a hushed vocal. (For some reason, Desmond is credited as “Johann Desmond” on the label. A mistake or an in-joke of some kind?)

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After a batch of AAF performances, the song quickly disappeared, but eventually had a surprising revival. Perhaps Miller French hornist Addison “Junior” Collins brought it to his attention, for in 1948, Miles Davis added the song to the repertoire of his “Birth of the Cool” band, in a shimmering Gil Evans arrangement. Collins played with the group during their September 1948 gig at the Royal Roost, where two airchecks of MOON DREAMS were preserved.   It was eventually recorded at the group’s last Capitol session, in March 1950. Due to this Miles connection, Herbie Mann, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Flora Purim and Meredith D’Ambrosio did other jazz versions in the following years.

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Pianist Mel Powell “borrowed” the classic Fletcher Henderson arrangement of STEALIN’ APPLES from Benny Goodman, his former boss. Glenn apparently liked it a lot, since the AAF band performed it constantly. Because the first two notes are seemingly missing here, I used to think that this performance was badly dubbed onto the V-Disc. Listening to other Miller performances, I soon found that all of them clipped the introduction, perhaps to provide a more arresting kickoff. Powell and clarinetist Peanuts Hucko take exuberant solos, backed by Ray McKinley’s lightly dancing drums.

These selections were eventually split-coupled – EMBRACEABLE YOU and G.I. JIVE, on one side of V-Disc 183, were backed by two Duke Ellington numbers. MOON DREAMS was coupled with Glenn’s 1942 record of SLEEPY TOWN TRAIN on V-Disc 201 and STEALIN’ APPLES was paired with two other AAF radio performances on V-Disc 223.

That was it for the AAF Band’s “original” V-Discs. The dozen or so later Miller releases on the label were all drawn from broadcast transcriptions, keeping the orchestra’s name and sound alive into 1949, when the V-Disc program was ended. It wasn’t until 1955 that RCA belatedly produced a lavish 5-LP set showcasing their best performances, introducing the ensemble to a general audience. We’ll examine one more Glenn Miller AAF record session next time.

Glenn and the band in England, 1944.

Glenn and the band in England, 1944.

 

 

Goin’ Home

Captain Glenn Miller (tb & director); Zeke Zarchy, Whitey Thomas, Bobby Nichols, Steve Steck, John Carisi, Jack Steele (tp); Jimmy Priddy, James Harwood, John Halliburton, Larry Hall, Nat Peck (tb); Addison Collins (Frhrn); Hank Freeman, Gabe Galinas, Fred Guerra (as); Jack Ferrier, Vinnie Carbone, Murray Wald, Peanuts Hucko, Lynn Allison (ts); Chuck Gentry, Mannie Thaler (bar); George Ockner (concertmaster of 20-piece string section); Mel Powell, Jack Russin (p); Carmen Mastren (g) Trigger Alpert, Joe Shulman (b); Ray McKinley, Frank Ippolito (d); Jerry Gray, Norman Leyden, Ralph Wilkinson, Bill Finegan (arr).

This is a composite personnel, from which the recording units were drawn.

 

V-Disc Session, RCA Victor Studios. New York, December 10, 1943

VP-415           The Squadron Song (JD & Band, vcl, JG arr)          V-Disc 144

VP-415           Tail End Charlie (BF arr)       V-Disc 144

VP-416           Medley: Goin’ Home/Honeysuckle Rose (MP arr)/My Blue Heaven   V-Disc 123

VP-1189         Holiday for Strings (Part 1)  (JG arr)                      V-Disc Unissued Test

VP-1190         Holiday for Strings (Part 2)   (JG arr)                       V-Disc Unissued Test

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The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band’s second V-Disc recording session was held six weeks after the first and embraced a similarly eclectic range of material. THE SQUADRON SONG, written by a trio of soldiers, was the first of many gung-ho patriotic numbers the band did, saluting various branches of the military. THERE ARE YANKS, WHAT DO YOU DO IN THE INFANTRY, WITH MY HEAD IN THE CLOUDS and THE ARMY AIR CORPS SONG would soon follow, all with the full band “glee club” augmented by Johnny Desmond and the Crew Chiefs vocal group. It’s a stimulating performance, taken in multiple tempos from ballad to swing to march, with the string section nicely spotted. Their witty little allusion to REVEILLE (“You’ve gotta get up this morning”) is a fun touch.

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Bill Finegan’s TAIL-END CHARLIE (originally titled TROOP MOVEMENT) was likely written for the civilian band, but never played by them. Finegan gave the chart (and other unused Miller items) to Horace Heidt’s band, which performed it on the air toward the end of 1942. Their version is quite credible, but Glenn’s many AAF renditions have greater sparkle. This V-Disc interpretation cuts about a minute from the full chart, so it and THE SQUADRON SONG could both fit onto one side of the record. By the way, the title referred to the tail gunners of fighter planes.

Chuck Gentry (on baritone) and Vince Carbone (on tenor) get the solo spots, but both are more effective and heard at greater length on live performances, such as the one originally included on the RCA AAF LP set, which is also taken at a snappier tempo than the V-Disc.

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Presumably to take advantage of the longer playing time of a 12-inch disc, next up was a “Miller Medley,” or at least ¾ of one! The AAF Band continued Glenn’s medley tradition of “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” which had been a weekly feature of the civilian Chesterfield radio shows. The AAF medleys took on a more elaborate shape and often ran 8 or 9 minutes in length, with varying tempos for the different selections.

This V-Disc of GOIN’ HOME/HONEYSUCKLE ROSE/MY BLUE HEAVEN hints at the range these medleys could cover, in this case, from Antonin Dvorak to Fats Waller! The missing “new” tune from this particular medley was PAPER DOLL, likely not recorded since it might not have been fresh by the time the record was circulated. The highlight here is Mel Powell’s imaginative piano spot on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE. Too bad it isn’t longer.

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The last two session recordings were of David Rose’s popular HOLIDAY FOR STRINGS, PARTS 1 & 2, in a blockbuster, pull-all-stops arrangement by Jerry Gray. Of course, the strings were well featured, as was the full dynamic power of the band playing both sweet and bluesy. This version is taken slower than later live versions, with a sudden pause halfway through to accommodate the break between the two parts. For some reason, this recording was never issued, though a live version from June 3, 1944 was later issued on one side of V-Disc 421. Test pressings do exist, as pictured here.

HOLIDAY became one of the AAF band’s top numbers, featured on many broadcasts, often as the closing performance. What, after all, could follow it?

All the recordings from the first AAF V-Disc session were issued back-to-back on V-Discs 65 and 91. This session’s output was split – the flip side of V-Disc 123 was a dub of IN THE MOOD by the civilian band and V-Disc 144 had two medley excerpts from a December 1943 radio program. The product of the next session would be similarly split.

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St. Louis Blues March

Captain Glenn Miller (tb & director); Zeke Zarchy, Whitey Thomas, Bobby Nichols, Steve Steck, John Carisi (tp)’ Jimmy Priddy, James Harwood, John Halliburton, Larry Hall, Nat Peck (tb); Addison Collins (Frhrn); Hank Freeman, Gabe Galinas, Fred Guerra (as); Jack Ferrier, Vinnie Carbone, Murray Wald, Peanuts Hucko, Lynn Allison (ts); Chuck Gentry, Mannie Thaler (bar); George Ockner (concertmaster of 18-piece string section); Mel Powell, Jack Russin (p); Carmen Mastren (g) Trigger Alpert, Joe Shulman (b); Ray McKinley, Frank Ippolito (d); Jerry Gray, Norman Leyden, Ralph Wilkinson (arr).

This is a composite personnel, from which the recording units were drawn.

 

V-Disc Session, RCA Victor Studios. New York, October 29, 1943, 2:00-6:00 PM

VP-264           Speech by Captain Glenn Miller      V-Disc 65

VP-265           Buckle Down, Winsocki         V-Disc 91

VP-265           El Capitan (March)   V-Disc 91

VP-266           The St. Louis Blues March (arr JG & RMcK)           V-Disc 65, 522

VP-264           Star Dust (arr RW)   V-Disc 65

VP-267           Stormy Weather (arr RW)   V-Disc 91

 

Captain Miller with star-struck fans, 1943.

Captain Miller with star-struck fans, 1943.

Just the facts Ma’am! The history of the Glenn Miller Army Air Forces Band has been chronicled in greater detail and with much more panache than I ever could, so I offer these next few blog entries as an addendum to my chronicle of the Miller civilian band’s recording sessions.

The stupendous AAF Band left us a huge legacy of recordings – hundreds upon hundreds of preserved live broadcasts, rehearsals and transcribed studio programs. In addition to their original purpose, these recordings were used in assembling Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) programs and libraries and for V-Discs, the only wartime records distributed directly to the soldiers overseas for personal enjoyment. Most of the Miller V-Discs were transferred from broadcast rehearsals or live shows.

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Out of this enormous stockpile, only four studio record sessions were intended purely for V-Discs or commercial 78s. These will be covered here. The first three were done at RCA Victor’s New York studios and the last in London, for Victor’s HMV affiliate.

The first date, on October 29, 1943, was produced under similar circumstances to the Miller civilian band sessions, in a heavily damped studio, to cut down on resonance. The discs have a very dry acoustic, but do capture the power of the ensemble.

At first, the Army brass was wary of too much pop music being recorded by the V-Disc program. Many of the early releases were of marches and other patriotic selections, often with the slogan, “Music for Marching Men,” included on the label.

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The first three selections on the date fit this bill, played in march tempi by the band without their 18-piece string section.

BUCKLE DOWN, WINSOCKI was actually a Broadway show tune, less than two years old at the time.   Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane had written it for Best Foot Forward, their hit 1941 musical. The rousing song was the anthem of Winsocki, a fictional boys’ prep school. Tommy Dix, a cute, pint-sized actor with a deep, booming voice, sang it in the show. Dix also sang it on Benny Goodman’s Columbia record and in the 1943 film version.

Glenn performs it in a straightforward manner, then swings it a bit in the second chorus, with a late entry by distinctive boo-wah brass. It fits nicely into Captain Miller’s desire to modernize the marching music repertoire for the 1940s soldier.

Strictly conventional is EL CAPITAN, the familiar John Philip Sousa opus, socked over with great verve. These two standard-length selections were coupled on one 12-inch V-Disc side. The remaining three numbers ran over four minutes each, taking advantage of the increased running time of the larger discs.

Original V-Disc

Original V-Disc , released December 1943.

Special V-Disc pressing

Special V-Disc pressing

This most popular of V-Discs was reissued in October 1945!

This most popular of V-Discs was reissued in October 1945!

ST. LOUIS BLUES MARCH has become, in retrospect, the most famous recording by the AAF Band. Arranged by Sgt. Jerry Gray (with contributions from Perry Burgett and Ray McKInley), this performance of the hoary old W.C. Handy chestnut has come to encapsulate Glenn’s entire wartime contribution in one tidy package. Drummers Ray McKInley and Frank Ippolito set the driving martial pulse, which never lets up, even during bluesy solos by Bobby Nichols (trumpet), Vince Carbone (tenor sax) and Hank Freeman (alto sax). It was then and remains now a fresh, exciting jazz masterwork.

Gray and Norman Leyden also arranged BLUES IN THE NIGHT MARCH and JERSEY BOUNCE MARCH in similar fashion, but just ST. LOUIS was recorded. In fact, this V-Disc of ST. LOUIS BLUES MARCH is the only performance in existence by the band. All reissues of the tune have been sourced from this sole rendition (some cut down to standard three-minute length by omitting the trumpet and tenor solos).

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Tex Beneke later waxed a shortened version for RCA in 1947 (and BLUES IN THE NIGHT MARCH, too). It wasn’t until it was featured in THE GLENN MILLER STORY film in 1953 (and on the soundtrack album) that the arrangement really captured the public imagination. Previously, only those with access to the original V-Disc were familiar with it. Since V-Discs were produced gratis for the war effort, negotiations with the Musicians’ Union were necessary to allow a commercial release. Therefore, RCA didn’t cough up the 1943 recording for public consumption until it was included on the 5-LP GLENN MILLER ARMY AIR FORCE BAND set in 1955. Many later single and LP reissues followed.

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STAR DUST and STORMY WEATHER bring in the string section for two luscious instrumental ballads, as far from marching music as you can get! Arranger Ralph Wilkinson sets the violins insinuating themselves in, out, over and through the brass and saxes. Brief solos by Addison Collins (French horn), Vince Carbone (tenor) and Bobby Nichols (trumpet) add variety, but the full band is on showcase here. The wide dynamic range of these ballads must have worn out many V-Discs when played on the primitive equipment of the era! Glenn makes a stiff little spoken introduction before STAR DUST, a personal feature that would be made on many of these recordings.  An alternate take exists of the speech where something crashes in the background while Glenn is speaking and he exclaims, “Jesus Christ! What?”

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The AAF Band featured both charts often and so did the postwar Tex Beneke/Miller band, which also had a string section for its first two years of existence. Tex recorded both for RCA in 10-inch versions and also did a 12-inch take of STAR DUST that was only released on a special one-sided disc that was gifted to RCA dealers and friends for Christmas 1947.

Despite their intense schedule of war bond-selling concerts, radio broadcasts and other appearances, the ensemble made time for another V-Disc only recording date in early December – that’s for next time!

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