Benny Goodman – Signing in at the Madhattan Room

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On a chilly evening during the first quarter of 1937, a privileged fan (perhaps a Camel Cigarettes executive) went to see Benny Goodman and his great swing band at the Madhattan Room in New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel. I say privileged since he acquired a lovely presentation copy of the restaurant’s menu, neatly autographed by every member of the band, plus a few ringers.

All except Benny signed in fountain pen, which was a pain to do on location. Most musicians’ autographs collected in those days were in pencil, since pens were liable to leak. Hymie Shertzer formally signed his first name as “Herman” and Ziggy Elman went for the less elegant “Ziggie.”

With the addition of Harry James in January, this was the classic configuration of the Goodman band that would remain intact for most of the year. As the newest member, perhaps it’s fitting that Harry signed his name in smaller letters than the others?

The musicians' view from the Madhattan Room bandstand.

The musicians’ view from the Madhattan Room bandstand.

The Madhattan Room would be the band’s continuous New York gig from the fall of 1936 to the spring of 1937 and again later in 1937-38. They were there during several of Goodman’s most sensational appearances, at the Paramount Theater and Carnegie Hall. Between their weekly Camel Caravan broadcasts and constant live remotes from Madhattan, eager fans nationwide could listen in to the band almost nightly.

Frances Hunt

Frances Hunt

Vocalist Frances Hunt was an interim singer, heard only on one Goodman record during her 4-month stay. After original vocalist Helen Ward left in December 1936, it wasn’t until August 1937 that Benny chose Martha Tilton as a permanent replacement. Frances, Peg LaCentra and Betty Van filled those open months, but were rarely heard on record if at all, since the band was on a recording hiatus from February through July 1937

The King of Swing greets his subjects.

The King of Swing greets his subjects.

Our next “signature” posting will feature a later edition of Benny’s band!

This Changing World

RCA Victor Studios, New York – November 22, 1939, 1:15-4:15 PM

043909-1      In an Old Dutch Garden (RE vcl)    Bluebird 10553

043910-1      This Changing World (RE vcl)         Bluebird 10526

043911-1      On a Little Street in Singapore (RE vcl, AG arr)   Bluebird 10526, Victor 20-1585

043912-1      Vagabond Dreams (RE vcl) Bluebird 10520

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The third Miller session of November 1939 led off with a pretty banal song brightened by the distinctive Glenn touch. IN AN OLD DUTCH GARDEN (BY AN OLD DUTCH MILL) is exactly what you’d expect from the title, with wooden shoes, tulips and windmills referenced.

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Will Grosz, composer of THE DAY WE MEET AGAIN, which Glenn recorded back in June 1939, wrote the song. Grosz died at the end of the year, but did produce, as one of his last compositions, a Miller hit in 1940, ALONG THE SANTA FE TRAIL. Another 1940 Grosz song, MAKE-BELIEVE ISLAND, was published with Glenn’s picture on the sheet music, even though the band never recorded it.

When perusing the Miller discography, it’s apparent that Glenn had a lower threshold for selecting second-tier songs than, say, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. The latter two bands recorded far more quality show and movie tunes than Glenn. Top songwriters like Gershwin, Arlen, Rodgers, Kern and Porter rarely show up in the Miller repertoire.

Glenn got involved early on with song plugging and publishing, starting his own firm, Mutual Music, in 1941. Bands he invested in, like Charlie Spivak and Hal McIntyre, dutifully played Glenn’s favored songs, as we’ll note later on.

Back to OLD DUTCH GARDEN – it’s a pleasant enough record, with smoothly varied section playing, a touch of Beneke and of course, Ray singing, all of which doesn’t disguise the basic inanity of the song.

Miss Dana Suesse

Miss Dana Suesse

The next record has a better pedigree – THIS CHANGING WORLD, by quirky female composer Dana Suesse (her BLUE MOONLIGHT was waxed by Glenn back in August). Harold Adamson’s thoughtful lyric is well sung by Ray and the chart has some welcome variations, including a nice Johnny Best trumpet intro, Glenn’s solo modulation into the vocal and lovely sax writing in the coda.

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More Ray Eberle in a similar vein is heard on ON A LITTLE STREET IN SINGAPORE, which sounds, in the Miller version, about as Asian as an old Dutch garden. The Harry James-Frank Sinatra rendition is far more atmospheric.  Still, it’s a fine disc of the Peter De Rose-Billy Hill ballad. De Rose had written THE LAMP IS LOW earlier in the year and Hill was better known for his Western songs, like EMPTY SADDLES and WAGON WHEELS, but Tin Pan Alley songwriters were nothing if not versatile!

Oh, Frankie!

Oh, Frankie!

One other note about SINGAPORE – in 1944, during the recording ban, when the Sinatra-James disc was reissued by Columbia to cash in on Frankie’s popularity, Glenn’s disc was also dusted off as the flip side of the first release of BASKET WEAVER MAN, the last unissued Miller item in the RCA vaults.

Hoagy

Hoagy

Ray is upfront again to finish the session with Hoagy Carmichael’s VAGABOND DREAMS. Not one of Hoagy’s better-known songs, it has a mournful quality that might have worked better as an instrumental without Jack Lawrence’s unmemorable lyric.

Between the first and second November recording session, Glenn and the band stepped off the road for their second engagement at the Meadowbrook Ballroom, for a three-week Autumn stint that lasted from November 16 through December 6. Their next Bluebird date was scheduled for that last day at the Meadowbrook.

a souvenir bar of Meadowbrook soap!

A souvenir bar of Meadowbrook soap!

 

 

Oh, Johnny, How You Can Swing!

RCA Victor Studios, New York – November 18, 1939, 1:30-4:30 PM

043390-1      Ciribiribin (RE vcl, BF arr)   Bluebird 10507

043391-1      Careless (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10520

043392-1      Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! (MH vcl)   Bluebird 10507

For one of the only times in his recording career, Glenn Miller devoted an entire session to songs that were already hits for other artists.

gmhjciribiribinCIRIBIRIBIN, like so many of Glenn’s 1939 recordings, was a real oldie, an Italian popular song written by Alberto Pestlozza way back in 1898. Opera singer Grace Moore had made a crossover recording of it in 1936 and then Benny Goodman swung it in 1938. Shortly after the Goodman session, featured trumpeter Harry James started his own band and chose the melody for his theme song, played at both sweet and swing tempos. Harry first waxed it in February 1939 as an instrumental.

JOHNSON RAG lyricist Jack Lawrence was assigned to write English lyrics, which were then recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in September, then by James with vocalist Frank Sinatra on November 8, followed by this Miller recording.

Bill Finegan’s cheerful arrangement is nicely played, with an equally cheery Ray Eberle vocal.

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CARELESS, written by bandleader Dick Jurgens and singer Eddy Howard (with a musical assist from Lew Quadling) was a huge hit for them, and later became Eddy Howard’s theme song when he spun off his own band. Glenn’s version highlights the reeds and the Miller Sound, along with a more serious Eberle vocal.

OH JOHNNY, OH JOHNNY, OH! brings Marion Hutton back to the recording mike after a pretty long absence. It’s a jolly rendition, beginning with a lengthy riff fade-in that goes on for more than 20 seconds before the familiar melody is stated. Surprise!

gmoh_johnny gmohjonnyaThe song goes back to 1917, written by Abe Olman and Ed Rose. It was a huge World War I-era hit, both in its original form and with an additional set of patriotic lyrics, exhorting potential Army recruits to enlist. Girl singer Wee Bonnie Baker revived it in mid-1939, in a cutsie-poo rendition with Orrin Tucker’s sweet band that became an enormous success.

The Andrews Sisters then struck gold with it and Glenn followed soon after. The Miller version didn’t make waves, but the Sisters would soon be collaborating with Glenn in unexpected ways!

Perhaps realizing that it’s always best to make your own hits, rather than ride on another’s coattails, the next Miller sessions would feature all-new, fresh songs.