Way Back in 1939 A.D.

RCA Victor Studios, New York – December 6, 1939, 1:30-5:00 PM

043973-1      I Beg Your Pardon (RE vcl) Bluebird 10561

043974-1      Faithful To You (RE vcl)       Bluebird 10536

043975-1      It’s a Blue World (RE vcl)     Bluebird 10536

043976-1      Ooh! What You Said (MH vcl) Bluebird 10561

On the afternoon of the band’s last day at the Meadowbrook Ballroom, Glenn held his final recording session of 1939. All four songs had good lineage, but none became a major hit.

Chubby Mack Gordon asks George Raft for a pardon.

Chubby Mack Gordon asks George Raft for a pardon.

I BEG YOUR PARDON reportedly came about from an idea of lyricist Mack Gordon. A jolly, rotund figure, Gordon often used the titular phrase when squeezing in and out of elevators, so he decided to repurpose it as the title of a love song. J. Fred Coots, composer of SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN and YOU GO TO MY HEAD, wrote the music. Ray sings the song nicely, but no fireworks result.

More Ray is heard on FAITHFUL TO YOU, a collaboration between popular NY disc jockey Martin Block and co-writers Harry Green and Mickey Stoner. The trio would work together on several other songs recorded by Glenn in the coming years. Presumably, Block promoted Miller recordings on his Make Believe Ballroom show in gratitude for recording these tunes.

WNEW disc jockey Martin Block

WNEW disc jockey Martin Block

It’s another standard Miller ballad, with a brief, luscious clarinet solo by Jimmy Abato. Glenn took an instant dislike to the young musician and he didn’t last long in the band.

gmmusicinmyheartThere are more mournful reed sounds on IT’S A BLUE WORLD, which was introduced by future AAF Band vocalist Tony Martin in the film Music In My Heart, which co-starred young Rita Hayworth. Songwriters Robert Wright and Chet Forrest were then working as Hollywood songsmiths, but would eventually hit it big on Broadway with Song of Norway and Kismet.   Ray does his usual vocal stuff and the arrangement has some pleasantly original dynamic touches and a lovely coda.

Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael didn’t collaborate as often as they should have, but crafted some memorable songs when they did. In late 1939, they turned their sights toward Broadway, with the score for Three After Three, which was retitled Walk With Music. The show, based on the same play that would eventually be filmed as How to Marry a Millionaire, went through a rocky gestation and finally opened in June 1940. It closed in a little over a month. Hoagy never tried Broadway again, though Johnny returned with several semi-hits in the following decades.

Hoagy & Johnny

Hoagy & Johnny

Glenn recorded two songs from the show, OOH! WHAT YOU SAID and THE RUMBA JUMPS. In one of those interesting coincidences, OOH! was performed in the show by a vocal group named the Modernaires, who we’ll be hearing from later on!  It’s a welcome swinger after so many ballads. Marion Hutton sings the catchy lyrics and Tex surfaces for a good solo.

That’s it for 1939, as far as Glenn Miller’s recording sessions go. It had been quite an amazing year – from near-obscurity in January to the top of the big band pantheon in December.

The year wasn’t over yet – more road dates in December took the band for the first time as far west as Ohio. Arranger Jerry Gray joined, after the sudden breakup of Artie Shaw’s stellar orchestra. Jerry would bring some new sounds and many hits to the Miller band in the next three years. On Christmas Eve, Glenn and the boys broke all previous attendance records at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. The same night, Glenn received a surprise gift of a 1940 Buick, which the bandsmen had pooled their money to buy.

Biggest news of all – the Miller band began a nationwide CBS radio series for Chesterfield Cigarettes on December 27th.  Replacing Paul Whiteman, whose music was considered old hat by now, the band was initially paired with the top-selling Andrews Sisters, since sponsor Liggett & Myers were unsure about the band’s ability to carry the show.

Once 1940 began, the band would be heard every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening on a 15-minute Chesterfield program. Continuing until the band broke up, this schedule, with some tweaks, would affect all aspects of Glenn’s itinerary, as the band had to be close to a big broadcasting center every week. Any such difficulties were far outweighed by the prestige of such a popular program, which any band would kill for. Also, the free availability of endless supplies of Chesterfields would be another plus for the hard-smoking Glenn and his personnel.  We’ll pick up the tobacco saga in our next installment.

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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!

 

 

“Runnin’ Wild” at the Meadowbrook

Same personnel, except Arthur Ens (g) replaces Allen Reuss.

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

035764-1      My Last Goodbye (RE vcl)     Bluebird 10229

035765-1      But it Didn’t Mean a Thing (MH vcl)          Bluebird 10269

035766-1      Pavanne (BF arr)      Bluebird 10286

035767-1      Runnin’ Wild (BF arr)          Bluebird 10269

035767-2      Runnin’ Wild (BF arr)          first issued on CD

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Three recording sessions in two weeks, cutting a dozen discs. That was more than Glenn Miller had recorded in the entire year of 1938! Crowds continued to build at the Meadowbrook Ballroom and the band’s engagement was extended to seven weeks.  Constant live broadcasts also did their share to spread Glenn’s music to a newly rapt audience. Things were improving to the point that Glenn added a permanent guitarist to the band, Arthur Ens, who debuts here. Though Glenn never featured him, he does help to stitch the rhythm section together.

The record date was routined in a similar fashion to the last one. Two popular songs were followed by two instrumentals. MY LAST GOODBYE was written and recorded by singer Eddy Howard of Dick Jurgens’ orchestra, the first of numerous hits for Eddy that stretched into the 1950s. Glenn’s disc actually predated Howard’s by a month, but the composer’s emotional ballad version was the top seller. The Miller recording is less effective, chugging along at a “businessman’s bounce” tempo and with Ray Eberle delivering the lyrics in a rather blasé manner.

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BUT IT DIDN’T MEAN A THING was an early effort by songwriter Mack David, who would eventually chalk up eight Academy Award Best Song nominations, including melodies from Walt Disney’s CINDERELLA and ALICE IN WONDERLAND. This youthful composition was nothing special and is given a rather colorless treatment by Glenn and by Marion, who sounds very tentative.

Much more memorable are the two instrumentals. PAVANNE was a light-classical piece by popular composer-conductor Morton Gould, who wrote many similar dainty Andre Kostelanetz-type trifles and later, heavier works like FALL RIVER LEGEND (based on the Lizzie Borden case) and Broadway musicals, including ARMS AND THE GIRL and BILLION DOLLAR BABY.

Gould’s recording of PAVANNE is full of strings and woodwinds, featuring a prominent oboe solo. Bill Finegan’s arrangement maintains its flavor, adding a light swing to the catchy melody. Glenn solos briefly, as does Tex. Moe Purtill dances lightly on the percussion, nice and loose.

RUNNIN’ WILD is a real killer-diller and was often used by Glenn as the wind-up tune to broadcasts and also the opening number at the band’s Carnegie Hall Concert later in the year. Finegan’s chart pulls out all the stops, with great interplay between the saxes and brass. There are brash solos by Tex, Mickey McMickle and Moe, plus a succession of catchy riffs toward the finish. It’s likely that Glenn also worked on the chart, as the riffs bear his trademark style.

Two days after completing this session, Glenn and the band closed at the Meadowbrook and went on the road – but this time they had a big, big date awaiting them – a May 17th opening at the Glen Island Casino!