Rhapsody in Blue

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Steve Lipkins, 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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Marion Hutton, Skip Nelson, Tex Beneke, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, George Williams (arr).

RCA Victor Studios,    Chicago – July 16, 1942, 11:00 AM-3:45 PM

074744-1      I’m Old Fashioned (SN vcl)  Victor 27953-B

074745-1      A Pink Cocktail for a Blue Lady (SN vcl, JG arr)     Victor 20-1523-B

074746-1      Rainbow Rhapsody   Victor 20-1546-B

074747-1      Sleepy Town Train    Victor 20-1509-B

074748-1      Rhapsody in Blue (BF arr)   Victor 20-1529-A

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After nearly four years of success, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra assembled in an RCA Victor studio for the last time.   The band still had more than two months of existence left, but it must have been a sad experience to set up in the quiet confines of a recording room for a final session.   The organization had not really been hit hard by the wartime draft and many of the participants had been along for the ride since nearly the beginning – Marion Hutton, Tex Beneke, Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frank D’Annolfo, Willie Schwartz, Al Klink, Chummy MacGregor, Moe Purtill, Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan had joined in 1938-39 or even earlier, in the case of Chummy.

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Despite Glenn’s reputation as a strict martinet, he obviously inspired great loyalty in his bandsmen and felt a warm family feeling toward many of the gang, which was reciprocated.

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As with the other July sessions, newcomer Skip Nelson sang on the first two numbers and the remaining tunes were instrumentals. I’M OLD FASHIONED is a sweetly pure song by Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer from the score of You Were Never Lovelier, which had also provided DEARLY BELOVED on the July 14th date.  Willie Schwartz’s clarinet once again leads the reeds in the “Miller Sound,” with Ernie Caceres’ baritone anchoring the section. There is a beautifully-scored transition to the vocal, likely arranged by Bill Finegan.   Skip still needs to relax, but he manages a pleasant rendition, sans Modernaires.

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A PINK COCKTAIL FOR A BLUE LADY is nicely arranged by Jerry Gray, but it’s a minor song, with a rather clunky lyric about the wartime displacement of a bejeweled European dame. It was written by Herb Magidson, lyricist of the recent CONCHITA, ETC., LOPEZ and popular composer Ben Oakland.  Like the earlier song, DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE, JAMES, the lyric takes the form of a monologue from a rather tiresome nightclub patron toward a patient waiter. The lady “was once the toast of Vienna, when Vienna was gay,” a line that has dated badly. Spike Jones might have had a field day with the number, but Skip Nelson delivers it straight.

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Multi-instrumentalist-bandleader-composer-arranger Benny Carter had written several charts for Glenn back in 1939, but nothing since. RAINBOW RHAPSODY is a lovely Carter composition that provides a real showcase for the Miller reeds. Carter always loved writing for sax sections! Bobby Hackett makes a welcome appearance with his melodic cornet. Tex Beneke also solos briefly, but this RHAPSODY is a mostly orchestral conception.

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SLEEPY TOWN TRAIN is the last stop on the line of Glenn Miller train pieces – TUXEDO JUNCTION, SLOW FREIGHT and that CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO. Allan Roberts, who later worked for Columbia Pictures and wrote such hits as TAMPICO and PUT THE BLAME ON MAME, penned it with Bill Fontaine. Roberts also wrote lyrics for RAINBOW RHAPSODY.   SLEEPY TOWN is arranged in a similar slow and groovy manner to TUXEDO JUNCTION, with Mickey McMickle once again playing muted trumpet.

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Finally and fittingly, the session concludes with another “rhapsody,” Bill Finegan’s exquisite arrangement of RHAPSODY IN BLUE. Using just the ravishing blues theme from George Gershwin’s seminal concert work, Finegan taps Bobby Hackett for an arresting opening solo and a bit of quiet, almost subliminal Beneke in this mainly ensemble creation. It’s one of the Miller band’s most mature and evocative recordings and a suitable testament to this wonderful ensemble, whose performances endure all these decades later.

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The popular songs from these July sessions were released over the next six months. RCA took their time issuing the instrumentals, which had no “expiration date,” parceling them out into early 1944 and backing several titles with previously-issued songs. This helped keep “fresh” material by the Miller band in the public ear long after Glenn had moved on to his stellar Army Air Force Band.

Glenn was surely aware of what RCA was doing, as he featured JUKEBOX SATURDAY NIGHT, IT MUST BE JELLY, RHAPSODY IN BLUE, CARIBBEAN CLIPPER and HERE WE GO AGAIN on numerous AAF broadcasts. The RCA recordings of MOONLIGHT MOOD and SLEEPY TOWN TRAIN were also issued on V-Disc, the Armed Forces’ program that provided records to service camps all over the world for soldiers to play in their leisure time.

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The last months of the Miller band have been chronicled in many books, blogs and articles – here we’ll just mention a few facts. Glenn disbanded on September 27, 1942. He reported for Army duty on October 9. Skip Nelson returned to Chico Marx’s band. His brief Miller tenure didn’t do much to advance his career, though in 1943, he replaced Dick Haymes in the Tommy Dorsey band. Moe Purtill also went to Dorsey, replacing Buddy Rich. Purtill had played with Tommy for all of 1938, so he was on familiar ground.

Skip went on to be featured with the Casa Loma band in 1944-45. Bobby Hackett landed with Casa Loma for awhile, too. Marion Hutton and Tex Beneke went on a theater tour with the Modernaires, billed as “the singing stars of the Glenn Miller Orchestra.” Once Tex left to join the Navy, Marion stayed with the Mods until going solo in 1944. She had several radio series, appeared in a couple of films and recorded for MGM in the later 1940s. Paula Kelly came back to sing with the Mods and fronted the group into the 1970s. Tex, of course, led the official Glenn Miller Band after the war and in the 1960s, joined Ray Eberle, Paula and the Modernaires for over a decade of successful touring as a nostalgia act.

The entire Miller trombone section signed on with Charlie Spivak’s band and can be seen in the 1944 Betty Grable musical, PIN-UP GIRL. This would actually have been Glenn’s next film for 20th Century Fox, had he not enlisted. Originally titled BLIND DATE, it would also have given us the opportunity to see Glenn and the band in Technicolor. As it turned out, the AAF Band did plug the movie’s best song on radio, TIME ALONE WILL TELL.

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As mentioned earlier, all of the recordings described herein are easily available for listening via that wondrous invention, You Tube. Glenn’s studio recordings make up only a portion of his preserved legacy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of live performances by the band, many of which have been issued legitimately by RCA or illegitimately on a myriad of LP and CD labels. Even more haven’t seen the light of day (yet). I’ll save a discussion of all the additional live Miller music for another lifetime! With a relatively small, but vociferous, fan base still active after 75 years, the final chapter of Glenn Miller on record still hasn’t been written.

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Says Who? Says You, Says I!

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Alec Fila, Billy May (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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); 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 – September 3, 1941, 9:00 AM-3:00 PM

067741-1      Says Who? Says You, Says I! (MH, TB & M vcl)      Bluebird 11315-B

067742-1      Orange Blossom Lane (RE vcl, JG arr)         Bluebird 11326-B

067743-1      Dear Arabella (MH, TB & M vcl, JG arr)       Bluebird 11326-A

067744-1      The Man in the Moon (RE vcl, JG arr)         Bluebird 11299-B

067745-1      Ma-Ma Maria (RE & M vcl, BF arr)         Bluebird 11299- A

067746-1      This Time the Dream’s on Me (RE vcl, BF arr)      Bluebird 11315-A

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Four days after their August 11th RCA Bluebird session, pert and pretty Marion Hutton returned to the Glenn Miller band, having given birth to a son in late May.  Paula Kelly shifted to Artie Shaw’s band (but returned to permanently front the Modernaires as a solo act in 1943).  Marion sings in a much more assured, mature manner during this second Miller stint, but for some reason, rarely sang solos anymore and was usually paired with the Modernaires.

This session featured two fine Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer songs from the film, Blues in the Night, which was a genre-crossing film-noirish semi-musical about an itinerant jazz band. Originally titled New Orleans Nights, even though most of the film was set in New Jersey, the early success of one of the featured numbers led to the title change. Actually, none of the tunes were fully featured in the movie, which interrupted all the music with dialogue and artsy montages, a specialty of director Anatole Litvak. Even BLUES IN THE NIGHT, which eventually became a pop standard, was tossed off in a montage with a black chorus of jailed prisoners.

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Jimmie Lunceford’s fabulous orchestra was nearly wasted in a short bit st at a roadhouse and the Will Osborne band plays a caricature of themselves in a nightclub scene, which is supposed to show the lead character’s decline by being forced to play piano in such a soggy group.

Glenn featured a superb Billy May arrangement of BLUES IN THE NIGHT on the air, but didn’t record it because Charlie Barnet got it for Bluebird (as did Dinah Shore). Every label saw the potential in the song and produced widely varying versions – few songs of the era were covered so thoroughly on wax! Artie Shaw performed it for Victor, in a superb version featuring Hot Lips Page at a somewhat rushed tempo to fit the whole chart in (too bad the label didn’t spring for a 12-inch disc).

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Tommy Dorsey also cut it with Jo Stafford on Victor, but held it back (until 1968!) so as not to cut into Artie Shaw’s sales. Benny Goodman featured Peggy Lee on a groovy Sextet record for Okeh. Cab Calloway’s full band also did an Okeh disc. Harry James brought in the lush strings on Columbia. Woody Herman featured it on Decca, as did Jimmie Lunceford on a two-sided 78 that superbly expanded the brief performance his band did in the original film.

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Glenn did cut the film’s hit ballad, THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME and the novelty SAYS WHO? SAYS YOU, SAYS I!, full of Merceresque wordplay. SAYS WHO? was deliberately trashed on screen in a cornball arrangement played by the Osborne band, with brash Mabel Todd braying with an intrusive vocal group (who also tap-dances on the piano). Glenn’s disc is much more subdued, almost too much so. Marion, Tex and the Mods have a fine time with the witty lyrics, but the tempo begins to sag a bit toward the end. A sparkier beat (or a bit more rehearsal) might have helped.  Unfortunately, this is the only Miller performance of the song, as he never programmed it on the air.

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Bobby Hackett is featured on the opening chorus of THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME, sounding a bit tentative as his horn dances around the reeds.  Hackett is more expansive and assured on a later aircheck of the song. Ray Eberle supplies a nice vocal, supported by Bill Finegan’s lovely arrangement.  During this period, Ray was singing quite well, with only the occasional bit of sloppy diction to mar his efforts.  Six-hour marathon record sessions, like this one, can be hard on the voice!

From high to low – ORANGE BLOSSOM LANE is a very forgettable number, written by classy songwriters Peter DeRose (DEEP PURPLE and ON A LITTLE STREET IN SINGAPORE) with lyrics by MOONLIGHT SERENADE’s Mitchell Parish. Newspaper columnist Nick Kenny’s name is also on the song. As mentioned in the September 1939 writeup of LAST NIGHT, many singers and bandleaders performed Kenny’s songs in order to get favorable press coverage.  Glenn wasn’t one of them, as he only played two or three Kenny songs  with his band. Why ORANGE BLOSSOM LANE was chosen for recording is a puzzle. Jerry Gray set the number in a fine arrangement, with brief solos by Hal McIntyre, Johnny Best, Glenn and Tex, helping Ray Eberle along. The result is still a dreary picture in a lovely frame.

DEAR ARABELLA is a perkier novelty, from the pre-wartime sub-genre of unfaithful soldiers’ sweethearts. ARABELLA is pretty blatant, advising her Army sweetie that she is cheating on him with other guys, but keeping his picture around to look at while doing so!  THREE LITTLE SISTERS is a similar song, with the gals cheating on their men with members of all the Armed Services!  December 7th put an end to these ditties, as the last thing soldiers wanted to hear was that their ladies were having a grand old time while they were gone.  Soon DON’T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE would set a new template, with girlfriends promising to be faithful forever (where has that phrase been heard before?).

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In spite of its salacious message, DEAR ARABELLA became a popular Miller number, played often on the air through April 1942.  Marion does her best Mae West imitation, with Tex and the Mods chiming in. Jerry Gray’s enjoyable chart has Billy May supplying wry comments to the plight of Arabella’s “Private Johnny.” Written by Sid Lippman, author of I’M THRILLED, whose big hits would come later with “A” YOU’RE ADORABLE and TOO YOUNG.

Autographs of Glenn, Jerry Gray, Mel Powell, Ray McKinley and Johnny Desmond, 1944.

Autographs of Glenn, Jerry Gray, Mel Powell, Ray McKinley and Johnny Desmond, 1944.

Another song with “outside” connections is THE MAN IN THE MOON. Apparently written by Glenn’s own Jerry Gray, it became the theme melody of WMCA New York radio DJ Jerry Lawrence, who got his name on the number. Lawrence would later become a TV host and announcer on shows like Truth or Consequences. Co-composer John Benson Brooks would soon write JUST AS THOUGH YOU WERE HERE for Tommy Dorsey and later such diverse tunes as WHERE FLAMINGOS FLY and YOU CAME A LONG WAY FROM ST. LOUIS (a big hit for future Miller cohort Ray McKinley).

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THE MAN IN THE MOON happens to be a great song and naturally, Jerry Gray arranged it for the Miller band.  The reeds sing out rather plaintively in the first chorus and Ray Eberle puts real feeling into the lyrics.  Another neglected Miller thriller!

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Can’t say the same about MA-MA-MARIA (FEE-DLE, EE-DLE-LEE, FEE-DLE-EE-DLE-LA), which is a rancid slice of Neapolitan cheese and one of the most painful songs ever immortalized by Glenn. It was written by the same guys, Vincent Rose, Larry Stock and Al Lewis, who gave us BLUEBERRY HILL and UNDER BLUE CANADIAN SKIES.  They should have had their ASCAP affilations yanked over this one. If the inane lyrics don’t get you, the “Fee-dle-ee-dle-las” certainly will.  And Ray and the Mods don’t stop, repeating and repeating the phrase until the last note, like a dentlst’s drill. File this one under “Fee-dle-ee-dle-Blah.”

Glenn and the boys (and girl) took off for a week in Boston right after this record date, then over to Albany and Schenectady. A week in Philadelphia and then another week in Pittsburgh followed, with the band returning to New York to open another winter season at the Cafe Rouge on October 5. Two weeks after that, they finally paid a return visit to RCA on October 20th to record, as Glenn might say, “some more swell songs.”

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“They All Sing Elmer’s Tune…”

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Alec Fila, Billy May (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); Bobby Hackett (g & cornet); Doc Goldberg (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, New York – August 11, 1941, 1:00 7:00 PM

067625-1      It Happened in Sun Valley (PK, RE, TB, M & Band vcl, BF arr)    Bluebird 11263-A

067626-1      I’m Thrilled (RE vcl, BF arr)             Bluebird 11287-B

067627-1      The Kiss Polka (PK, EC & M vcl, JG arr)      Bluebird 11263-B

067628-1      Delilah (TB & M vcl, BM arr)            Bluebird 11274-B

067629-1      From One Love to Another (RE vcl, BF arr)            Bluebird 11287-A

067630-1      Elmer’s Tune (RE & M vcl, JG arr)   Bluebird 11274-A

Enjoying a hard-earned vacation from live appearances in July and August 1941, the Glenn Miller Band  held one session for RCA during their time off. It turned out to be a six-hour marathon that produced six selections, each one special in its own way.

Two novelty songs from Sun Valley Serenade, which was about to open in movie theaters, topped off the playlist.

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All the Miller vocalists turn out for IT HAPPENED IN SUN VALLEY, one of only three times that this occurred (the other two were MUTINY IN THE NURSERY and PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND ME). It’s odd to hear Ray Eberle on a rhythm song – he just sings it as if it were one of his usual ballads! Bill Finegan’s arrangement is the same as in the movie, only longer, with the full band joining in to sing. A welcome addition is a romping Al Klink solo, followed by an additional vocal chorus that ropes in Tex Beneke.

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THE KISS POLKA is a rollicking treat, especially since the Miller band doesn’t perform it in the film; the Fox studio band plays it. Jerry Gray penned a cheery chart, which Paula and the Mods deliver with relish. For the first time, reedman Ernie Caceres is heard vocally, lending an incongruous touch of Latino spice to the song. With the South American “Good Neighbor Policy” all the rage in 1941, adding Ernie’s Spanish vocals was a clever way for Glenn to ingratiate his troupe with Latin American fans.

I’M THRILLED is a typical Eberle ballad, an early effort by young BMI-ers Sid Lippman and Sylvia Dee, who later hit big with Nat King Cole’s UNFORGETTABLE. Once again Bill Finegan took a so-so song and dressed it up with gorgeous colors, especially in the introduction and first instrumental chorus. Ray is in good form on this session.

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Jimmy Shirl, who would have a hand in Johnny Ray’s 1953 hit, I BELIEVE, co-wrote DELILAH with Henry Manners. Another young BMI songwriting team, they had other snappy successes in 1941 with BRAGGIN’ (for Harry James) and GOOD EVENIN’, GOOD LOOKIN’ (for Benny Goodman). Glenn had also performed their KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR HEART on radio earlier in the year.  The powerful sound of the full band is evident from the first note and the microphone setup actually allows us to hear the guitar in the rhythm section, a rare occurrence. Billy May’s laid-back arrangement fits the song like a glove, with Tex and the Modernaires smoothly delivering the catchy lyrics.

1941 publication of DELILAH

1941 publication of DELILAH

1948 publication of DELILAH

1948 publication of DELILAH

The song was a bit of a hit for Glenn and also Horace Heidt on Columbia. In 1948, Glenn’s record was reissued by RCA (with ADIOS on the flip side) in the “Re-Issued by Request” series. The sheet music was reprinted, with a new cover featuring Tex, who by now was leading the postwar Miller band.

We next welcome a stellar addition to the band, cornetist Bobby Hackett. Hackett had been in the public eye for several years by 1941, hailed by critics as the “new Bix Beiderbecke.” Hackett had a melodic approach similar to the late Bix, though he wasn’t thrilled about being pigeonholed into such a stylistic straitjacket. Making his first records with members of the Eddie Condon mob, he soon jumped from 52nd Street small groups to leading his own brilliant-sounding big band (including future Miller sideman Ernie Caceres). Poor management by MCA quickly led to the band’s demise in the summer of 1939.

Young Bobby Hackett

Young Bobby Hackett

Now deep in debt to MCA, Hackett accepted a surprising offer to join Horace Heidt’s sweet band, where he stayed for nearly two years, enlivening a number of their discs with his lyrical solos. He also had dental problems during this period, which is very bad news for a horn man!

Glenn was a big Hackett fan; aware of his problems, Miller offered the musician a job as guitarist (Hackett’s other favored instrument), replacing Jack Lathrop and Bill Conway (who had been sitting in the guitar chair for several months). When he felt he was ready, Glenn assured Bobby that he would move him to the trumpet section. Not really a strong section player, Hackett understood that the leader wanted him around mostly as a soloist.

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Having joined the band on July 10th, Bobby apparently felt ready to take on trumpet duties by the August 11th record date. He makes his debut soaring over the reeds with a delightful opening break and 16-bar solo on FROM ONE LOVE TO ANOTHER. This was another Ernesto Lecuona composition; previously Glenn had waxed his SAY SI-SI and THE ANGELS CAME THRU.

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Originally titled DANZA LUCUMI, Artie Shaw had recorded the number in rumba tempo the preceding year, as a hoped-for follow-up to his massive success with FRENESI. English lyricist Albert Gamse (of AMAPOLA fame) smoothed the tune out into a standard fox-trot. Though it wasn’t a hit for Glenn, FROM ONE LOVE TO ANOTHER is a forgotten gem in the discography.

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If it was hits Glenn wanted, he couldn’t have been happier with ELMER’S TUNE, a thoroughly unlikely smash success. The TUNE originated with the semi-sweet Dick Jurgens band. Elmer Albrecht, a mortician’s assistant (!), liked to noodle at the piano on his lunch hour. Working next door to Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom, Albrecht had gotten permission to fool around on their keyboard. Jurgens, whose band was playing there at the time, heard one of Elmer’s tunes and offered to help him polish it into a finished form. They then recorded it as a bouncy instrumental in April and the 78 became something of a hit.   Bob Crosby then cut it, again instrumentally, in June and that rendition went nowhere.

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Sensing the melody had greater potential, Robbins Music took it and assigned lyricist Sammy Gallop to come up with some words. So how do you lyricize something with the title of ELMER’S TUNE? Simply by verbally describing how catchy ELMER’S TUNE is.   Not much of a lyric, but it did the trick. Glenn and Benny Goodman (with Peggy Lee making her recording debut) waxed the fleshed-out number in August and wham! Another Number One hit for Glenn, which the fans happily sang along with whenever it was played. And Glenn played it incessantly on the air and in live performance.

With this session, we said hello to Bobby Hackett and Alec Fila (replacing young Ray Anthony on trumpet) and now goodbye to Paula Kelly. Miss Kelly was not leaving due to any dissatisfaction with her work (and she wouldn’t be going far, married as she was to Modernaire Hal Dickinson).  She was leaving to make way for the return of a Miller favorite, who we’ll welcome back next time!

Paula Kelly, Ray Eberle & the Modernaires

Paula Kelly, Ray Eberle & the Modernaires

Take the “A” Train

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (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); Jack Lathrop (g); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May, H.G. Chapman (arr).

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood – May 20, 1941, 12:00-3:00 PM

061253-1      Don’t Cry, Cherie (RE vcl, BF arr)    Bluebird 11183-A

061254-1      Cradle Song (RE, M & Band vcl, HGC arr)   Bluebird 11203-B

061255-1      Sweeter Than the Sweetest (PK & M vcl, BM arr)    Bluebird 11183-B

 

RCA Victor Studios, Hollywood – May 28, 1941, 11:30-3:30 PM

061265-1      I Guess I’ll Have to Dream the Rest (RE & M vcl) Bluebird 11187-A

061266-1      Take the “A” Train (BM arr)            Bluebird 11187-B

061267-1      Peekaboo To You (PK & M vcl, JG arr)        Bluebird 11203-A

061268-1      The Angels Came Thru (RE vcl)      Bluebird 11215-B

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After several sessions of quality songs, we start the May 20th date with a real woofer. Written by veterans Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, DON’T CRY, CHERIE begins well with a dramatic Bill Finegan-arranged intro, and then Ray Eberle sings the verse, an uncommon occurrence in a Miller record. The chorus, however, is pretty insipid, with verbal clichés of French folk Pierre and Cherie crying over their garden, which is not blooming anymore (wonder why?). We get the ominous sound of marching drums and even a musical quote from LA MARSEILLAISE. Too bad the beautiful sonic ambience of RCA’s Hollywood recording studio is wasted here.

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Brahms’ CRADLE SONG is up next, in a performance that manages to keep the inherent sappiness at bay. Ray sings in a hushed and restrained manner, backed by the band chorus and a bit of the Modernaires, who are not credited on the label. Being in the public domain, the melody was ripe for radio play, though it might have been more memorable handled instrumentally.

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Not a moment too soon, we turn back to swing with SWEETER THAN THE SWEETEST, one of the band’s best up-tempo novelties. It was an unlikely pop effort by jazz pianist Willie “The Lion” Smith and lyricist Neil Lawrence (who had written song lyrics for Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong). Arranger Billy May is thoroughly inspired here, with great passages for the brass and reeds, culminating in a groovy Al Klink solo. The byplay between the band and the Mods toward the end is captivating. Paula Kelly shines here, as do Ernie Caceres on baritone sax and bassist Trigger Alpert. A great example of Billy May’s influence on creating a looser swing approach for Glenn’s band.

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A week later, still in Hollywood, the boys return to the bread-and-butter ballads with I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO DREAM THE REST. A BMI winner, also recorded by Harry James/Dick Haymes and Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra, it was another song contribution by disc jockey Martin Block with Mickey Stoner and Harold Green. The trio had earlier written FAITHFUL TO YOU and MAKE BELIEVE BALLROOM TIME, but this new endeavor was even more successful.

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Ray and the Mods make beautiful music, singing throughout, with just a brief break for a Tex solo. It’s an attractive melody, with an especially lovely bridge.

1941 was a transitional year, as singers began to come to the fore. Previously, most big band ballads featured the band in the first and last choruses, with the vocal sandwiched in the middle. Now, as heard here on DREAM, the vocal choruses began and ended the records, with a band interlude midway. Tempos were slowing, too, replacing the jitterbug rhythms with romantic clinches on the dance floor. Maybe it was a reaction to the grim war news. Who knows?

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Billy May scores again with an unlikely ballad treatment of Duke Ellington’s new BMI radio theme song, TAKE THE “A” TRAIN. A vivid contrast to the rural CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO, it’s a jumper written by Billy Strayhorn that replaced SEPIA PANORAMA when the ASCAP fight started. An immediate sensation, “A” TRAIN was kept as the Duke’s signature tune forever after, to the point that most fans thought he had written it.

Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington

Billy Strayhorn & Duke Ellington

Billy’s witty chart features lazy clarinets blowing the train whistle and his own muted trumpet signaling the way to Harlem. Beneke maintains the relaxed mood on tenor and the reeds take it out. Very hip!

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Next is an unjustly forgotten Miller disc, PEEKABOO TO YOU. This one never had a reissue on LP or CD until the issuance of The Complete Glenn Miller sets, which is a shame. Paula and the Mods, with Trigger Alpert and the rhythm section stomping along, cheerily sing the witty Johnny Mercer lyric. Arranger Jerry Gray shifts the sections after the vocal with trombones, trumpet “boo-wahs,” Caceres’ alto backed by walking bass and Johnny Best’s trumpet booted along by drums.

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Lyricist Mercer teamed here with lesser-known writers Carl Sigman and Sol Meyer, both of whom had lengthy song hit credits. This is likely the only popular song that mentions a “fowling piece,” which is fancy talk for a shotgun!

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We haven’t had a Miller song of Latin derivation for a while, so the final song of the May 28th date is a lovely Ernesto Lecuona composition, THE ANGELS CAME THRU. No arranger is credited in the discographies, but it bears the Bill Finegan touch, with attractive organ-like chords from the band. Old friend Al Dubin wrote a serviceable English lyric, which sits very nicely on the melody. Mr. Eberle is just a wee bit sluggish on the vocal, but the record still registers as a neglected good one.

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Ending their Hollywood Palladium engagement on May 22nd, Glenn and the band began touring up and down the West Coast for the first time, greeting ecstatic fans wherever they played. The group’s personnel had been stable for more than half a year, but now several changes were occurring. Guitarist Jack Lathrop left at the end of the Palladium gig and Modernaire Bill Conway took over until a permanent replacement could be hired. Much-loved Trigger Alpert was the first Miller bandsman to be drafted and bassist Myer Rubin would soon be in his chair.

Tickets & autographs from the Miller band's appearance at the Pacific Square Ballroom in San Diego

Tickets & autographs from the Miller band’s appearance at the Pacific Square Ballroom in San Diego

More alterations were in the works once Miller left California on June 5th for Salt Lake City and points east. We’ll catch up with them in Chicago.

 

 

 

Sun Valley Serenade – Part 2

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (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); Jack Lathrop (g); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires, Pat Friday (voice dub for Lynn Bari), John Payne, Dorothy Dandridge, The Nicholas Brothers, Six Hits and a Miss (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

Sun Valley Serenade soundtrack, 20th Century-Fox Studios , Hollywood, CA – March-April, 1941

Moonlight Serenade             TCF-70

I Know Why (PF, JP & Mods vcl, JG & BF arr) TCF-70/71

In The Mood TCF-65

It Happened in Sun Valley (Mods & Six Hits vcl, BF arr) TCF-77

Chattanooga Choo Choo (TB, PK, Mods, DD & NB vcl, JG arr) TCF-74/75

At Last (PF & JP vcl, JG & BF arr)     TCF-72/73

Sun Valley Jump (JG arr)  RCA LPT-3064

The Spirit Is Willing (JG arr)  RCA LPT-3064

Measure for Measure (BM arr)  RCA LPT-3064

The World Is Waiting to Waltz Again (JP vcl, BF arr) TCF-76

The Kiss Polka (studio orchestra and chorus, no Miller) TCF-76

The TCF catalog numbers are for the contemporaneous 78 pressings made by Fox for publicity/souvenir purposes. First commercial issues are RCA LPT-3064 (10” LP issued 1954) and 20th Century-Fox 100-2 (2-LP set issued 1959). All further releases stem from these albums. RCA’s transfers are clean, but Fox adds a bit of reverberation to the tracks (and more echo on later issues).

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The RCA LP is missing MOONLIGHT SERENADE, THE WORLD IS WAITING TO WALTZ AGAIN and THE KISS POLKA.  I KNOW WHY and CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO are complete, including the Dandridge-Nicholas Brothers segment of the latter song, without overdubbed tap sounds. The Fox album includes the same numbers, minus this version of AT LAST.  I KNOW WHY is missing the John Payne vocal portion and CHOO CHOO is cut short at the point where the commercial 78 recording ends.

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Sun Valley Serenade begins with the familiar 20th Century-Fox logo and fanfare. The next image is the Glenn Miller Band in silhouette, playing a swinging version of “The Kiss Polka” as the credits roll. Never before or since has a big band musical began with such an exciting introduction, which must have lifted audiences out of their seats as they got their first glimpse of the Miller Men. Most fans of the time had heard the band on radio and records, but only a relative handful had seen them in person, especially if they lived west of the Mississippi.

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It doesn’t take long before we get more Miller – the band appears two minutes into the film and are playing their first number two minutes later. Glenn looks handsome but quite uncomfortable, smiling as he counts off MOONLIGHT SERENADE, which segues directly into I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU). This gorgeous ballad, arranged by Bill Finegan, features close-ups of all the sections, beautifully lit and photographed. Trigger Alpert and Moe Purtill try not to look too self-conscious during Tex Beneke’s tenor solo and Glenn gets a terrific close-up immediately following. “Vocalist” Lynn Bari (wearing an extremely peculiar hat) and “pianist” John Payne are already making goo-goo eyes at each other, setting the plot into motion and the Modernaires pop up out of nowhere to back Lynn soothingly.

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Veteran director Bruce Humberstone works a comic bit of business with Milton Berle and a cigarette lighter into the number. Humberstone graduated to “A” pictures with this one, after a spending a decade directing low-budget Charlie Chan and Jane Withers films for Fox.   His smooth handling of Sun Valley Serenade led to his assignment to a batch of Technicolor Fox and Goldwyn musicals into the 1950s.

Sonja Henie makes her entrance as a rather overage Norwegian refugee, who is adopted by the band and John Payne as a publicity stunt. Henie is quite enthusiastic in her single-minded pursuit of Payne from the moment she lays eyes on him. With Lynn Bari also having the hots for Payne, this is the extent of the plot needed to keep an 82-minute film percolating.

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At the 20-minute mark, Payne realizing he’s wanted on the bandstand and we’re into IN THE MOOD, the best-ever Miller performance of their signature number. Everybody gets their on-screen moment – Glenn, Tex, Al Klink, Billy May and Trigger Alpert & Moe Purtill, both mugging shamelessly. During the false fade-outs, the saxes and trombones do a choreographed routine, angling and tossing their instruments around, which was a crowd-pleasing stunt in live performance as well.

Henie and Bari bicker a bit over Payne, and then the performers are called back to the bandstand as we hear the introduction to AT LAST, which was unfortunately cut from the film, though home movies exist showing it being filmed. It’s a great arrangement by Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan, done here as a rhythm ballad, vocalized by Lynn Bari and John Payne. Payne sings for himself, rather reedily and Bari is doubled, as usual, by Pat Friday.  RCA Victor issued the soundtrack performance on their Sun Valley Serenade LP in 1954. This wonderful song would be shelved and saved for the next Miller movie, this time in lush ballad mode. Both versions are knockouts.

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With the band booked at the Sun Valley resort in Idaho, the whole entourage entrains to that pre-war luxury vacation setting, to the tune of IT HAPPENED IN SUN VALLEY. Riding sleighs to the hotel, the whole band joins in singing the catchy number, with the Modernaires augmented by the popular vocal group, Six Hits and a Miss, who were heard in many filmusicals of the era. Meanwhile, a visual montage shows all the amenities of Sun Valley – skiing, of course, along with horseback riding, heated swimming pools, outdoor dining and cocktail lounges – reality, but in the realm of fantasy for most Depression-era viewers.

Payne and Henie decided to go skiing, not aware that a rehearsal has been called. With band manager Milton Berle doing his best to placate a steaming Lynn Bari, the ensemble gets down to business with a full-out performance of CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO. With Payne out of the way, Chummy MacGregor makes his only appearance in a Miller film (he would be replaced at the piano bench by Cesar Romero in ORCHESTRA WIVES).

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This is the definitive performance of CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO, performed in a relaxed groove, including many bits of the Jerry Gray arrangement that would be trimmed for the three-minute Bluebird version. The basic chart runs four-and-a-half minutes here, with the band beautifully photographed and charmingly natural vocal (and whistling) appearances by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly and the Modernaires.

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As the song winds down, we get a surprise – the camera pans past the band to reveal lovely young Dorothy Dandridge, quickly joined by the Nicholas Brothers. They are all in full costume, in front of a little “Choo-Choo” backdrop, taking another “hep” vocal chorus and dance. Dorothy then makes a beeline for the exit and the Brothers continue with more athletic moves as the band picks up the tempo. The overdubbed tap sounds mask a series of hot band solos, by Beneke, Billy May and Ernie Caceres. RCA’s later release of the complete, nearly 8-minute routine, reveals the solos without the taps.

The Nicholas Brothers with the Miller band.

The Nicholas Brothers with the Miller band.

There is only one brief shot of the Brothers dancing in front of the band; otherwise they are seen in isolation, an obvious ploy to keep Southern audiences and theaters from having to see what was termed “race mixing” at the time. Often sequences like this one would be cut, pure and simple, before Southern bookings. Since Dandridge and the Brothers have no part in the plot and simply appear and disappear without dialogue or on-screen explanation of any kind, a cut could have been made without notice.

At the 54-minute mark, that is pretty much the end of the Miller band in the film, though Glenn acts in several later scenes, appearing a little stiff, but good enough.  The rest of the music – THE KISS POLKA, performed at the ski lodge, a lovey-dovey reprise by Henie and Payne of I KNOW WHY and Henie’s two skating routines are performed by the Fox studio orchestra and chorus, though the final ice ballet shows the Miller band (in tuxes) now and then to create the illusion that they are playing on the soundtrack. Interestingly, AT LAST is heard again during the ballet, suggesting that it’s earlier band performance was likely cut at the last minute.  Jumping the gun, Ina Ray Hutton’s band recorded AT LAST for Okeh in July, with the label credit, “from Sun Valley Serenade.”

Joan Davis in the cut number, I'M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Joan Davis in the cut number, I’M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Posed still from I'M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Posed still from I’M LENA THE BALLERINA.

Several other performance numbers were filmed and cut – I’M LENA THE BALLERINA, a comic solo for Joan Davis that was slotted in before THE KISS POLKA at the ski lodge with no Miller involvement; and THE WORLD IS WAITING TO WALTZ AGAIN, a lovely, timely war-tinged ballad sung by John Payne during the ice finale sequence with the Miller band, augmented by strings. A tiny glimpse of LENA appears in the movie’s trailer; several stills and home movies exist showing WALTZ being filmed. Happily, the soundtrack of the latter number still exists and can be heard here.

Without her song, sixth-billed Joan Davis has less than two minutes of comic byplay with Milton Berle remaining in the picture. The film’s wrap-up is also remarkably hurried, with no final kiss or declaration of love between Payne and Henie. She skates, a quick shot of them skiing and “The End.” As the film runs only 82 minutes, there certainly was time for more music and action; reportedly, studio head Darryl Zanuck was tired of Henie’s demands and wouldn’t allow any more time or budget to be lavished on the film. It went on to be Henie’s biggest hit, anyway, with much of the success due to the presence of Glenn and the boys.

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Several other instrumental numbers were recorded at Fox, likely planned for underscoring, but none were heard in the finished film. SUN VALLEY JUMP and THE SPIRIT IS WILLING are the same Jerry Gray arrangements recorded for Bluebird in January and February. The film rendition of JUMP is faster and swingier, but as usual, cuts the Al Klink solo heard on the record. THE SPIRIT IS WILLING is almost indistinguishable from the RCA 78. MEASURE FOR MEASURE is a Billy May riff flagwaver, which Glenn played often on the air but only recorded here. The rhythm section really jumps and solos by Caceres (on alto), Beneke and May add to the excitement. A slow dynamic buildup from a diminuendo passage spotlights Trigger Alpert’s powerful bass playing.

Sonja Henie and Lynn Bari flank John Payne in his ski sweater.

Sun Valley Serenade was also influential in unsuspected ways. It started a craze for embroidered ski sweaters, as worn by John Payne and several of the bandsmen. As one of the very few American films reportedly released in the Soviet Union during and after the war, the Miller music was appreciated and copied by Russian jazz musicians, starved for modern swing sounds. As late as the 1970s, Soviet dance bands were still performing and recording the film’s tunes, sometimes in lavish, string-laden symphonic arrangements!

Soviet recording of SUN VALLEY tunes by Oleg Lundstrem's Orchestra.

Soviet recording of SUN VALLEY tunes by Oleg Lundstrem’s Orchestra.

Promotional flyer for the postwar German release of SUN VALLEY SERENADE.

Promotional flyer for the postwar German release of SUN VALLEY SERENADE.

At the conclusion of filming in early May 1941, the Miller Band could finally emerge from its enforced isolation in Hollywood. During the movie, they had maintained their schedule of Chesterfield broadcasts, but made hardly any personal appearances. Now they could  begin to perform on this first visit to the West Coast.  The hungry fans were ready for them!

Glenn looks movie-star handsome in the film, with a wild tie here!

Glenn looks dapper and movie-star handsome in the film. Catch that wild tie!

Sun Valley Serenade – Part 1

Mickey McMickle, Johnny Best, Ray Anthony, Billy May (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); Jack Lathrop (g); Trigger Alpert (b); Maurice Purtill (d); Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, The Modernaires, Pat Friday (voice dub for Lynn Bari), John Payne, Dorothy Dandridge, The Nicholas Brothers, Six Hits and a Miss (vcl); Bill Finegan, Jerry Gray, Billy May (arr).

20th Century Fox Studios, Hollywood, March 24 – May 3, 1941

After the RCA studio sessions in February 1941, the Glenn Miller band took one more swing down the East Coast and then headed west for a series of dates, eventually arriving in Hollywood in mid-March.  Along the way, Glenn jettisoned vocalist Dorothy Claire, who, despite her fine vocal style, had not been a good fit with the band and leader.  She returned to Bobby Byrne’s band as if her two-month Miller stint had never happened. Though only heard on a handful of records, she left behind  a legacy of classy singing on a number of airchecks.

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Dorothy Claire rehearses with Glenn

As her replacement, Miller signed Paula Kelly, who just happened to be the wife of Modernaire Hal Dickenson.  Paula had been singing with the Dick Stabile and Al Donahue bands since 1938 and was a natural for the Miller band. Though not the strongest solo vocalist, she slotted in perfectly with the Modernaires, with whom she would be most often heard.

Paula Kelly

Paula Kelly

Once at 20th Century Fox, the band began rehearsing and routining the new arrangements for the soundtrack of Sun Valley Serenade. The film starred dimpled Sonja Henie, the Norwegian Olympic Champion skating star.  After her amazing sports career ended, she signed with 20th Century Fox in 1936 for a series of very popular skating musicals. Though she came across on-screen as sweet and rather simple, Henie was a tough businesswoman who demanded and got top money from studio head Darryl Zanuck.  Wisely realizing that Henie’s dimples and several skating numbers were not enough to support a successful film, Zanuck surrounded the star from the beginning with an array of seasoned stars and supporting players.

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In her movies, Sonja romanced Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Cesar Romero, Ray Milland and Robert Cummings, while comedians Joan Davis, Ethel Merman, the Ritz Brothers, Buddy Ebsen, Gypsy Rose Lee, Arthur Treacher and the Condos Brothers sang and danced. The formula worked, as all of the Henie ice epics were big hits.

Sun Valley Serenade, Henie’s seventh Fox film, was designed to fit snugly into the pattern. John Payne was the love interest, Lynn Bari supplied romantic conflict and comedy would be provided by young up-and-comer Milton Berle, raucous Joan Davis (whose role was severely truncated in the editing process), the dancing Nicholas Brothers and singer Dorothy Dandridge. Since big band musicals were highly popular, the Miller band was added for extra punch.  Glenn had held off from appearing in films until he had enough clout to insist upon the best screen presentation of his organization in an “A” picture.

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In the early 1940s. it was said that big bands got big parts in “B” pictures and small parts in “A” pictures.  Top bands like Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey, for example, got short shrift in films like Dancing Co-ed and Las Vegas Nights.  By integrating the band into the plot of Sun Valley Serenade, the scriptwriters gave Glenn what he wanted. The band is seen and heard throughout and is the driving force behind the plot, silly though it may be. Unfortunately, in doing so, several of Glenn’s top people were squeezed out of the film. With John Payne playing the band’s pianist/male vocalist, Chummy MacGregor and Ray Eberle were shunted off to the sidelines.  Chummy only appears during CHATTANOOGA CHOO-CHOO, while Payne is off skiing with Henie and Eberle is left totally in the snow, which must have upset him.

John Payne & Lynn Bari with Willie Schwartz & Tex Beneke in the background

John Payne & Lynn Bari with Willie Schwartz & Tex Beneke in the background

Lynn Bari plays the band’s singer (utilizing the luscious voice of Pat Friday), but Paula Kelly and the Modernaires, along with Tex Beneke, do get their time in the screen spotlight. Songwriters Harry Warren and Mack Gordon must have been inspired by the chance to write for the Miller band, as some of their very best compositions would wind up in Glenn’s two films.

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The band also received the best sound recording it would ever get, years ahead of the fidelity achieved by their RCA studio recordings. The film studios recorded music and voices using multiple microphones on multiple channels (termed “stems” or “angles” at that time).   They were not yet attempting to produce multichannel stereophonic recordings. The various “angles” were mixed down to produce a monaural single-channel soundtrack, but with the luxury of highlighting various instruments or sections. For example, when the camera panned across an orchestra, you might hear different instruments coming to the fore and then receding.

In cases where the studios preserved the multiple angles, a form of stereo could be newly mixed for later video and theater releases, as was done in the 1990s for The Wizard of Oz. Both Miller films were mixed for stereo when issued on VHS in the late 1980s, with pretty miraculous results. So far, only Orchestra Wives has had an official DVD release in the United States.

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At the time the films were made, 20th Century Fox produced albums of  78s featuring most of the final soundtrack performances for in-house distribution and also for cast & crew souvenirs. These are the first and only 78 issues of the movie tracks.

When The Glenn Miller Story was released in 1954 to popular acclaim (and $7 million at the box office), Decca’s soundtrack album hit #1 for 10 weeks on the Billboard charts. RCA cobbled together an album of the same songs in Glenn’s original performances and that stayed at #1 for 11 weeks!

Hoping to cash in on Miller Mania, 20th Century-Fox re-released both of Glenn’s films theatrically as a double-feature package and struck gold there, too. RCA Victor licensed those soundtracks from Fox and created two 10-inch LPs, including most of the numbers from the films and several unused tracks as well.

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In 1959, with 10-inch LPs out of favor, RCA would likely have combined the two albums onto a single 12-inch LP.  20th Fox Records apparently yanked the rights back and produced their own 2-LP set of Miller film music, which added several “new” numbers, left others off or truncated them.  In order to have the most complete original issue of Glenn’s Fox soundtracks, both RCA and Fox albums are required listening.

We’ll discuss the actual Miller music in the next installment!

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