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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That Old Black Magic

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 14, 1942, 11:00 AM-2:40 PM

074736-1      Dearly Beloved (SN & Band vcl, JG arr)      Victor 27953 -A

074737-1      Moonlight Mood (SN & M vcl, JG arr)          Victor 20-1520-B

074738-1      Caribbean Clipper (JG arr) Victor 20-1536-B

074739-1      Here We Go Again (JG arr)   Victor 20-1563-A

 

RCA Victor Studios,    Chicago – July 15, 1942, 11:00 AM-3:15 PM

074740-1      That Old Black Magic (SN & M vcl)             Victor 20-1523-A

074740-2      That Old Black Magic (SN & M vcl)        first issued on CD

074741-1      Moonlight Becomes You (SN & M vcl)        Victor 20-1520–A

074742-1      Juke Box Saturday Night (MH, TB & M vcl, JG arr)   Victor 20-1509-A

074743-1      It Must Be Jelly (M vcl, GW arr)       Victor 20-1546-A

Fame can be very fickle – in 1940, Ray Eberle was on top of the popularity charts. By war’s end, band singers Frank Sinatra, Dick Haymes and Perry Como were now the top male solo singers and other formerly big names like Harry Babbitt, Ray Eberle and brother Bob Eberly had dropped out of contention.

Glenn’s immediate concern was to replace Ray in a matter of days, before the quickly-approaching Victor session of July 14th. He contacted young Skip Nelson of the Chico Marx band and flew him to Chicago within a day of Ray’s departure. Skip actually looked and sounded quite a bit like Ray, so he was a natural choice.

Skip Nelson with the Casa Loma Band in 1945.

Skip Nelson with the Casa Loma Band in 1945.

First to be recorded on July 14th (and the first to be issued, judging by catalog number), was DEARLY BELOVED, one of the beautiful Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer songs from You Were Never Lovelier. Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth were teamed in this A-class Columbia musical, that also featured I’M OLD FASHIONED, which Glenn got around to on July 16th.

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Skip makes his Miller debut here, backed by the band humming along. He sounds fairly grim and heavy, nervous traits that unfortunately continue through these sessions. Skip sounded a bit lighter-voiced on an earlier session with Chico Marx; he can certainly be forgiven for coming off stiff here, as he had barely spent three days getting adjusted his new surroundings!

The band sounds rich and sonorous, with organ-like textures reflecting the greater depth the band had achieved by this time. It’s too bad the damped-down sound of RCA’s Chicago studio can’t fully capture that depth, but just compare this Jerry Gray arrangement to one of his from 1940 and you’ll get the idea.

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MOONLIGHT MOOD is not of the quality of DEARLY BELOVED, but once again Jerry Gray works magic with the material. Like DEEP PURPLE, the song began as an instrumental composition by Peter DeRose. Harold Adamson added the words later.   Skip Nelson is a mite less heavy-sounding than on the preceding tune, but oddly, the original 78 omits his vocal credit, mentioning only the Modernaires.

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Skip gets a break, as the other two numbers on this day’s program are strictly instrumental. CARIBBEAN CLIPPER was a new Jerry Gray original, taken slightly below flagwaver tempo. Tex, Billy May and Moe Purtill get some welcome solo space, after a heavy diet of ballads and vocal novelties on the recent sessions. The brass and saxes intertwine gracefully and Moe’s solo breaks are especially imaginative. Doc Goldberg can also be heard, pushing the rhythm along on bass.

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HERE WE GO AGAIN concludes this all-Jerry Gray session. This swinger had been in the book for some time, being heard often on the air since May 1941. It’s a fairly repetitive riff number, allowing full-chorus solos for Al Klink and Billy May, more Purtill drum breaks and a lengthy rideout ending. Nice to get this one on wax!

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The following day, Skip and the Mods lead off with THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC, an instant standard by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer from the Paramount all-star feature, STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM. Despite the presence of Bing Crosby, newcomer Johnnie Johnston, who waxed it for Capitol, introduced the song on screen. Bing didn’t even cut it for Decca (Judy Garland did), but the Number #1 selling version was this one by Glenn. It was also his last Number #1 record, hitting the top spot in January 1943.

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One slow vocal chorus of the lengthy song takes up the entire record; Skip and the Mods give it their all and the vocal arrangement tosses the melody back and forth from the soloist to the group with enough variety to keep the performance interesting.

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The next number was introduced and recorded by Bing Crosby – MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, from the popular Road To Morocco, with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour. The Miller band waxed songs from the first three Road pictures and this last one is a real beauty.  Composed by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, the recording features an exquisite opening and coda, with Mickey McMickle’s muted trumpet heard in the first chorus, along with the gorgeous sound of the Miller reeds. Skip and the Mods once again put their all into it and the result is one of the highlights of these sessions.

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Marion Hutton and Tex Beneke make their only appearance on the July dates with JUKE BOX SATURDAY NIGHT and what a rousing appearance it is! Another huge Miller standard, the song was introduced in an ice skating revue, Stars on Ice, produced by our old friend, Sonja Henie. Produced at the Center Theater in Rockefeller Center, which was billed as “America’s only ice theater,” the extravaganza ran over two years.  The Modernaires used the basic Al Stillman-Paul McGrane tune as a jumping-off point for their own arranged tribute to current pop performers Harry James (imitated by Johnny Best) and the Ink Spots.

Marion, Tex and the Mods

Marion, Tex and the Mods

This jukebox routine had been first used in 1941 for Glenn’s live arrangement of THE NICKEL SERENADE, that time featuring parodies of Sammy Kaye, Charlie Barnet and Kay Kyser. Since Miller didn’t record the routine, it was ripe for reuse in the new number.  Skittish RCA was afraid that the record would annoy jukebox operators and almost didn’t release it. They were surely glad that they relented!

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Another hot one finishes off the session – IT MUST BE JELLY (‘CAUSE JAM DON’T SHAKE LIKE THAT). Written and arranged by George Williams, the simple, catchy riff tune was later picked up by Harry James and Woody Herman, who played it often. Basically a framework to hang solos on, we hear again from Al Klink, then Johnny Best and Billy May trading fours. Skip Martin makes a rare appearance on alto before we get the patented Miller slow fade, building up to a sudden finish.  The number was published by Glenn’s Mutual Music firm. Another George Williams original, I HEAR YOU SCREAMIN’, was played by the civilian band on the air, but only recorded by the AAF Band and also Gene Krupa.

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We also do a slow fade here, picking up next time for the final Glenn Miller record date.

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