Miller c. 1942
|Alton Glenn Miller|
March 1, 1904|
Clarinda, Iowa, U.S.
December 15, 1944 (aged 40)|
Plane missing over the English Channel
|Genres||Swing music, big band|
|Bandleader, musician, arranger, composer|
|Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Modernaires, Marion Hutton|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Army Air Forces|
|Years of service||1942-1944|
Bronze Star |
Alton Glenn Miller (March 1, 1904 - December 15, 1944) was an American big-band trombonist, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best-known big bands. Miller's recordings include "In the Mood", "Moonlight Serenade", "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", "A String of Pearls", "At Last", "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo", "American Patrol", "Tuxedo Junction", "Elmer's Tune", and "Little Brown Jug". In just four years Glenn Miller scored 23 number-one hits - more than Elvis Presley (18 No. 1s, 38 top 10s) and the Beatles (20 No. 1s, 33 top 10s) did in their careers. While he was traveling to entertain U.S. troops in France during World War II, Miller's aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel.
The son of Mattie Lou (ne;e Cavender) and Lewis Elmer Miller, Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa. He attended grade school in North Platte in western Nebraska. In 1915, his family moved to Grant City, Missouri. Around this time, he had made enough money from milking cows to buy his first trombone and played in the town orchestra. He played cornet and mandolin, but he switched to trombone by 1916. In 1918, the Miller family moved again, this time to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where he went to high school. In the fall of 1919, he joined the high school football team, Maroons, which won the Northern Colorado American Football Conference in 1920. He was named Best Left End in Colorado. During his senior year, he became interested in "dance band music". He was so taken that he formed a band with some classmates. By the time he graduated from high school in 1921, he had decided to become a professional musician.
In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he joined Sigma Nu fraternity. He spent most of his time away from school, attending auditions and playing any gigs he could get, including with Boyd Senter's band in Denver. After failing three out of five classes, he dropped out of school to pursue a career in music. He studied the Schillinger System with Joseph Schillinger, under whose tutelage he composed what became his signature theme, "Moonlight Serenade". In 1926, Miller toured with several groups, landing a good spot in Ben Pollack's group in Los Angeles. He also played for Victor Young, allowing him to be mentored by other professional musicians. In the beginning, he was the main trombone soloist of the band. But when Jack Teagarden joined Pollack's band in 1928, Miller found that his solos were cut drastically. He realized that his future was in arranging and composing.
He had a songbook published in Chicago in 1928 entitled Glenn Miller's 125 Jazz Breaks for Trombone by the Melrose Brothers. During his time with Pollack, he wrote several arrangements. He wrote his first composition, "Room 1411", with Benny Goodman, and it was released as a 78 by Brunswick Records under the name Benny Goodman's Boys.
In 1928, when the band arrived in New York City, he sent for and married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger. He was a member of Red Nichols's orchestra in 1930, and because of Nichols, he played in the pit bands of two Broadway shows, Strike Up the Band and Girl Crazy. The band included Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa).
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Miller worked as a freelance trombonist in several bands. On a March 21, 1928, Victor Records session, he played alongside Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Joe Venuti in the All-Star Orchestra directed by Nat Shilkret. He arranged and played trombone on several significant Dorsey Brothers sessions for OKeh Records, including "The Spell of the Blues", "Let's Do It", and "My Kinda Love", all with Bing Crosby on vocals. On November 14, 1929, vocalist Red McKenzie hired Miller to play on two records: "Hello, Lola" and "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight". Beside Miller were saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, guitarist Eddie Condon, and drummer Gene Krupa.
In the early-to-mid-1930s, Miller worked as a trombonist, arranger, and composer for The Dorsey Brothers, first when they were a Brunswick studio group and when they formed an ill-fated orchestra. Miller composed the songs "Annie's Cousin Fanny",< "Dese Dem Dose", "Harlem Chapel Chimes", and "Tomorrow's Another Day" for the Dorsey Brothers Band in 1934 and 1935. In 1935, he assembled an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble, developing the arrangement of lead clarinet over four saxophones that became a characteristic of his big band. Members of the Noble band included Claude Thornhill, Bud Freeman, and Charlie Spivak.
Miller made his first movie appearance in The Big Broadcast of 1936 as a member of the Ray Noble Orchestra performing "Why Stars Come Out at Night". The film included performances by Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers, who would appear with Miller again in two movies for Twentieth Century Fox in 1941 and 1942.
In 1937, Miller compiled several arrangements and formed his first band. After failing to distinguish itself from the many bands of the time, it broke up after its last show at the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut on January 2, 1938.
Benny Goodman said in 1976:
Discouraged, Miller returned to New York. He realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave. George T. Simon discovered a saxophonist named Wilbur Schwartz for Glenn Miller. Miller hired Schwartz, but instead had him play lead clarinet. According to Simon, "Willie's tone and way of playing provided a fullness and richness so distinctive that none of the later Miller imitators could ever accurately reproduce the Miller sound." With this new sound combination, Glenn Miller found a way to differentiate his band's style from the many bands that existed in the late thirties. Miller talked about his style in the May 1939 issue of Metronome magazine. "You'll notice today some bands use the same trick on every introduction; others repeat the same musical phrase as a modulation into a vocal ... We're fortunate in that our style doesn't limit us to stereotyped intros, modulations, first choruses, endings or even trick rhythms. The fifth sax, playing clarinet most of the time, lets you know whose band you're listening to. And that's about all there is to it."
In September 1938, the Miller band began recording for Bluebird, a subsidiary of RCA Victor. Cy Shribman, a prominent East Coast businessman, financed the band. In the spring of 1939, the band's fortunes improved with a date at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey and more dramatically at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. According to author Gunther Schuller, the Glen Island performance attracted "a record breaking opening night crowd of 1800..." The band's popularity grew. In 1939, Time magazine noted, "Of the twelve to 24 discs in each of today's 300,000 U.S. jukeboxes, from two to six are usually Glenn Miller's." "Tuxedo Junction" sold 115,000 copies in the first week. Miller's success in 1939 culminated with an appearance at Carnegie Hall on October 6 with Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, and Fred Waring also on the schedule.
From December 1939 to September 1942, Miller's band performed three times a week during a quarter-hour broadcast for Chesterfield cigarettes on CBS radio for the first 13 weeks with the Andrews Sisters and then on its own. On February 10, 1942, RCA Victor presented Miller with the first gold record for "Chattanooga Choo-Choo". "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was performed by the Miller orchestra with his singers Gordon "Tex" Beneke, Paula Kelly and the Modernaires. Other singers with this orchestra included Marion Hutton, Skip Nelson,Ray Eberle and to a smaller extent, Kay Starr,Ernie Caceres, Dorothy Claire and Jack Lathrop.Pat Friday ghost-sang with the Miller band in their two films, Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives with Lynn Bari lip synching.
Miller and his band appeared in two Twentieth Century Fox films. In 1941's Sun Valley Serenade, they were major members of the cast, which also featured comedian Milton Berle, and Dorothy Dandridge with the Nicholas Brothers in the show-stopping song and dance number, Chattanooga Choo Choo. The Miller band returned to Hollywood to film 1942's Orchestra Wives, featuring Jackie Gleason playing a part as the group's bassist, Ben Beck. Miller had an ailment that made laughter extremely painful. Since Gleason was a comedian, Miller had a difficult time watching him more than once, because Miller would start laughing. Miller was contracted to do a third movie for Fox, Blind Date, but as he entered the U.S. Army, this never panned out.
In 2004, Miller orchestra bassist Trigger Alpert explained the band's success: "Miller had America's music pulse...He knew what would please the listeners." Although Miller was popular, many jazz critics had misgivings. They believed that the band's endless rehearsals--and, according to critic Amy Lee in Metronome magazine, "letter-perfect playing"--removed feeling from their performances. They also felt that Miller's brand of swing shifted popular music from the hot jazz of Benny Goodman and Count Basie to commercial novelty instrumentals and vocal numbers. After Miller died, the Miller estate maintained an unfriendly stance toward critics who derided the band during his lifetime.
Miller was often criticized for being too commercial. His answer was, "I don't want a jazz band." Many modern jazz critics harbor similar antipathy. In 1997, on a web site administered by JazzTimes magazine, Doug Ramsey considers him overrated. "Miller was a businessman who discovered a popular formula from which he allowed little departure. A disproportionate ratio of nostalgia to substance keeps his music alive."
Jazz critics Gunther Schuller (1991), Gary Giddins (2004) and Gene Lees (2007) have defended Miller from criticism. In an article written for The New Yorker magazine in 2004, Giddins said these critics erred in denigrating Miller's music and that the popular opinion of the time should hold greater sway. "Miller exuded little warmth on or off the bandstand, but once the band struck up its theme, audiences were done for: throats clutched, eyes softened. Can any other record match 'Moonlight Serenade' for its ability to induce a Pavlovian slaver in so many for so long?" Schuller, notes, "[The Miller sound] was nevertheless very special and able to penetrate our collective awareness that few other sounds have..." He compares it to "Japanese Gagaku [and] Hindu music" in its purity. Schuller and Giddins do not take completely uncritical approaches to Miller. Schuller says that Ray Eberle's "lumpy, sexless vocalizing dragged down many an otherwise passable performance." But Schuller notes, "How much further [Miller's] musical and financial ambitions might have carried him must forever remain conjectural. That it would have been significant, whatever form(s) it might have taken, is not unlikely."
Louis Armstrong thought enough of Miller to carry around his recordings, transferred to seven-inch tape reels when he went on tour. "[Armstrong] liked musicians who prized melody, and his selections ranged from Glenn Miller to Jelly Roll Morton to Tchaikovsky." Jazz pianist George Shearing's quintet of the 1950s and 1960s was influenced by Miller: "with Shearing's locked hands style piano (influenced by the voicing of Miller's saxophone section) in the middle [of the quintet's harmonies]".Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme; held the orchestra in high regard. Torme; credited Miller with giving him helpful advice when he first started his singing and song-writing career in the 1940s. Mel Torme; met Glenn Miller in 1942, the meeting facilitated by Torme;'s father and Ben Pollack. Torme; and Miller discussed "That Old Black Magic", which was just emerging as a new song by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen. Miller told Torme; to pick up every song by Mercer and study it and to become a voracious reader of anything he could find, because "all good lyric writers are great readers." In an interview with George T. Simon in 1948, Sinatra lamented the inferior quality of music he was recording in the late forties, in comparison with "those great Glenn Miller things" from eight years earlier. Frank Sinatra's recording sessions from the late forties and early fifties use some Miller musicians. Trigger Alpert, a bassist from the civilian band, Zeke Zarchy for the Army Air Forces Band and Willie Schwartz, the lead clarinetist from the civilian band back up Frank Sinatra on many recordings. With opposite opinion, fellow bandleader Artie Shaw frequently disparaged the band after Miller's death: "All I can say is that Glenn should have lived, and 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' should have died." Clarinetist Buddy DeFranco surprised many people when he led the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the late sixties and early seventies. De Franco was already a veteran of bands like Gene Krupa and Tommy Dorsey in the 1940s. He was also a major exponent of modern jazz in the 1950s. He never saw Miller as leading a swinging jazz band, but DeFranco is extremely fond of certain aspects of the Glenn Miller style. "I found that when I opened with the sound of 'Moonlight Serenade', I could look around and see men and women weeping as the music carried them back to years gone by." De Franco says, "the beauty of Glenn Miller's ballads [...] caused people to dance together."
In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided to join the war effort, forsaking an income of $15,000 to $20,000 per week in civilian life, including a home in Tenafly, New Jersey. At 38, Miller was too old to be drafted and first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they did not need his services. Miller then wrote to Army Brigadier General Charles Young. He persuaded the United States Army to accept him so he could, in his own words, "be placed in charge of a modernized Army band". After he was accepted into the Army, Miller's civilian band played its last concert in Passaic, New Jersey, on September 27, 1942, with the last song played by the Miller civilian band being "Jukebox Saturday Night"--featuring an appearance by Harry James on trumpet. His patriotic intention of entertaining the Allied Forces with the fusion of virtuosity and dance rhythms in his music earned him the rank of captain and he was soon promoted to major by August 1944.
Miller reported at Omaha on October 8, 1942, to the Seventh Service Command as a captain in the Army Specialist Corps. Miller was soon transferred to the Army Air Forces. Captain Glenn Miller served initially as assistant special services officer for the Army Air Forces Southeast Training Center at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1942. He played trombone with the Rhythmaires, a 15-piece dance band, in both Montgomery and in service clubs and recreation halls on Maxwell. Miller also appeared on both WAPI (Birmingham, Alabama) and WSFA radio (Montgomery), promoting the activities of civil service women aircraft mechanics employed at Maxwell.
Miller initially formed a large marching band that was to be the core of a network of service orchestras. His attempts at modernizing military music were met with some resistance from tradition-minded career officers, but Miller's fame and support from other senior leaders allowed him to continue. For example, Miller's arrangement of "St. Louis Blues March", combined blues and jazz with the traditional military march. Miller's weekly radio broadcast "I Sustain the Wings", for which he co-wrote the eponymous theme song, moved from New Haven to New York City and was very popular. This led to permission for Miller to form his 50-piece Army Air Force Band and take it to England in the summer of 1944, where he gave 800 performances. While in England, now Major Miller recorded a series of records at EMI owned Abbey Road Studios. The recordings the AAF band made in 1944 at Abbey Road were propaganda broadcasts for the Office of War Information. Many songs are sung in German by Johnny Desmond and Glenn Miller speaks in German about the war effort. Before Miller's disappearance, his music was used by World War II AFN radio broadcasting for entertainment and morale as well as counter-propaganda to denounce fascist oppression in Europe with even Miller once stating on radio:
There were also the Miller-led AAF Orchestra-recorded songs with American singer Dinah Shore. These were done at the Abbey Road studios and were the last recorded songs made by the band while being led by Miller. They were stored with HMV/EMI for fifty years, never being released until their copyright expired in Europe in 1994. In summarizing Miller's military career, General Jimmy Doolittle said, "next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations."
During Miller's stay in England, he and his band were headquartered in a BBC Radio office at 25 Sloane Court in London. A bomb landed three blocks away, encouraging Miller to relocate to Bedford, England. The day after he departed London, a V-1 flying bomb demolished his former office, killing at least 70 of his former officemates.
Miller spent the last night before his disappearance at Milton Ernest Hall, near Bedford. On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, to make arrangements to move his entire band there in the near future. His plane, a single-engined UC-64 Norseman, departed from RAF Twinwood Farm in Clapham, on the outskirts of Bedford, and disappeared while flying over the English Channel.
The Miller estate authorized an official Glenn Miller ghost band in 1946. This band was led by Tex Beneke, former tenor saxophonist and a singer for the civilian band. It had a makeup similar to the Army Air Forces Band: It included a large string section and, at least initially, about two-thirds of the musicians were alumni of either the civilian or AAF orchestras. The orchestra's official public de;but was at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway where it opened for a three-week engagement on January 24, 1946. Future television and film composer Henry Mancini was the band's pianist and one of the arrangers. This ghost band played to very large audiences all across the United States, including a few dates at the Hollywood Palladium in 1947, where the original Miller band played in 1941. In a website concerning the history of the Hollywood Palladium, it is noted "[even] as the big band era faded, the Tex Beneke and Glenn Miller Orchestra concert at the Palladium resulted in a record-breaking crowd of 6,750 dancers." By 1949, economics dictated that the string section be dropped. This band recorded for RCA Victor, just as the original Miller band did. Beneke was struggling with how to expand the Miller sound and also how to achieve success under his own name. What began as the "Glenn Miller Orchestra Under the Direction of Tex Beneke" finally became "The Tex Beneke Orchestra". By 1950, Beneke and the Miller estate parted ways. The break was acrimonious and Beneke is not currently listed by the Miller estate as a former leader of the Glenn Miller orchestra, although his role has more recently been acknowledged on the orchestra's website.
When Glenn Miller was alive, many bandleaders like Bob Chester imitated his style. By the early 1950s, various bands were again copying the Miller style of clarinet-led reeds and muted trumpets, notably Ralph Flanagan,Jerry Gray, and Ray Anthony. This, coupled with the success of The Glenn Miller Story (1953), led the Miller estate to ask Ray McKinley to lead a new ghost band. This 1956 band is the original version of the current ghost band that still tours the United States today. The official Glenn Miller orchestra for the United States is currently under the direction of Nick Hilscher. The officially sanctioned Glenn Miller Orchestra for the United Kingdom has toured and recorded under the leadership of Ray McVay. The official Glenn Miller Orchestra for Europe has been led by Wil Salden since 1990. The Official Glenn Miller Orchestra for Scandinavia has been led by Jan Slottens since 2010.
In the mid-1940s, after Miller's disappearance, the Miller-led Army Air Force band was decommissioned and sent back to the United States. "The chief of the European theater asked [Warrant Officer Harold Lindsay] Lin [Arinson] to put together another band to take its place, and that's when the 314 was formed." According to singer Tony Bennett who sang with it while in the service, the 314 was the immediate successor to the Glenn Miller led AAF orchestra. The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band's long-term legacy has carried on with the Airmen of Note, a band within the United States Air Force Band. This band was created in 1950 from smaller groups within the Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., and continues to play jazz music for the Air Force community and the general public. The legacy also continues through The United States Air Forces in Europe Band, stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Today, most branches of the American military, in addition to concert and marching bands, have jazz orchestras, combos and even groups playing rock, country and bluegrass. All that can be tracked to Miller's original Army Air Force band.
Annual festivals celebrating Glenn Miller's legacy are held in two of the towns most associated with his youth.
Since 1975, the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society has held its annual Glenn Miller Festival in Clarinda, Iowa. The festival's highlights include performances by the official Glenn Miller Orchestra under the direction of Nick Hilscher as well as numerous other jazz musicians, visits to the restored Miller home and the new Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum, historical displays from the Glenn Miller Archive at the University of Colorado, lectures and presentations about Miller's life, and a scholarship competition for young classical and jazz musicians.
Every summer since 1996, the city of Fort Morgan, Colorado, has hosted a public event called the Glenn Miller SwingFest. Miller graduated from Fort Morgan High School where he played American football and formed his own band with classmates. Events include musical performances and swing dancing, community picnics, lectures and fundraising for scholarships to attend The School for the Performing Arts, a nonprofit dance, voice, piano, percussion, guitar, violin, and drama studio program in Fort Morgan. Each year, about 2,000 people attend this summer festival, which serves to introduce younger generations to the music Miller made famous, as well as the style of dance and dress popular in the big-band era.
Glenn Miller's widow, Helen, died in 1966. Herb Miller, Glenn Miller's brother, led his own band in the United States and England until the late 1980s. In 1989, Glenn Miller's adopted daughter purchased the house in Clarinda Iowa where Miller was born, and the Glenn Miller Foundation was created to oversee its restoration; it is now part of the Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum. In 1953, Universal-International pictures released The Glenn Miller Story, starring James Stewart; Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton and Tex Beneke neither appear in nor are referred to in it. In 1957, a new student Union Building was completed on the Boulder Campus and the new Ballroom was named "The Glenn Miller Ballroom". In 1996, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Glenn Miller postage stamp.
In the United States and England, there are a few archives that are devoted to Glenn Miller. The University of Colorado, Boulder, has an extensive Glenn Miller Archive that not only houses many of Miller's recordings, gold records and other memorabilia, but also is open to scholarly research and the general public. This archive, formed by Alan Cass, includes the original manuscript to Miller's theme song, "Moonlight Serenade", among other items of interest. In 2002, the Glenn Miller Museum opened to the public at the former RAF Twinwood Farm, in Clapham, Bedfordshire, England. Miller's surname resides on the "Wall of Missing" at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. There is a burial plot and headstone for Major Glenn Miller in Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington, D.C. A monument stone was also placed in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut, next to the campus of Yale University. Miller was awarded a Star for Recording on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. The headquarters of the United States Air Forces in Europe Band at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is named Glenn Miller Hall.
Miller had a staff of arrangers who wrote originals like "String of Pearls" (written and arranged by Jerry Gray) or took originals like "In The Mood" (writing credit given to Joe Garland and arranged by Eddie Durham) and "Tuxedo Junction" (written by bandleader Erskine Hawkins and arranged by Jerry Gray) and arranged them for the Miller band to either record or broadcast. Glenn Miller's staff of arrangers in his civilian band, who handled the bulk of the work, were Jerry Gray (a former arranger for Artie Shaw), Bill Finegan (a former arranger for Tommy Dorsey),Billy May and to a much smaller extent, George Williams, who worked very briefly with the band as well as Andrews Sisters arranger Vic Schoen
According to Norman Leyden, "[s]everal others [besides Leyden] arranged for Miller in the service, including Jerry Gray, Ralph Wilkinson, Mel Powell, and Steve Steck." In 1943, Glenn Miller wrote Glenn Miller's Method for Orchestral Arranging, published by the Mutual Music Society in New York, a one hundred sixteen page book with illustrations and scores that explains how he wrote his musical arrangements.
"Major Alton Glenn Miller (Army Serial No. 0505273), Air Corps, United States Army, for meritorious service in connection with military operations as Commander of the Army Air Force Band (Special), from 9 July 1944 to 15 December 1944. Major Miller, through excellent judgment and professional skill, conspicuously blended the abilities of the outstanding musicians, comprising the group, into a harmonious orchestra whose noteworthy contribution to the morale of the armed forces has been little less than sensational. Major Miller constantly sought to increase the services rendered by his organization, and it was through him that the band was ordered to Paris to give this excellent entertainment to as many troops as possible. His superior accomplishments are highly commendable and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States."
Glenn Miller had three recordings that were posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have "qualitative or historical significance."
What [Shearing] was aiming for [...] was 'a full block sound, which, if it was scored for saxophones, would sound like the Glenn Miller sound. And coming at the end of the frenetic bebop era, the timing seemed to be right.'