With his orchestra, bandleader Glenn Miller “synthesized all the elements of ‘big band’ jazz and gave a generation of young people the apotheosis of dance music: smooth, sophisticated, and with a patina of sentimentality,” declared critic Ralph De Toledano in National Review. Miller’s popularity as a music maker began in 1939, and, with standards such as “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood,” and “Tuxedo Junction,” lasted until he broke up his orchestra to join the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942.
Miller was born on March 1, probably in the year 1909, in Clarinda, Iowa. His family moved around a great deal during his youth, to places including North Platte, Nebraska, and Grant City, Oklahoma. In the latter town, at the age of thirteen, Miller milked cows to earn money to buy a trombone. He did not, apparently, count on music to be his career, because he finished high school and attended classes at the University of Colorado for two years. During his time in college, though, he continued playing the trombone, and worked briefly with Boyd Senter’s band in Denver. After that, however, the lure of music proved too strong, and Miller left the University to try his luck on the west coast of the United States.
The budding trombonist played with a few small bands there until 1927, when he joined Ben Pollack’s orchestra. Shortly afterwards, Pollack and his musicians moved to New York, and Miller found so many opportunities there that he left Pollack’s band. In addition to playing the trombone, he did arrangements for the likes of Victor Young, Freddy Rich, and others. Miller felt optimistic enough about his burgeoning career in 1928 to marry Helen Burger, a woman he had met at the University of Colorado.
During the 1930s, Miller helped Ray Noble start an orchestra, played for other bandleaders, and put together a swing band for Columbia Records. But he was already planning to have a big band of his own, and turned down a lucrative job with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film company to work on the project. In 1937, Miller’s dream became a reality when he put together musicians such as Charlie Spivak, Toots Mondello, and Maurice Purtill to form the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Though Purtill soon left to play with Tommy Dorsey—who at that time was better known than Miller—the orchestra carried on for the rest of the year, playing one-night stands in various cities.
In 1938, however, Miller temporarily suspended the band. Purtill’s absence brought about problems with the orchestra’s rhythm section that continued to plague its leader, and Miller felt the need to reorganize from the ground up. He did so, using only a few of the band’s original members. Later that year the Glenn Miller Orchestra added singer Marion Hutton to its roster, and
Born March 1, c. 1909, in Clarinda, IA; disappeared over the English Channel while on an airplane flight from England to Paris, December 1944; son of Lewis Elmer and Mattie Lou (maiden name, Cavender) Miller; married Helen Burger, October 6, 1928. Education: Attended the University of Colorado, 1924-26.
Trombone player, bandleader, arranger, and composer. Played briefly with Boyd Senter’s band in Denver, Colorado, during the mid-1920s; played with other small bands c. 1926; played with Ben Pollack’s orchestra, beginning 1927; helped Ray Noble organize his American orchestra during the early 1930s; formed and led Glenn Miller Orchestra, 1937-42; captain in U.S. Army Air Corps, beginning 1942. Appeared in films, including Sun Valley Serenade, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1941, and Orchestra Wives, Twentieth Century-Fox. Composer of popular songs, including “Moonlight Serenade.”
by 1939, the band had made it big, playing to standing-room-only crowds in New York City.
Miller’s orchestra was famous for its well-blended, balanced sound. Critics have noted that it was not a vehicle for star soloists, but rather that emphasis was placed on the output of the entire band. Miller was known to discourage musicians who stood out from the rest of the orchestra, and praise those who combined well with their fellows. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was acclaimed by a large variety of fans because it played many different types of big band music—everything from hot jazz to popular ballads. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Miller and his band gifted audiences with classic hits such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” and “A String of Pearls.”
In 1942, while it was still extremely successful, Glenn Miller decided to break up his orchestra in order to accept the rank of captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was on a routine flight over the English Channel when his plane disappeared. Like that of other orchestra leaders of the big band era, Glenn Miller’s music has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, and his orchestra is considered by critics to have been one of the best of its time.
Singles; on RCA
“Moonlight Serenade,” 1939.
“Falling Leaves,” 1940.
“Johnson Rag,” 1940.
“In the Mood,” 1940.
“Pennsylvania 6-5000,” 1940.
“Tuxedo Junction,” 1940.
“The Booglie Wooglie Piggy,” 1941.
“Chattanooga Choo Choo,” 1941.
“Elmer’s Tune,” 1941.
“Moonlight Cocktail,” 1941.
“I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” 1942.
“A String of Pearls,” 1942.
“Little Brown Jug.”
Glenn Miller: The Popular Recordings, 1938-42 (three compact discs), RCA, 1990.
Down Beat, September 1989; June 1990.
Look, August 13, 1940.
National Review, March 5, 1990.
Newsweek, January 15, 1940.
People, March 13, 1989.
Miller, (Alton) Glenn
Miller, (Alton) Glenn
Miller, (Alton) Glenn, disciplined American bandleader, arranger, and trombonist; b. Clarinda, Iowa, March 1, 1904; d. en route from England to France, Dec. 15, 1944. Though Miller succeeded relatively late as a swing bandleader, he succeeded spectacularly: For three years, 1939–42, his Orch. outstripped all competitors as the most popular recording and performing act in the U.S. Developing a signature sound in which the melody was carried by a high-pitched clarinet doubled by a saxophone section playing an octave lower, he scored 17 #1 hits and at least seven million-sellers, his most popular recordings being “In the Mood” “Moonlight Cocktail,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and “Tuxedo Junction.” His progress was stopped only by World War II; he disbanded to join the military, where he organized a service band. After his death, imitators and a ghost band continued to play in his style, and unlike other stars of the Swing Era, he remained consistently popular, with his recordings continuing to chart more than 50 years later.
The son of Lewis Elmer and Mattie Lou Cavender, Miller moved with his family to Tryon, Nebr., in 1909, then to Grant City, Mo., in 1915. Music was played at home, and his first instrument was a mandolin, which he traded for a horn. He joined the town band and was given a trombone by the bandleader, paying for it by shining shoes. The family moved to Fort Morgan, Colo., by 1918, and he played in the high school band there. After graduating in May 1921, he played with Boy d Senter’s Orch., then entered the Univ. of Colo, in January 1923, leaving after a year to concentrate on music. He moved to Los Angeles and joined Ben Pollack’s band. He left Pollack in the summer of 1928 and spent the next several years playing and arranging in N.Y. On Oct. 6, 1928, he married Helen Burger, with whom he later adopted two children.
In the spring of 1934, Miller joined The Dorsey Brothers Orch. as trombonist and arranger, staying with them nearly a year. He then organized an American band for British bandleader Ray Noble to take into the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center in N.Y. in 1935. During this period he studied theory and composition with Joseph Schillinger. He recorded a session for Columbia Records under his own name on April 25, 1935, marking his debut as a leader, but he did not organize a permanent Orch. until 1937. The group played around the country during the year but was not successful, and Miller disbanded it at the start of 1938, only to re-form with mostly new players two months later. This group continued to struggle for another year until it landed a prestigious engagement at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, N.Y., for the summer of 1939. Meanwhile, Miller had signed to the discountpriced Bluebird label of RCA Victor Records.
The attention paid to the Glen Island Casino residency and regular radio broadcasts led to rapid success for the band. In June, “Wishing (Will Make It So)” (music and lyrics by B. G. De Sylva) became Miller’s first record to top the hit parade. It was succeeded by “Stairway to the Stars” (music by Matty Malneck and Frank Signorelli, lyrics by Mitchell Parish) in July, which gave way to “Moon Love” (music and lyrics by Mack David, Mack Davis, and André Kostalanetz) in August, and then “Over the Rainbow” (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg) in September—18 straight weeks at #1. “Blue Orchids” (music and lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael) became Miller’s fifth chart-topper of the year in November. But his best-selling record of 1939 and first million-seller was his own composition and theme song, “Moonlight Serenade” (lyrics by Mitchell Parish), which he had written as an exercise for Joseph Schillinger.
In December 1939, Miller took over the Chesterfield Supper Club radio show, which broadcast three times a week. In January 1940 he opened at the Café Rouge in the Hotel Pennsylvania in N.Y., the first of several lengthy engagements there. Simultaneously, he also appeared at the Paramount Theatre, another important venue. “Careless” (music and lyrics by Lew Quadling, Eddy Howard, and Dick Jürgens) topped the hit parade in February; that same month marked the sales peak of Miller’s second million-seller and one of the definitive songs of the Swing Era, “In the Mood” (music by Joe Garland, lyrics by Andy Razaf). “When You Wish Upon a Star” (music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington) topped the chart in March, superseded by “The Woodpecker Song” (music by Eldo di Lazzaro, English lyrics by Harold Adamson) in May, “Imagination” (music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke) in June, and “Fools Rush In” (music and lyrics by Rube Bloom, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) in July.
But Miller’s biggest success of the spring of 1940 was his third million-seller, “Tuxedo Junction” (music by Erskine Hawkins, William Johnson, and Julian Dash, lyrics by Buddy Feyne). His fourth million-seller, which peaked in the Top Ten in August, was “Pennsylvania 6-5000” (music by Jerry Gray, lyrics by Carl Sigman), the phone number of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Miller continued to score numerous hits through the rest of 1940, but he did not top the charts again until March 1941 with his adaptation of the Russian folk song “Song of the Volga Boatmen.”
Miller contracted with 20th Century-Fox and went to Hollywood to make Sun Valley Serenade, his first motion picture, with songs by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. Released in September 1941, the film contained his 12th chart- topper and fifth million-seller, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” He returned to the top of the charts in December with “Elmer’s Tune” (music and lyrics by Elmer Albrecht, Sammy Gallop, and Dick Jürgens).
Miller continued to dominate popular music in 1942, going to #1 with “A String of Pearls” (music by Jerry Gray, lyrics by Eddie DeLange) and “Moonlight Cocktail” (music by C. Luckeyth Roberts, lyrics by Kim Gannon) in February and “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalama-zoo” (music by Warren, lyrics by Gordon), from his second motion picture, Orchestra Wives, in September, while “American Patrol” and “Kalamazoo” gave him his sixth and seventh million-sellers. On Sept. 10 he received his commission, and his civilian band played its final date on Sept. 27.
Assigned to the Army Air Force, Miller organized a service band in the spring of 1943 and played for the troops and at war-bond rallies while doing a weekly radio show, I Sustain the Wings; he scored a final #1 hit with “That Old Black Magic” (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer) in May In June 1944 he went to Great Britain, where he continued to give concerts and do radio broadcasts. He was preparing to perform in newly liberated Paris when his plane was lost over the English Channel.
In the wake of Miller’s death, his band played in Europe during the final months of World War II. Glenn Miller, an album of 78s, topped the charts in May 1945, becoming the best-selling album of the year. After the war the Miller band was fronted by saxophonist/ vocalist Tex Beneke for several years, while Miller’s original recordings continued to sell well. The album Glenn Miller Masterpieces —Vol. 2 reached #1 in October 1947.
The Glenn Miller Story, a fictionalized screen biography starring Jimmy Stewart, was released in February 1954 and became one of the top-grossing films of the year. The film’s soundtrack album, featuring Miller’s music but not Miller himself, topped the charts in March. RCA Victor released a ten-inch album of original Miller performances of the songs heard in the film, Selections from the Glenn Miller Story, and it went to #1 in May. In 1956 the album was reissued as a 12-inch LP with a slightly different track selection. It was certified gold in 1961. In 1962, RCA Victor released Glenn Miller Plays Selections from the Glenn Miller Story and Other Hits, with a track listing identical to the 1956 LP. This album was certified gold in 1968.
In 1956 the Glenn Miller estate established an official “ghost” version of the Glenn Miller Orch. under the direction of drummer/singer Ray McKinley, who had played with Miller. This band continued to exist under different leaders and to make recordings.
The continuing sales of Miller records inspired RCA Victor to unearth previously unissued airchecks and outtakes. The 1959 triple-LP set For the First Time ...earned a Grammy nomination for Best Performance by a Dance Band. (Though Miller never won a Grammy, “In the Mood” and “Tuxedo Junction” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.)
The best sales, however, continued to be achieved by the original studio recordings: the double-LP A Memorial, 1944–69, containing 30 of Miller’s hits and released in October 1969, went gold in 1986; the ten- track single-LP Pure Gold, released in March 1975, went gold in 1984. RCA Victor reissued all of Miller’s recordings in a series of nine double-LPs released in the last half of the 1970s and subsequently reconfigured as a 13-CD boxed set. Miller’s music was heard on a gold-selling single in 1989, when “In the Mood” was sampled on the hit “Swing the Mood,” by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. As late as 1996, RCA Victor was continuing to find unreleased Miller material for such albums as The Lost Recordings and The Secret Broadcasts, which sold well enough to reach the jazz charts.
G.M.’s Method for Orchestral Arranging (1943).
S. Bedwell, A G. M. Discography and Biography (London, 1955; 2nd ed., 1956); J. Flower, Moonlight Serenade: A Bio-Discography of the G. M. Civilian Band (New Rochelle, N.Y., 1972); G. Simon, G. M. and His Orchestra (N.Y., 1974); J. Green, G. M. and the Age of Swing (London, 1976); G. Butcher, Next to a Letter from Home: Major G. M/s Wartime Band (Edinburgh, 1986); E. Polic, The G. M. Army Air Force Band: Sustineo Alas/I Sustain the Wings (Metuchen, N.J., 1989).
With his orchestra, bandleader Glenn Miller (1904-1944) synthesized all the elements of big band jazzand gave a generation of young people the perfectexample of smooth, sophisticated dance music. Miller's popularity as a music maker began in 1939 and continued with standards such as "Moonlight Serenade," "In the Mood," and "Tuxedo Junction."
Miller was one of the most popular musicians of his time. Moreover, he was extremely patriotic and took his personal definition of "duty" very seriously. He used his power to create a successful military band on his terms. Then, just as he finally convinced the military to send his band to places where it could truly boost morale, he disappeared. Rumors circulated almost immediately, but Miller's fate remains a mystery.
Music in his Blood
Alton Glenn Miller was born on March 1, 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa. His parents, Lewis Elmer and Mattie Lou (Cavender) Miller, raised four children. The family moved quite often during his youth, to places including North Platte, Nebraska and Grant City, Oklahoma. In the latter town, Miller milked cows at the age of thirteen in order to earn enough money to purchase a trombone. According to Geoffrey Butcher in Next to a Letter from Home, his mother was the "main strength of the family," and Miller inherited his strong character and love of music from her.
Miller did not, apparently, count on music to be his career, because he finished high school and attended classes at the University of Colorado. During his time in college, though, he continued playing the trombone and worked briefly with Boyd Senter's band in Denver during the mid-1920s. The lure of music proved too strong and Miller left the university after three terms to try his luck on the West Coast.
A Promising Start
Miller played with a few small bands in Los Angeles until 1927, when he joined Ben Pollack's orchestra as trombonist and arranger. This was a wonderful opportunity for Miller since Pollack's band was well-known and respected. Pollack and his musicians moved to New York, and Miller was able to find so many opportunities to perform that he decided to strike out on his own. In addition to playing the trombone, he did arragements for Victor Young, Freddy Rich, and many others. Miller felt optimistic enough about his burgeoning career by 1928, that he decided to marry Helen Burger, a woman he had met in his student days at the University of Colorado.
For the next ten years Miller gained experience by organizing bands and arranging or playing for them. This included serving as the trombonist and arranger for the Dorsey Brothers, as well as organizing a band for the internationally famous Ray Noble, who had come to the United States from Great Britain. Miller not only organized a band for him, he also arranged and played for it. As Dave Dexter, Jr. related in Down Beat magazine, "it was with Ray Noble's band that he first earned national attention."
The Glenn Miller Orchestra was Formed
Despite his success with Noble, Miller wanted to have a big band of his own, and turned down a lucrative job with the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film company to work on this project. In March 1937, Miller's dream became reality when he put together musicians such as Charlie Spivak, Toots Mondello, and Maurice Purtill to form the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Though Purtill soon left to play with Tommy Dorsey, the orchestra carried on for the rest of the year, playing one-night stands in various cities.
In 1938, Miller temporarily suspended the band. Purtill's absence brought about problems with the orchestra's rhythm section that continued to plague its leader. The members were not meshing with one another the way Miller had hoped. He wanted to achieve a full ensemble sound, rather than spotlighting a soloist. Miller decided to reorganize, using only a few of the band's original members. Later that year the Glenn Miller Orchestra added singer, Marion Hutton, to its roster. By 1939, the band was playing to standing-room-only crowds in New York City. They made radio broadcasts and recordings, which did much to spread the Glenn Miller sound across the country. Their most famous recordings included "Moonlight Serenade," "In the Mood," and "Chatanooga Choo Choo."
Miller's orchestra was famous for its well-blended balanced sound. Critics have noted that it was not a vehicle for star soloists, but rather that emphasis was placed on the output of the entire band. Miller was known to discourage musicians who stood out from the rest of the orchestra, and praise those who combined well with their fellows. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was acclaimed by a large variety of fans because it played many different types of big band music-everything from hot jazz to popular ballads. Miller and his band had appeared in two motion pictures for Twentieth Century Fox: Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives. They had achieved both fame and wealth.
In 1942, during the Second World War, Miller decided to break up his orchestra in order to accept the rank of captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was past the age when he might expect to be called to service. Nonetheless, Miller felt that he could and should do more to contribute to the war effort than play on the radio, safe from the action. He did not want to use his fame to excuse himself from what he felt was his patriotic duty. On October 7th, Miller enlisted in the army and invited members of his band to join him. They declined.
Upon his induction into the Army Air Forces (AAF), Miller was named director of bands training for the Technical Training Command. He was initially thwarted from implementing some his more creative plans. Several months later, though, after helping to organize almost 50 other bands, he was permitted to form a band of his own.
Miller wanted to incorporate string instruments into his band, in order to transcend the conventional sound of a dance band, which usually only included brass, reed, and rhythm sections. This was a highly innovative concept, and not all of the military bandleaders were open to his idea. In fact, he was reprimanded for an interview he gave to Time magazine in their September 6, 1943 issue, in which he criticized army band music of the time. He asserted that it should be up-to-date, so that the soldiers could enjoy it. He was also quoted as specifically criticizing the compositions of Sousa, which were standards for the army bands. Naturally bandleaders who were admirers of Sousa's works took offense. Miller later claimed he had been misquoted, but the magazine declined to print a retraction.
In November 1943, Miller was released from his other band responsibilities, leaving him free to concentrate on the growth and development of his own band. He wanted an ensemble sound, so improvisation by individual musicians was not tolerated. Miller also refused to give furloughs for band members. He felt that they were living the easy life, compared to soldiers out on the front lines. On the other hand, he was always willing to help musically talented servicemen find their way into a band, if he could manage it.
Miller was anxious to go overseas. After repreated requests, he received permission in June 1944 to take his band to England. They performed in conjunction with the British Broadcasting Corportaion (BBC). Wartime London was the site of air raid warnings, rations on most items, and demolished buildings. Appalled by the conditions and concerned for the safety of his band, Miller made arrangements to move to nearby Bedford. Besides their weekly BBC broadcasts, the band also visited military hospitals and airfields to perform. The applause they received gave Miller and his band immense satisfaction.
Miller again grew restless. His next mission was to have the band sent to France. Once more, he met with opposition from the AAF, not to mention the BBC, which was concerned about their weekly program featuring the band. By November 15, he finally received approval.
A Mysterious Disappearance
Miller decided to fly to Paris to make arrangements before the arrival of his band. A Colonel Baessell was leaving for France and offered to let Miller ride along. They took off in a Norseman plane on the stormy afternoon of December 15, 1944. The plane, the pilot, and its passengers were never seen again. The plane never landed in France, according to flight records; nor was any wreckage found. The most-widely accepted theory asserted that the plane went down over the English Channel. Two months after his disappearance the Bronze Star was presented to Miller's wife, in recognition of his contribution to the war effort. On June 5, 1945, Glenn Miller Day was declared in the United States as a national tribute.
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, eighth edition, Schirmer Books, 1992.
Butcher, Geoffrey, Next to a Letter from Home: Major Glenn Miller's Wartime Band, Mainstream Publishing, 1986.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 6, Gale, 1992.
Flower, John, Moonlight Serenade: A Bio-discography of the Glenn Miller Civilian Band, Arlington House, 1972.
Down Beat, October 1996, pp. 36, 38. □