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Glenn Miller

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Alton (1904-1944) Bandleader and trombonist

NPR Audio Feature The NPR 100: "In The Mood"
Alice Winkler has the surprising story behind Glenn Miller's swing classic, a selection from National Public Radio's list of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th Century.
(Courtesy NPRJazz.org)


Glenn Miller
Image courtesy of Frank Driggs Collection
Glenn Miller grew up in Fort Morgan, Colorado, where he studied music. He played with the locally popular Boyd Senter Orchestra in 1921, attended the University of Colorado briefly, and in 1924 joined Ben Pollack's band on the West Coast. After moving to New York with Pollack in 1928, he performed as a freelancer for several years, working at times with Red Nichols, Smith Ballew, and the Dorsey brothers, as both an arranger and trombonist.

In 1934, Miller helped organize an orchestra for Ray Noble that later became popular through its radio broadcasts. By the mid-1930s, he was well known in dance band circles, and in 1937 organized an orchestra of his own. Although it made a few recordings for Decca, it failed to interest the public, and Miller disbanded it. In 1938, he organized a second group; again public interest was slow to develop, and the band's records did not sell well. Eventually, in March 1939, the group was chosen to play the summer season at the prestigious Glen Island Casino in a suburb of New York, which led to another important engagement at Meadowbrook in New Jersey in spring of the same year. Both places offered frequent radio broadcasts, and by midsummer the Miller orchestra had developed a nationwide following. In autumn 1939, it began a series of radio broadcasts for Chesterfield cigarettes, which increased its already great popularity. Thereafter, the band was in constant demand for recording sessions and appeared in two films, Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942).

In October 1942, as a patriotic gesture, Miller disbanded his group and joined the US Army Air Force in the rank of captain. He assembled a high-quality dance band to play for the troops, which in 1944 moved its base to England. On December 15, Miller set off by airplane in bad weather for Paris to arrange for his band's appearance there, but the airplane never arrived, and no trace of it was found. Miller was mourned internationally and attained the status of a war hero. His recordings remain popular in the USA and also in Britain, and at times various Glenn Miller orchestras, under several leaders, have been formed to play his music.

Miller led one of the most popular and best-remembered dance bands of the swing era. In his lifetime he was seen as an intense, ambitious perfectionist, and his success was built on the precise playing of carefully crafted arrangements, rather than propulsive swing or fine jazz solo improvisation (his only important jazz soloist was Bobby Hackett). He was particularly noted for the device of doubling a melody on saxophone with a clarinet an octave higher. His arrangements were seamless and rich. Paradoxically, however, although he had many hits with sentimental ballads performed by such singers as Ray Eberle and Marion Hutton, it was his swinging riff tunes, for example In the Mood and Tuxedo Junction, which became most famous. In 1943, he published Glenn Miller's Method for Orchestral Arranging.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For personal, non-commercial use only. Copying or other reproduction is prohibited.
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