Four-disc set helps explain Miller’s appeal
Army Air Force Band
Glenn Miller has been dead for nearly 58 years, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent the leader of America’s most popular dance band during the ’40s is almost bigger in death than in life. Tribute concerts, “new discoveries” of Miller recordings and music festivals named in his honor have become commonplace since his death.
You’d think America might have had its fill of Miller by now. Not so now, and probably never. And this four-disc collection of performances by Miller’s celebrated Army Air Force Band recorded in 1942 should only fan the flame even higher.
Actually, the flame was fanned the first time in 1956 – when the anthology was issued by RCA Victor on five LPs in a padded boxed set. But advanced technology has cleaned up the glitches, and introductions by Miller of the band’s frequently medleys – he called them “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue” – have been restored. And the set includes 20 tracks that were not among those in the ’56 edition. No doubt about it, the new issue is an improved product.
With few exceptions, selections are taken from “I Sustain The Wings” radio broadcasts emanating from the Vanderbilt Theater in New York; the others come from recordings made at NBC in New York for “Uncle Sam Presents.”
In any case, the compendium further affirms the belief that Miller’s military band was superior to his civilian orchestra, principally because he had the pick of the litter among musicians entering U.S. Air Force. As a result, recruited personnel included pianist Mel Powell, clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, trumpeter Bernie Privin, all established jazz greats, as well as trombonist Jimmy Priddy and bassist Trigger Alpert from Miller’s civilian orchestra.
To be sure, some of the music is dated. Pop pseudopatriotic songs of the day fall into that category as do silly novelty songs that seemed clever then but are no longer appealing. But for the most part, the selections performed by Miller’s 45-piece orchestra – it included a full string section – retain their sparkle. Even items like “String Of Pearls,” “In The Mood,” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000” – among Miller’s most overworked tunes – sound as though they were freshly minted, thanks to orchestrators like Bill Finnegan, Ralph Wilkinson, Jerry Gray and Norman Leyden.
There are 61 performances in the collection, but if you count individual songs in the numerous medleys, the figure is far greater. So, listeners are treated to an expanded musical menu that includes songs played infrequently or not at all by the Miller civilian orchestra. Entries like “Pearls On Velvet,” a Ravel-like melody essayed by Powell; a superb arrangement of “Stormy Weather” by Wilkinson; a lengthy romp through Finnegan’s chart for “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Stealing Apples,” a showcase for Hucko.
And cookin’ instrumentals such as “Jeep Jockey Jump,” “Enlisted Men’s Mess” and “Tail End Charlie,” contributed by either Gray or Finnegan, bring back wartime memories ,while the band’s covers of “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Flying Home” remind you of two other big band favorites of the time: Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton.
Add the offerings by Desmond and the Crew Chiefs of “Moonlight Cocktail,” “At Last” and other songs of romance to the collection, and you have all the ingredients you need for a trip down memory lane. Enjoy!
Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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