Glenn Miller Day

March 1, 1904 – December 15, 1944

 

A birthday tribute to the most popular of all swing bandleaders

Bandleader, arranger and trombonist Alton Glenn Miller was born March 1, 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa.

He began playing cornet and mandolin before switching to trombone when he was 12 in 1916.

Miller was playing professionally as early as 1921 with Boyd Senter, attended the University of Colorado, and then spent 1926-28 with Ben Pollack as a trombonist and arranger; after Jack Teagarden joined the band, Miller began emphasizing his arranging although he was a decent soloist.

After leaving Pollack, Miller played trombone with shows, worked as a studio musician and arranger, and was with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra during 1934-35; he also arranged for Ray Noble’s American Orchestra in 1935.

Always wanting to lead his own band, he gave it a try in 1937 but the band flopped because it did not have its own musical identity.

In 1938 when he had settled on the idea of a clarinet doubling the melody an octave above the saxophonists (which became the Glenn Miller sound) and decided to lead an all-round dance band rather than a hard-driving jazz group, Miller tried again.

It took a year, but in 1939 the Glenn Miller Orchestra became a sensation; during the 1939-42 period they had a dozen major hits including “Moonlight Serenade,” “Little Brown Jug,” “In The Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction,” ”Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “A String Of Pearls,” and “American Patrol.”

The success on records, radio, live appearances and even two movies might have lasted for many more years but, after Pearl Harbor, Miller changed his goals, joined the Army Air Force, and formed his greatest orchestra, an ensemble with a strong jazz contingent, a string section and many of the top musicians in the military; they became best known for “St. Louis Blues March.”

Glenn Miller was based in England during 1944 and looked forward to performing on the liberated European continent, but his plane was shot down over the English Channel on December 15, 1944, possibly by friendly fire.

From the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, here is the Glenn Miller Orchestra performing “In The Mood.”

-Scott Yanow