Glenn Miller and His Orchestra was a swing dance band formed by Glenn Miller in 1938. It was arranged around a clarinet and tenor saxophone playing melody, while three other saxophones played the harmony. This arrangement was different from usual and allowed Miller to develop his own style and sound, which made him and his orchestra one of the greatest and well-known of the swing era.
By the mid-1930s, Glenn Miller was known as a sideman and arranger. Originally forming a band around 1935–36, they signed with Brunswick Records, but struggled with financial troubles and the band folded in 1937. But they reformed in 1938, and under new management they got significant radio airplay and achieved a large amount of success. Through Miller's demand for professionalism at all times, perseverance, hard work, and musical genius, he created his own distinctive style, different from the regular swing bands of the time, which earned him 70 top ten singles and 22 number one records in just four short years - and launched the band to the uppermost heights of superstardom.
The newly reformed band was much better but it took more time for them to get famous. They opened April 16, 1938 at Raymor Ballroom in Boston and when the band reached New York, they were billed below Freddie Fisher and His Schnickelfritzers. But they performed more and more and eventually signed with RCA Victor subsidiary label Bluebird Records. On September 7, 1938, the first recordings with made with the newly reformed band. They were "My Reverie", "King Porter Stomp" and "By the Waters of Minnetonka", in two parts. Miller was not yet famous, and made less than 10 recordings with his band for the rest of that year.
Glen Island Casino and Meadowbrook
In March 1939, The Glenn Miller Orchestra was given its big break, when they were chosen to play the summer season at the prestigious Glen Island Casino located on the north shore of Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, New York. On May 17, 1939, they played their first songs of the night. The casino had a radio broadcast antenna and the Miller band was heard around the country. By the end of their summer season, they had nationwide attention. They were famous.
George T. Simon, the drummer for the unsuccessful first Miller band, had this to say about the Glen Island broadcasts:
Glen Island was the prestige place for people who listened to bands on radio. The band's first semi hit, "Little Brown Jug", came out just when it opened at Glen Island. That helped. And the clarinet lead in Glenn's arrangements was such a romantic sound! It caught the public fancy during this exposure. Miller began ending his broadcasts from Glen Island with his "Something Old, Something New" medleys. But the most important thing for Glenn's success was that he recorded "In the Mood" while he was at the casino. That made him the Michael Jackson of his day.
Also, at this time, Miller decided to add a trombone and a trumpet, giving the band a fuller sound.
Miller was enormously popular and the rest of 1939 only got better. On April 4, 1939, Miller and his Orchestra recorded "Moonlight Serenade". Considered as one of the top songs of the swing era, it helped the Orchestra become even more popular. It was soon played as the theme song to start and end all of his radio performances. Miller's most famous song "In the Mood" was recorded August 1, 1939. Miller, although he was never credited as an arranger, arranged some of the song in the studio. The song, famous for its "dueling" saxophone solos between Tex Beneke and Al Klink, and often the closing number to most shows, hit number one on Billboard's charts and stayed for a total of 30 weeks.
1940 was a very popular year for Miller and the band with 31 top ten hits and a record 8 number-one hits in a single calendar year. On February 5, 1940, Miller recorded "Tuxedo Junction", which also became a number one hit. It reportedly sold 115,000 copies within the first week, and placed 7th overall for the National Hit Parade that year. Bob Eberly, a band vocalist for Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra, said: It sold 90,000 copies in the first week at a time when "25,000 was considered a great seller". In April, "Pennsylvania 6-5000" was released, and it too became an instant swing standard. The entire band signed with 20th Century Fox for two motion pictures. Harry Warren and Mack Gordon were commissioned to write songs for the 1941 motion picture Sun Valley Serenade as well as 1942's Orchestra Wives.
Miller didn't approach the film projects lightly. Previously, swing bands had only appeared at certain times within a film. He wanted the plot to revolve around the band, and both Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives accomplished that task. For Sun Valley, the band recorded the extended song-and-dance number and what was soon to be its biggest selling record, "Chattanooga Choo Choo". W. Wallace Early, the manager of record sales for RCA Victor and Bluebird Records, presented the first ever gold record to Miller on February 10, 1942, saying:
... It's a pleasure to be here tonight. And speaking of RCA Victor, we're mighty proud of that Chattanooga Choo Choo, and the man that made the record, Glenn Miller. You see it's been a long time – 15 years in fact – since any record has sold a million copies. And Chattanooga Choo Choo certainly put on steam and breezed right through that million mark by over 200,000 pressings. And we decided that Glenn should get a trophy. The best one we could think of is a gold record of Chattanooga. And now Glenn, it's yours – with the best wishes of RCA Victor Bluebird records.
The ever-popular "Moonlight Serenade", "In the Mood", "Tuxedo Junction", "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", "A String of Pearls", "At Last", and "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo" have appeared various times in pop culture and brought swing music to a new height.
In the early 1940s, Miller's orchestra had an hour-long program on NBC-Blue, 5-6 p.m. Eastern time on Saturdays. A review in Billboard commented, "Unusual length of the program allows Miller to display all the top items in his library."
Ray Anthony, who played trumpet with the band from 1940-1941 is the last surviving member.
Al Mastren (1938-1940)
Ray Anthony (-1941)
Steve Lipkins (1941-1942)
John Riccardi (WWII years)
Hal McIntyre (-1941)
Skip Martin (1941-1942)
Louis W. Smith, Bass
Rolly Bundock, Bass
Trigger Alpert, Bass (-1941)
Doc Goldberg, Bass (1941-1942)
Chummy MacGregor, Piano
Jack Lathrop, Guitar (-1941)
Richard Fisher, Guitar (1941-1942)
Maurice Purtill, Drums
Frank Carlson, Drums
Jimmy Abato, Clarinet
Bitsy Mullins, Trumpet