The Glenn Miller Orchestra
“A band ought to have a sound all of its own. It ought to have a personality.” – Glenn Miller
Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1, 1904. But it was in North Platte, Nebraska, several years later that Glenn actually got his musical start when, one day, his father brought home a mandolin. Glenn promptly traded it for an old battered horn, which he practiced every chance he got. In fact his mother worried, “It got to where Pop and I used to wonder if he’d ever amount to anything.”
In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado, although he spent more time traveling to auditions and playing where and whenever he could. After flunking three of his five courses one semester, Glenn dropped out to concentrate on his career as a professional musician.
He toured with several orchestras and ended up in Los Angeles where he landed a spot in Ben Pollack’s group, a band that included a guy named Benny Goodman. Here, Miller also got the chance to write some arrangements. Arriving in New York City, he soon sent for, and married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger in 1928, and for the next three years, earned his living as a free-lance trombonist and arranger.
Miller played and recorded with the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (who on several of their records, featured an up-and-coming singer by the name of Bing Crosby), Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon and Coleman Hawkins. In addition, during that time, Glenn cut 18 sides for Goodman, and also worked for radio studio conductors like Victor Young, Carl Fenton and Jacques Renard. In 1934, Miller became the musical director of the Dorsey Band, and later went on to organize The Ray Noble Orchestra, which included such players as Charlie Spivak, Peewee Erwin, Bud Freeman, Johnny Mince, George Van Eps and Delmar Kaplan, among others.
There were record-breaking recordings, as well, such as “Tuxedo Junction”, which sold 115,000 copies in the first week. “In the Mood”, and “Pennsylvania 6-5000″, all appearing on the RCA Victor Bluebird label. In early 1940, Down Beat Magazine announced that Miller had topped all other bands in its Sweet Band Poll, and capping off this seemingly sudden rise to the top, there was, of course, Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” radio series for Chesterfield cigarettes which aired three times a week over CBS. In 1941, it was off to Hollywood where the band worked on its first movie, “Sun Valley Serenade”, which introduced the song — and soon-to-be million selling record –”Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and featured the Modernaires and the Nicholas Brothers. Then came “Orchestra Wives”. But the war was starting to take its toll on many of the big bands as musicians, and the rest of country’s young men, began receiving draft notices.
On October 7, 1942, Alton Glenn Miller reported for induction into the Army and was immediately assigned to the Army Specialist Corps. His appointment as a Captain came after many months of convincing the military higher-ups that he could modernize the army band and ultimately improve the morale of the men. His training complete, he was transferred into the Army Air Corps, where he ultimately organized the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. Miller’s goal of entertaining the fighting troops took another year to be realized, but in late 1943 he and the band were shipped out to England.