The big bands are back
in a new and exciting way!
JUNE 2009
compiled by Music Librarian CHRISTOPHER POPA

    During the annual Glenn Miller Birthplace Festival, which will take place in Clarinda, IA from the 11th through the 14th of this month, the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for its new 5,600-square foot Big Band Museum.
    The Museum, on W. Logan St., is to be a one-story, "L"-shaped structure that will, along with the Glenn Miller Birthplace Home, serve as a tourist attraction for the town, and allow for expansions when needed.  (The Society purchased the house on the lot north of the Miller Birthplace Home, and the house was demolished at no charge by a local contractor.)
    The project has taken several years, a large amount of money, gifts and grants, and a lot of cooperation to reach this point.
    A $500,000 fundraising goal was set and, as of this month, about $900,000 in contributions have been received.
    In 2005, the city of Clarinda made a $50,000 gift to the Museum, including $25,000 cash and $25,000 in-kind.  Page County, where Clarinda is located, pledged $5,000.  Commitments already obtained from individuals and businesses in the community total approximately $100,000.  And another $65,000 has come from the Birthplace Society branch in Japan.
    Other monies will be used to purchase items for the Museum, including theater seating, display cabinets, audio-visual equipment, and shelving.   
    Iowa's Community Attraction and Tourism Fund gave $235,000.
    On the 9th of this month, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Rural Development awarded a grant of $90,000 and a loan guarantee of an additional $120,000 to the Society. 
    "This funding will help construct a museum in Clarinda to honor a selfless Iowan who placed his love country above all else," Grassley said.
    Among the Museum's holdings are the Alan Timpson collection (which includes hundreds of 8x10 photos as well as movie posters), the bandstands used by Miller at the Cafe Rouge, one of his trombones, and Moe Purtill's drums.
    The Museum will feature not only Miller-related items, but those of other big bands as well.  In fact, the official name of the Museum is presently under discussion and may be the "Glenn Miller Museum, Celebrating the Big Band Era."
    "I think it's very important for the state of Iowa, the nation and the whole world," Marvin Negler, President of the Miller Birthplace Society board, told Associated Press writer Michael J. Crumb.  "I think we're very fortunate to have someone like Glenn Miller born in our state."
    Construction on the Museum is scheduled to start around July 1st, and it is planned to have it open in time for the 2010 Birthplace Festival.
    For more information, including the schedule of this year's Festival, view the Birthplace Society's recently redesigned website,    

Billy VerPlanck, 79, trombonist ( J. Dorsey '52; Thornhill '53; Dorsey Bros. '56) -arranger (DeFranco-Miller '68),
    d.June 2, 2009, lung cancer.
Sam Butera, 81, tenor saxophonist (McKinley '47; Prima '54-'75), d.June 3, 2009, "suffering from
    the effects of Alzheimer's disease" / "after a long illness."
Jack Nimitz, 79, baritone saxophonist (Herman '54-'55; Kenton '56 / '64-'65), d.June 10, 2009,
    "complications from emphysema."
Shaye Cogan, 84, vocalist (Monroe "Camel Caravan" '50-'52), d.June 12, 2009, "an upper respiratory
    A memorial service in honor of the late Louie Bellson will be held on the 29th of this month at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Jose, CA.  This is the church where he was baptized and was married in September 1992 to Francine, who became his second wife and manager.  Bellson died on February 14, 2009 at the age of 84.

Les Elgart Orchestra directed by Russ Dorsey: June 12-13, Branson, MO.
Duke Ellington Orchestra directed by Paul Mercer Ellington: June 1, State Theater, Lincoln
    Center, New York, NY; June 13, Jazz Fest, National Mall, Washington, DC.
Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band directed by Slide Hampton: June 10-14, Blue Note, New
    York, NY.
Harry James Orchestra directed by Fred Radke: June 13, Seattle, WA.
Glenn Miller Orchestra directed by Larry O'Brien: June 1, Derby Dinner Playhouse,
    Clarksville, IN; June 2, Tibbits Opera House, Coldwater, MI; June 4, Midland Theatre,
    Newark, OH; June 5, Sidney High School, Sidney, OH; June 7, Paramount Arts Centre,
    Aurora, IL; June 9, Peoria Civic Center, Peoria, IL; June 10, Jumers Casino & Hotel,
    Rock Island, IL; June 11, Starlite Ballroom, Wahoo, NE; June 12-13, "Glenn Miller
    Birthplace Society Festival," Clarinda High School, Clarinda, IA; June 14, Guranty
    Bank's Parking Lot, Cedar Rapids, IA; June 19, Fargo Theatre, Fargo, ND; June 20,
    Roosevelt Park, Minot, ND; June 22, Forest Lake Area High School, Forest Lake, MN.
Russ Morgan Orchestra directed by Jack Morgan: June 21, Jackson, WI.

    While the national economy has soured, how are the big bands doing?
    Cam Miller of the Escondido, CA North County Times recently asked that question to Bill Tole, leader of The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.
    "We just returned from a 23-day tour and we played to good crowds wherever we went," Tole said.  "So there's still a market out there."
    Performances today are often concerts, rather than dances.
    "Most of the dance halls are closed or have been leveled," Tole explained, "but that doesn't make much difference because the people who enjoy big band music are mostly older now and they want to be seated in a comfortable concert hall."
    During the Big Band Era, musicians sometimes had a grueling time on the road, crossing the country and making lengthy jumps between gigs.
    "We travel by bus, schedule our concerts so there's no need to travel at night and avoid long hops," Tole said.  "There's no point in making it difficult when it's not necessary."
    Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he told Miller that travel by air for the Dorsey Orchestra is avoided.
    "Imagine trying to get 16 musicians and their instruments through various airport checkpoints today," Tole remarked.  "Who needs that kind of agony!"
    Continued success to Bill Tole, who, at age 72, helps to keep Jimmy Dorsey's music alive!

    Gary Panetta of the Peoria, IL Journal Star recently observed that the Glenn Miller sound is still appealing to many people.  And Larry O'Brien, leader of today's Miller Orchestra, agreed with him.
    "The big band music reminds us of the Greatest Generation as Tom Brokaw has said - and it was a very great generation," O'Brien said.  "They went out and fought a humongous war, World War II, and they won it.  There were a lot of sacrifices that were made both by the people in the service and the people at home as well.  The music was somewhat of a reflection of that spirit and that generation."
    The Glenn Miller Orchestra remains the busiest big band of them all, as shown by each month's tour itineraries.
    O'Brien, 76, commented to Panetta, "People today yearn for that time when things were much more simple and much more black and white."
    And as for Miller himself, O'Brien considers him someone to look up to. 
    "He was a genuine American hero, and he did it in music," he remarked.  "There aren't too many musicians you can say that about."

David Bernhart, "A Message From the President [ of The Big Band Academy of America ],"
    The Bandstand, June 2009, p.2 [ includes quotes from John Tumpak's book, When
    Swing Was the Thing ].
Richard Curland, "Historically Speaking: Big Band musician grew up in Norwich," Norwich
    [ CT ] Bulletin, June 9, 2009 [ about Johnny Mandel and Henry J. Pasnik (who took the
    professional name Henry Jerome) ].
"Don Redman concert today in Harpers Ferry," Cumberland [ MD ] Times-News, June 26,
    2009 [ eighth annual program honoring Redman, a native of Piedmont, WV ].
Will Friedwald, "Sharing Music the Old-Fashioned Way," Wall Street Journal /,
    June 24, 2009 [ a discussion of the Collector's Bash held annually at a Holiday Inn in
    New Jersey since 1975 and where, some 15 years ago, a collector found a copy of the
    rare Benny Goodman Popcorn Man Victor 78 for $1.00 ].
Bernie Ilson, "Op-Ed Contributor: What Benny Goodman Taught Me," New York Times,
    June 18, 2009 [ Ilson recalls doing publicity for Goodman ].
"London Line: Tony Eaton Interview," Gulf Radio, aired June 22, 2009 (repeated June 26,
    2009) [ Eaton talks about Hunton Downs' book The Glenn Miller Conspiracy:
    The never-before-told true story of his life - and death ].
Doug Moe, "Moe: Awards keep coming for Bunny," [ Madison ] Wisconsin State Journal,
    June 4, 2009 [ an update on Bunny Berigan's daughter, Joyce, now age 73 ].
Richard Palmer, "Woody Herman: The Final 20 Years: Part one of an appraisal of the
    recorded work 1962-82," Jazz Journal, June 2009, pp.14-15.
Bob Pool, "'Music Man Murray' trades in records for acting career," Los Angeles Times,
    June 26, 2009 [ Murray Gershenz, 87, who started selling records at a small shop in
    Hollywood in 1962, wants to unload his collection of 400,000 discs, so he can
    concentrate on working as an "old character actor" ].
Zan Stewart, "Dizzy Gillespie Big Band Bops in New York," [ Newark, NJ ] Star-Ledger,
    June 10, 2009.
Daniel Vernhettes and Bo Lindstrom, "Tommy Ladnier's Fletcher Henderson Days,
    1926-27: Part 1," IAJRC Journal, June 2009, pp.27-39.
Michael P. Zirpolo, "Sitting in with Roy Eldridge At Jimmy Ryan's," IAJRC Journal, June
    2009, pp.54-56 [ recalling New York City nightclub appearances by Eldridge in the mid
    and late 1970s in which he invited other musicians to join him on stage ].

Whitey Thomas, trumpeter (Miller AAF '43-'45; Miller Orch-Beneke '46-'50), b.June 29, 1920.
Lena Horne, vocalist (Barnet '40-'41; Shaw Love Me a Little Little and Don't Take Your Love From Me, Victor '41),
    b.June 30, 1917.

"The Big Band Years: A Sentimental Journey"
TJL 132790
    Recently, PBS television outlets around the country unveiled a new program, "The Big Band Years: A Sentimental Journey."  It's the first major big band special in what seems like quite a while for PBS, which only aired them during pledge drives (they evidently recognized that the predominantly older audience that this music typically attracted could be quite generous with donations).  Then PBS would put the big band shows away until the next pledge drive, or provide lip service by airing reruns of "The Lawrence Welk Show" on the weekends.
    This new special is the first effort in the big band genre for the "My Music" series produced by T.J. Lubinsky, and which previously has celebrated such music styles as doo-wop, soul, and '50s pop for PBS.  I'm glad that - finally - Lubinsky and the "My Music" series have attempted a big band program, but too bad most of it isn't very appealing.
    Some of the more interesting moments included in "The Big Band Years" come from color network TV shows which haven't been seen since they were originally aired.  Among them are a "Bell Telephone Hour" segment from 1962, presenting what was announced as the first TV reunion of Tex Beneke, Ray Eberle, and The Modernaires with Paula Kelly, as well as video footage of medleys by Guy Lombardo and Sammy Kaye (the latter from "The Ed Sullivan Show").  By the way, does Kaye's male vocalist, Ray Michaels, have painted-on eyebrows?
    Most of the rest of "The Big Band Years" broadcast (and several unaired "bonus" cuts included on a souvenir DVD, which can be yours if you donate enough money to PBS) is a disappointing mixture of often-used or downright stale filmed performances done between, roughly, 1937 and 1965, largely excerpts from feature-length motion pictures or shorts.
    Therein is one of the biggest problems with "The Big Band Years": that, unlike other "My Music" titles which basically are new, live concerts done using original stars, there is no meaningful really recent footage of big bands interacting with people on a dance floor, showing that the music, indeed, lives on in 2009.  (The DVD does include portions of a big band special taped at the Hollywood Palladium in 1980, "One More Time," which starred Tex Beneke, Bob Eberly, and Helen O'Connell.  Even as heavily chopped up as this "bonus" material is, it still impresses better than the main program because one witnesses a throng of people crowded up against the Palladium bandstand and adoring those performers.) 
    Did the producer realize that there still exist today ghost bands representing most of the top names from the big band era, and talented musicians who could accurately represent others?  (For instance, the Jan Slottenas Orchestra, a group of young players from Sweden, can expertly replicate Glenn Miller's music.)  Such heavy reliance on vintage film footage makes "The Big Band Years" boring, without the charm of the other "My Music" efforts. 
    Further, though the 1930s and '40s items from 20th Century-Fox and Universal Pictures are crisp, other more recent clips aren't.  For example, was that grainy-sounding black and white footage of Lawrence Welk from the '50s all that the Welk Company could provide?  It may be historical but it's also distorted.  And Harry James' mediocre version of Tuxedo Junction, shown in black and white from WGN-TV's mid-'60s "Big Bands" series, was actually done in vivid color, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago could have provided it that way (not to mention a better arrangement by James and his orchestra from the same telecast). 
    In fact, if Lubinsky had to stick with already-recorded footage, there were plenty of superior, color video excerpts which could have been selected, whether from PBS' own pledge-drive specials of the 1970s and '80s, the "Merv Griffin Show," "The Tonight Show," or any number of network TV programs now gathering dust in vaults. 
    The only brand-new running video in "The Big Band Years" is some introductions and brief remarks by the program's host, Peter Marshall, taped inside the famous (but, ironically, empty) Avalon Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island, south of Los Angeles, CA.  Marshall looks handsome in a black tuxedo and I know that he is enthusiastic about those days (at one time he was a vocalist with Bob Chester's orchestra), but his comments fail to explain how the big bands became so beloved or why much of their music still sounds good now.
    Newly-created titles and still frames are, meanwhile, used to try to present consistent and clean entrances and exits of the vintage video sources, but there are still some choppy moments and a couple of awkward edits throughout.
    Also, both the program text and the packaging of the DVD contain errors: for example, Glenn Miller's In the Mood was not arranged by Jerry Gray and it became a hit in 1939, not 1940; Sammy Kaye's song is Daddy, not Hey, Daddy, and his popular feature was "So You Want to Lead a Band?," not "Would You Like to Lead a Band?," as is stated twice. 
    It was nice that Lubinsky dedicated the program to the big band musicians and their families.  Perhaps it would have been better to have family members sitting in a living room, sharing memories and interspersing performance footage, as if they're gathered around a TV.
    If PBS asks for any additional "My Music" big band specials, I hope that they are done as live concerts or dances.  If that's not possible, then I suggest that the pre-recorded performances are chosen much more carefully and better thought is given to the script. 
Big Band Library rating: FAIR

Xavier Cugat, "Luxury Liner," Warner Archive Collection.
Tommy Dorsey, "Broadway Rhythm," Warner Archive Collection.
various artists, "Meet the People," Warner Archive Collection [ with Vaughn Monroe and
    Spike Jones ].
various artists, "Two Girls and a Sailor," Warner Archive Collection [ with Xavier Cugat
    and Harry James ].

Blue Barron, "Yesterday and Today," Audiophonic 90317 [ 2-CD set of transcriptions recorded in 1938-39;
     selections include Stop Beating 'Round the Mulberry Bush, La Dee Do, Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, Whistling Under
     the Moon, Teacher's Pet, Why Doesn't Somebody Tell Me, There's Silver On the Sage, When the Circus Comes to Town, If I Love
    You More, Begone, Home in the Clouds, The Lamp Is Low, others ].
Count Basie, "Basie Land," Verve [ previously released on CD on Verve ( J ) UCCV-9139 ].
---, "Swiss Radio Days, Vol.20: Count Basie," TCB ( Sw ) 2202 [ companion CD to "Vol.19";
      the band live in Sept. 1956 ].
Les Elgart, "Only the Best of Les Elgart," Collectables 1133 [ 6-CD bundle pack of titles
    previously released by Collectables ].
Fred Waring, "I Hear Music in Hi-Fi / All Through the Night," Flare ( UK ) ROYCD292
    [ = Waring's first two stereo Capitol LPs, "Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians in Hi-fi"
    (SW-845) and "All Through the Night" (ST-936) ].

    In August 2009, Mosaic will release a new, limited edition boxed set of 7 CDs, "Classic Artie Shaw Bluebird and Victor Sessions," catalog no.MD7-244.  Though not a "complete" offering of everything Shaw recorded for those labels during the years 1938-45, it will include all of his instrumental big band and small group sides for them - plus a number of alternate takes.
    The late Barney Bigard, a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra from 1927-42, once said that Shaw made “…the clarinet sound unusually beautiful in the upper register.  The guy could execute like mad…(and) I like Artie for the things that were almost impossible to do on the clarinet.”  
    Liner notes for the forthcoming Mosaic Shaw set have been written by the respected John McDonough, a friend of Shaw's, who offers insights to the music and explores the man's psyche. 
    "He was a fascinating figure of sex appeal, charisma, and good looks...born media bait who could neither control nor escape the effects of his appeal," McDonough observes.
    As stated in Mosaic publicity, "Yet with all of his complex eccentricities, [ Shaw's ] perception of how his music should be played and the prodigious method of his fluid clarinet, captured the music world's ear and left us with a vast collection of hard-core swing and exquisite ballads.  He knew what he wanted and his selection of dedicated sidemen made for some stirring recordings."
    Though pre-orders are not yet being taken, the price of "Classic Artie Shaw Bluebird and Victor Sessions" is expected to be $119.

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Glenn Miller (1904-1944)