"A Memorial, 1944-2004"
by Christopher Popa December 2004
Sixty years after he lost his life while serving his country in World War II, Glenn Miller's recorded performances stand as testimony to his talents - and, by many different yardsticks, his music remains quite popular and entertaining.
"Miller had America's music pulse," bassist Trigger Alpert, whose playing helped give a spark to both Glenn's civilian and Army Air Force bands, told me. "He knew what would please the listeners."
Glenn made some recordings under his own name in 1935, and formed his first touring group in 1937. But it was quite a struggle before he achieved success.
GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRAS NECROLOGY - SELECT LIST:
thank you to Roland Taylor of The Glenn Miller Society for providing additional information
Joseph "Joe" Shulman, 53, alternate bassist ('43-'45), Aug. 2, 1957
Paul Dudley, 45, script writer ('43-'45), May 18 1959
Ambrose L. "Perry" Burgett, 39?, arranger ('43-'45), Oct. 1959?
Dave Herman, 55?, violinist ('43-'45), Mar. 15, 1965
Stanley Harris, 45, violist ('43-'45), Apr. 1967
George Ockner, 63, violinist ('43-'45), May 12, 1970
Harold "Hal" Dickinson, 59, Modernaires vocalist ('40-'42), Nov. 1970
Donald "Don" Haynes, 74, management ('40-'42; '46-'50) and administration ('43-'45),
Jun. 4, 1971
J. Chalmers "Chummy" MacGregor, pianist ('37-'42), 1973
Charles "Chuck" Goldstein, 58, Modernaires vocalist ('40-'42), Aug. 1973
Robert "Bobby" Nichols, 50, trumpeter ('43-'46; '46-'50; '61), Mar. 1975
Generoso Graziano "Jerry Gray," 61, arranger ('39-'42; '43-'45) and conductor ('44-'45),
Aug. 10, 1976, heart attack
Francis "Frank" Ippolito, 56, relief drummer ('43-'45), Mar. 18, 1978
Raymond "Ray" Eberle, 60, vocalist ('38-'42), Aug. 25, 1979, heart attack
Paul Dubov, 61, announcer - actor ('43-'45), Sept. 20, 1979
Carmen Mastandrea "Carmen Mastren," 67, guitarist ('43-'45), Mar. 31, 1981
Johnny Desemone "Johnny Desmond," 65, vocalist ('43-'45), Sept. 6, 1985
Murray Kane, 70, Crew Chiefs vocalist ('43-'45), Jan. 31, 1986
Donald "Don" Briggs, 64?, announcer, Feb. 3, 1986
Broderick Crawford, 75, announcer - actor ('43-'45), Apr. 26, 1986
Marion Hutton, 67, vocalist ('38-'42), Jan. 10, 1987
John "Johnny" Halliburton, 63, trombonist ('43-'45; '46), May 1, 1987
Charles "Chuck" Gentry, 75, saxophonist ('43-'44), Sept. 4, 1987
Ralph Brewster, 76, Modernaires vocalist ('40-'42), Mar. 29, 1990
Ralph Wilkinson, 78, arranger ('43-'45), May 15, 1990
Wilbur "Willie" Schwartz, 72, clarinetist - saxophonist ('38-'42), Aug. 3, 1990
James "Jimmy" Priddy, 72, trombone ('40-'42; '43-'45; '46-'49), Dec. 27, 1990
Albert "Al" Klink, 75, saxophonist ('39-'42), Mar. 7, 1991
William "Bill" Conway, 77, Modernaires vocalist ('40-'42), Apr. 4, 1991
Alex Mastandrea "Al Mastren," 74, trombonist ('38-'40), Feb. 2, 1992
Paula Kelly (Dickinson), 72, vocalist ('41-'42), Apr. 2, 1992
James "Lynn" Allison, 81, Crew Chiefs vocalist ('43-'45), Oct. 31, 1993
Maurice "Moe" Purtill, 87, drummer ('39-'42; '46; '50), Mar. 9, 1994, "after a brief illness"
Raymond "Ray" McKinley, 84, drummer - vocalist ('43-'45) and conductor ('44-45) and
post-war leader ('56-'66), May 7, 1995
James "Jack" Steele, 74, trumpeter ('43-'45; '46-'47), Jun. 24, 1996
Joseph Kowalewski, 68, violinist ('43-'45), Aug. 30, 1996
Vincent "Vinnie" Carbone, 74, saxophonist ('43-'45; '46-'47), Mar. 31, 1997
Roland "Rolly" Bundock, 83, bassist ('39-'40; '46-'47), Apr. 8, 1998
Melvin Epstein "Mel Powell," 75, pianist ('43-'45), Apr. 24, 1998
Bernard "Bernie" Privin, 80, trumpeter ('43-'45), Oct. 8, 1999, colon cancer
Henry "Hank" Freeman, 81, saxophonist - clarinetist ('43-'45), Jan. 8, 2000
Gordon Lee "Tex" Beneke, 86, tenor saxophonist ('38-'42) and post-war leader ('46-'50),
May 30, 2000
George T. Simon, 88, drummer ('37; '43) and administration ('43), Feb. 14, 2001
John "Jack" Ferrier, 88, saxophonist ('43-'45), Mar. 16, 2001
Jerry Jerome, 89, saxophonist ('37-'38), Nov. 17, 2001
Meyer "Mike" Rubin, 88, bassist (June 14-23, 1941), Nov. 23, 2001
George Voutsas, 91, radio producer ('43-'45), Jan. 2, 2003
Frank D'Annolfo, 95, trombonist ('39-'42), May 5, 2003
Frederick "Freddy" Guerra, 79, saxophonist ('43-'45; '46-'47), May 17, 2003
Michael "Peanuts" Hucko, 85, saxophonist - clarinetist ('43-'45) and post-war leader ('74),
Jun. 19, 2003
Thomas "Tom" Sheils, 87, personal manager - promoter, Jun. 24, 2003, "after a brief illness"
Vito Pascucci, 80, instrument repairman ('44-'45), Aug. 18, 2003, kidney failure
John "Johnny" Best, trumpeter ('39-'42), Sep. 19, 2003
William "Billy" May, 87, trumpeter - arranger ('40-'42), Jan. 22, 2004
Jack Sperling, 81, drummer ('46-'49), Feb. 26, 2004
Salvatore "Sal" Libero, 80?, clarinetist - saxophonist ('46-'49), Jul 17, 2004
Maurice Bialkin, 91, cellist ('43-'45), Sept. 7, 2004
Les Biegel, 95, trumpeter ('37-'38), Oct. 10, 2004, pneumonia
STILL LIVING AS OF DEC. 2004 - SELECT LIST:
Stanley "Moose" Aaronson, saxophonist ('38-'39; '46-'47), b. ?
Herman "Trigger" Alpert, bassist ('40-'41; '43-'45), b. Sep. 3, 1916
Ray Anthony, trumpeter ('40-'41), b. Jan. 20, 1922
William "Bill" Finegan, arranger ('38-'42), b. Apr. 3, 1917
Norman "Norm" Leyden, arranger ('44-'45), b. Oct. 17, 1917
Arthur "Artie" Malvin, vocalist ('43-'45), b. Jul. 7, 1922
Alvin Morris "Tony Martin," vocalist ('43), b. Dec. 25, 1913
Nathan "Nat" Peck, trombone ('44-'45; '46), b. Jan. 13, 1925
Robert Ripley, cellist ('43-'45), b. Jun. 28, 1922
Kathryn Starks "Kay Starr," substitute vocalist ('39), b. Jul. 21, 1922
Paul Tanner, trombonist ('38-'42; '46-'50), b. Oct. 15, 1917
Mannie Thaler, saxophonist ('44-'45), b. Dec. 31, 1917
Whitey Thomas, trumpeter ('43-'45; '46-'50), b. Jun. 29, 1920
Murray Wald, saxophonist ('43-'45), b. Sep. 16, 1922
Rubin "Zeke" Zarchy, trumpeter ('40-'42; '43-'45), b. Jun. 12, 1915
How should Glenn Miller be remembered in 2004, which is 100 years after his birth?
"As the most popular dance band in the world, ever," Alpert said. "That's the truth."
But other bandleaders, such as Guy Lombardo, might have quoted statistics which tried to dispute that claim.
"Guy Lombardo and Glenn Miller are like apples and oranges," Alpert said. "A completely different crowd of people would be interested in Guy Lombardo. That was saccherine music - you know, real sweet and syrupy."
Miller's was much more preferable for him.
"The songs and the arrangements and the style of the band and the showmanship of the band with the trombones and the trumpets doing unison moves," he stated. "It was like a show band, really . . . it was fun to watch."
Yet, regardless of who was ultimately number one, there's only one place to go after you've been at the top.
"No, not with Glenn," Alpert asserted. "He's almost as popular now as he was then, and that was 55 years ago."
Actually, the music has outlived the man by 60 years... and we're still counting!
given name Alton Glenn Miller
birth Mar. 1, 1904, Clarinda, IA
death declared missing ca. Dec. 23, 1944
father Lewis Elmer Miller, d.
mother Mattie Lou (Cavender) Miller, d.
brother Elmer Dean Miller, d.
brother John Herbert Miller, d. Sep. 30,
sister Emma Irene Miller (Mrs. Welby B.
Wolfe), b. Feb. 21, 1916, m. Dec. 29,
1935; d. Nov. 15, 1999
education public schools in North Platte, NE;
Grant City, OK; Fort Morgan, CO
(1920-24); also coursework at Univ. of
Colorado at Boulder (1924-26)
wife Helen Dorothy Burger, m. Oct. 6,
1928; d. Jun. 2, 1966
son Steven [adopted 1943]
daughter Jonnie Dee (Mrs. Barry Soper)
pets bulldog, Pops Haggerty
memberships ASCAP (posthumous), 1964-
physical description 6', 175 lbs., black hair,
residence Cotswold-Brayne Lane, Tenafly,
NJ; ranch, "Tuxedo Junction," Duarte,
CA [destroyed by fire Nov. 1980]
Edwards, Ernie. Ray McKinley and His Orchestra (Whittier, CA: Erngeobil, 1967).
Flower, John. Moonlight Serenade: A Bio-Discography of the Glenn Miller Civilian Band
(New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1972).
"Glenn Miller's Sister, Irene Miller Wolfe, Is Dead," University of Colorado at Boulder
news release, Nov. 17, 1999.
"Miller, Glenn" in Current Biography 1942 (New York City: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1942),
Miller, Glenn. Operator's License, State of New York, Bureau of Motor Vehicles,
issued Sept. 27, 1940?.
"Necrology Section: Miller, Glenn" in Who Is Who in Music (Chicago: Who Is Who in Music,
Polic, Edward F. The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band: Sustineo Alas / I Sustain the Wings
(Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1989).
Popa, Christopher. Telephone interview with Trigger Alpert, Aug. 13, 2004.
Social Security Death Index.
send feedback about Glenn Miller, part 1: "A Memorial, 1944-2004" by e-mail return to Biographical Sketches index
in Glenn Miller's own words:
"I haven't a great jazz band, and I don't want one . . . A dozen colored bands have a beat better than mine."
- Dexter, Dave Jr. "Glenn Miller: 'I Don't Want a Jazz Band," DownBeat, Feb. 1, 1940.
"It was always intended to be an all-around combination; but when we do play a swing number we expect and try to make it swing as much as possible."
- Feather, Leonard. "Glenn Miller On Swing," Swing, Dec. 1940.
"There is no rest, there must be no rest for a fellow when he is successful. He has got to keep right on going . . . And don't think that I am the product of luck or breaks or anything like that. I have worked hard ever since I came out of the University of Colorado. I have played the trombone in so many orchestras I can't count them all."
- Rasponi, Lanfranco. "One Road to Glory: Glenn Miller, Orchestra Leader, Discusses Radio
and His Climb to Success," New York Times, Feb. 24, 1941.
"It's an inspiring sight to look down from the balcony on the heads of 7,000 people swaying on a dance floor---especially when you are getting $600 for every thousand of them."
- "Miller, Glenn" in Current Biography 1942 (New York City: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1942),
Miller had a stern and serious demeanor, and was tough sometimes.
"Very strict," Alpert responded, "but it depended on your relationship with him. If you had a good relationship with him, you loved him. If you didn't, you didn't care that much, one way or another."
But Glenn also could show his wit, sensitivity, and imagination.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah, he was wonderful to me, and I loved the guy," he said. "You know, it was just a personal thing."
Regardless, he didn't give out many compliments to the men in his band.
"No, but you knew where you stood, because if he said something negative, you knew you weren't doing right," Alpert noted. "Well, you knew that he liked your playing, but he really couldn't say it out in front 'cause that's the way he was built. I mean, that's him. He was, uh, a little bit on the stiff side. But I loved the guy, I got along great with him."
"He had to mess around with different sounds, 'til he found the Miller sound," Alpert explained, "which was the clarinet lead and then one of the tenor saxophones playing the same notes as the clarinet, but an octave lower."
Glenn knew what he wanted, and realized how to get it. He put together a new orchestra in Mar. 1938, hiring, among others, saxophonist Tex Beneke, clarinetist Willie Schwartz, trombonist Paul Tanner, and vocalist Ray Eberle.
The turning point came when they were chosen to play for the 1939 summer season at Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, NY. Not longafter, sales of Miller's Bluebird records, such as Little Brown Jug, really started taking off. And the band was signed to "The Chesterfield Show," a CBS radio program, that December.
"Well, he was a businessman," Alpert continued. "And as I said, he had the public's pulse. He knew what the public would like, and it was quite a commercial band."
Alpert was working with Alvino Rey's band when the offer came to join Miller in Sept. 1940.
"The night before we closed at the Biltmore Roof, Benny Goodman came up. And then the next night, Glenn came up and kept looking at me," Alpert recalled. "And I didn't think anything about it, and so that was the end of our tenure there. My folks were having their 25th wedding anniversary and so I went back to Indianapolis, and when I came back to New York, I checked at my hotel . . .
I was staying at the Hotel Astor (which is not there anymore), and there was this message, 'Call Bullets.' So I called Bullets, who happened to be Glenn's gopher . . . and he said, 'Where have you been?' I didn't know him. And I said, 'I've been home in Indianapolis." So he said, 'Can you get yourself together and I'll come pick you up and take you to the airport?' And I said, 'Sure. But I don't have any money, I'm broke [ laughs].' And he said, 'Well, don't worry about that.' And so he got me a ticket and we went to the airport and I flew to Washington, D.C., where Glenn was playing at one of the theaters. And I joined the band right then and there - started in with Danny Boy, which was done in the dark, so I didn't get to read any of the music. So I fumbled my way through, and he hired me."
In the opinion of many, Miller's trombone playing was good, but not great. According to Alpert, Glenn's best talent was as an editor.
"Well, it was important because he showed the arrangers . . . [how to] do what he wanted them to do, and yet put their own personality into the arrangements," he stated.
Initially, Miller did the bulk of the arranging, and among his scores were Moonlight Serenade, To You, Bugle Call Rag, and Starlit Hour. But, as his band became more famous, he had to delegate that work to others.
"We had some really great arrangers in that band: we had Billy May and Bill Finegan and Jerry Gray . . . so we had some good stuff," Alpert recalled.
Had it been hard for Alpert to make the transition from Alvino Rey's charts to Glenn Miller's things?
"No, because they were both good bands," he answered. "Alvino Rey had a heckuva good band!"
Miller had something for everyone, and regularly topped popularity polls. He mixed novelties like The Chesnut Tree (Neath the Spreading Chesnut Tree) and Say "Si Si" (Para Vigo Me Voy), featuring bubbly Marion Hutton; with ballads such as The Nearness of You and Say It, with the romantic voice of Ray Eberle; charming vocals from Tex Beneke, including The Little Man Who Wasn't There and Melancholy Baby; and for the hepcats, swing originals like Pennsylvania 6-5000 and Sun Valley Jump.
"It was a very commercial band," Alpert observed. "It wasn't a jazz or swinging band . . . Well, I'd say it's between sweet and swing."
The ensemble took on a more mature sound in '41 and '42, but Miller was increasingly anxious to join the war effort in a personal way.
recommended listening - select list:
How'd Ja Like to Love Me Gail Reese, vocal
(Jun. 27, 1938, broadcast)
The Lady's in Love with You Tex Beneke, vocal
(Apr. 4, 1939, Bluebird)
Star Dust Bill Finegan and Glenn Miller, arrangers
(Jan. 29, 1940, Bluebird)
Rug Cutter's Swing Bill Finegan, arranger
(Jan. 30, 1940, broadcast)
Yes, My Darling Daughter Marion Hutton and
the band, vocal / Jerry Gray, arranger
(Nov. 15, 1940, Bluebird)
I Hear a Rhapsody Ray Eberle, Modernaires, voc.
(Jan. 30, 1941, broadcast)
Perfidia Dorothy Claire and The Modernaires, vocal
(Feb. 19, 1941, Bluebird)
It's Always You Ray Eberle, vocal / Bill Finegan, arr.
(Feb. 20, 1941, Bluebird)
In the Mood (1941, "Sun Valley Serenade" soundtrack)
I Know Why Paula Kelly and The Modernaires, vocal /
Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan, arrangers
(May 7, 1941, Bluebird)
Delilah Beneke, Modernaires, voc. / Billy May, arranger
(Aug. 11, 1941, Bluebird)
A String of Pearls Jerry Gray, arranger
(Nov. 3, 1941, Bluebird)
The Nickel Serenade Marion Hutton, Tex Beneke,
and The Modernaires, vocal / Jerry Gray, arranger
(Nov. 29, 1941, broadcast)
I Got Rhythm Billy May, arranger
(Jan. 1, 1942, broadcast)
Always in My Heart R. Eberle, voc. / Billy May, arr.
(Jan. 8, 1942, Bluebird)
At Last Ray Eberle, voc. / Jerry Gray & Bill Finegan, arrs.
(May 20, 1942, Victor)
Oh! So Good chant by the band / Jerry Gray, arranger
(Jun. 29, 1942. broadcast)
My Buddy Bill Finegan, arranger
(Aug. 19, 1942, broadcast)
Incidentally, Alpert's given name is Herman, but it was not Rey or Miller who came up with the nickname 'Trigger.'
"No, I was known as 'Trigger' Alpert since I was 5 years old," he reported. "It has nothing to do with music."
Was it true that he became famous for the few seconds of his on-screen mugging with Glenn's band in the 1941 motion picture "Sun Valley Serenade"?
"I don't think so," Alpert laughed. "Maybe my wife did, but I didn't think so."
For a few months while the movie was in production, the orchestra didn't (or couldn't) do much traveling.
"Hmmm, not a lot, no," Alpert recalled. "We had our own Pullman car. We didn't travel by plane, we traveled by train or bus. But we didn't do much . . . during the time we were doing 'Sun Valley Serenade,' we were playing at the Palladium in Los Angeles, and after that engagement was over, we went to play at San Diego for a prom and then I got my notice from the Draft Board, so I went back to Indianapolis and got drafted. That was my tenure until the Air Force band."
Miller disbanded after a performance at a theater in Passaic, New Jersey on Sept. 27, 1942. He proceeded to organize a brilliant Army Air Force orchestra that included a large string section and was initially based at Yale University in New Haven, CT.
How much more swinging was that service band compared to the civilian outfit?
"Not at all," Alpert claimed. "I liked the civilian band much better than the Army band. We had Billy May and Ray Anthony and some really good guys in that... well, we had some really good guys in the Air Force band, too, but I preferred the civilian band. It was a tighter-knit group and I guess I liked the guys personally... well, I liked the guys personally in the Air Force band, too."
Some felt the expanded sections and the strings (as well as a crack rhythm section with Ray McKinley on drums, Mel Powell at the piano, and Alpert's bass) resulted in a more musical sound.
"Not to me it wasn't," Alpert said. "No, it was about even."
In July, 1944, Miller and the organization and headed for England, where they broadcast over the BBC and played service camps throughout the country. In recognition of his good work, he was promoted to the rank of Major, and afterwards when his band was invited to France to entertain the troops near the front lines, Glenn believed that their effect on soldier morale could be even greater.
"Well he did what was his intent," Alpert observed. "Which was to go overseas and play for the soldiers, the battle-weary troops . . . Unfortunately, he got lost when we went from England to Paris."
When Miller was declared missing a few days before Christmas 1944, his musicians carried on without him, just as they thought he would have wanted.
"And we played at a theater in Paris," Alpert recalled. "Two shows a day. It was a regular playhouse."
Had he lived, would Miller have kept the strings?
"No, I don't think so," Alpert said.
How long after Miller's disappearance did Alpert stay in the music business?
"Oh, many years," he said. "I went with Frank Sinatra for
4-1/2 years. After I got discharged, I went right with Frank, but mainly in New York, mainly recording."
According to a discography of Ray McKinley compiled in 1967 by Ernie Edwards, Alpert was hired for one recording session only, on April 18, 1959, as (guest) bassist with The New Glenn Miller Orchestra under McKinley's leadership.
"Well, somebody in the discography is wrong," Alpert insisted to me. "Mac and I were really, really close. I mean, we were like best buddies, after the war. And I never did record with him or anything. I was with CBS - I was under contract to CBS."
But in the album's liner notes, big band historian George T. Simon singles out Alpert's playing.
"I don't remember that at all," he claimed. "I don't think it was me. It must have been somebody else."
Eventually, Alpert stopped playing bass.
"Yes, I had a very successful career as a photographer, starting in 1970 until three years ago, which I retired from," he reported. "Very successful career. I liked my photography work better than my bass playing . . . Yeah, I was a pretty good photographer."
Despite receiving credit on the album cover, Alpert also denies having been a part of any 1972 Columbia House sessions with The Miller Orchestra directed by Buddy DeFranco, and said that he paid no attention to the Miller ghost bands.
"I never followed them," he said.
Nor does he hear much of Glenn's music today.
"No, I don't," he revealed. "I've got into mode bop. Individual musicians I love to hear, like Bill Evans and Stan Getz and Bobby Brookmeyer."