Oh, Mr. Miller!

We love us some Glenn Miller, but he does seem, let’s face it, sort of buttoned up. Not exactly loosey-goosey, our Glenn. And his reputation persists as having been something of a no-nonsense guy as a bandleader, too. His music was heavily charted, with limited room for improvisation, but it obviously paid off: His orchestra was incredibly successful.

Still, we got a kick out of these 1929 photo-booth strips, taken with his (then) new bride, Helen (who, while plenty cute, doesn’t look a thing like June Allyson). Nice to see stiff ol’ Glenn mugging it up for the camera (click the image to see a larger view with more images or click here for the supersized version).

The British Bands That Mattered

There are many familiar names among the artists we feature on Cladrite Radio—everyone from Glenn Miller and Louis Armstrong to Billie Holiday, Paul Whiteman, and Nat “King” Cole.

But our greatest pleasure is giving exposure to lesser known artists—bands, singers, and instrumentalists with whom only the true buff is familiar.

Among those less known here in the United States, except among the cognoscenti, are such British band leaders as Ray Noble, Jack Payne, Henry Hall, and Carroll Gibbons, who was American but gained his fame in England. Each of these artists can be heard here on Cladrite Radio, and those interested in learning more about them now can turn to the BBC’s Radio 2.

Air personality Brian Matthew hosts a program called “The Bands The Mattered,” which each week explores the life and career of a pair of orchestra leaders. Payne and Hall were featured in Week 1, but, unfortunately, the BBC only streams each show for a week. But you’ve still got a few days to access the archive of this week’s show, which focuses on Noble and Gibbons.

We only just learned about this program, and we’re not at all happy to have missed the first episode of this season (not to mention all of the episodes of a previous season, too), but we’ll be listening going forward, and we thought you might want to, as well.

Remembering Capt. Miller

On December 18, 1943, Capt. Glenn Miller gathered his Army Air Force Band for a radio broadcast out of New York City.

The 2001st AAF’s base unit (radio production) was created less than two weeks prior to Miller’s broadcast with the following expressed purpose, as stated in declassified Air Force documents dated April 30, 1944: “To glorify the unsung heroes of the [AAF] training command—the ground crews, to recruit aviation cadets and Air WACs, to inform the American public of the job that the Training Command is doing to hasten the day of victory, and to provide entertainment for the morale of soldiers here and abroad.”

The broadcast of December 18, which can be streamed below, includes, among other offerings, a medley of holiday songs, Johnny Desmond‘s rendition of “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” the orchestra’s arrangement of “Deep Purple,” and from that popular theatrical hit of the day, “Oklahoma,” a rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!”

Just less than a year after this program was broadcast, on Dec. 15, 1944, the plane carrying Capt. Miller, who was on his way to entertain U.S. troops in France, disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. His remains were never recovered.

We hope you enjoy this 67-year-old holiday broadcast.

Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Orchestra — “I Sustain the Wings” (38:27)

Snapshot in Prose: Jan Garber

Though his prognostications about the future of dance music (see below) left something to be desired, violinist and orchestra leader Jan Garber was very popular indeed in 1935, when this profile was first published in Popular Songs magazine.

Though Garber and his orchestra are not nearly as well remembered today as other band leaders and their outfits, it’s interesting and not a little surprising to note that there’s still a Jan Garber orchestra operating today. One isn’t, perhaps, surprised to learn that there are officially sanctioned, latter-day Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Tommy Dorsey orchestras still out there touring the country, causing toes to tap from coast to coast, but the Jan Garber Orchestra?

That comes as something of a surprise, if a pleasant one. Speaking of surprises, read to the end of this profile, and you’ll find some choice Jan Garber cuts awaiting you.

SHORT, stocky Jan Garber, director of one of the country’s most popular dance organizations, is not a chap afraid to be accused of going around circles, because he has his own career mapped out and is deliberately heading back to the type of music he played for 15 years as violin soloist with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
“A dance band cannot hold its popularity forever,” says Jan, “and I want to be prepared to do something worth while when my dance band days are over.”
This explains why Jan has been taking violin lessons from Czerwonky of the Chicago Conservatory of Music for the last two years. He plans to be ready for the concert stage in 5 or 10 years, even though his experience with popular music has occupied much of his time during the last 12 years.
Let it not be supposed that Jan Garber looks down upon popular music. Not at all. He takes keen interest in keeping his orchestra on its toes and has all the members of the band gather at his home each week to listen to a recording of his previous broadcast. “Hearing ourselves as others hear us helps us get together on ideas for new band arrangements and lets us keep a constant check on ourselves,” is the way Garber explains it.

For the same reason Jan Garber likes to play up to his audience in Chicago’s Trianon ballroom, where his contract will keep him for the next three years with the exception of summer engagements. On the dance floor, he jokes and laughs with everyone, not only because it’s good business but because he gets a kick out of it.
Asked to explain what he thinks of the future of popular songs, Jan said, “The day of the primitive, the appeal to the muscles alone, is gone. Today I try to emphasize precision rhythm and simplicity in arrangement. I judge what the public wants by college boys and girls on dance floors where I play. They convince me that sentimental tunes will always have a place in music, and that the mad, hectic type of music which followed the World War will not come again.”
“Precision in rhythm and simplcity in arrangement” is indeed the key to Garber’s popularity. Three years ago his orchestra, then playing at Cleveland, was slipping in spite of all Jan could do.
A friend tipped Jan off that a bunch of Canadian youngsters were playing at a small roadhouse near Cleveland and were making quite with a hit with a special kind of rhythm. He went to hear them, was delighted and offered to take over the whole band. Freddie Large, the director, accepted eagerly and Jan got them an engagement at the Hotel Netherlands Plaza in Cincinnati.
That engagement was the beginning of a new kind of fame during which Jan changed his style of music from red hot jazz to the dreamy and melodious brand of music which his followers demand today.
The composition of Garber’s present band is interesting in that it includes only one of his old players, Rudy Rudisill, bald-headed pianist, who has been associated with Jan for 15 years dating back to the time in Washington when Jan got fired for staying on his honeymoon one day too long and organized a band of his own.
All of Garber’s boys admit that the director pays them well, but they all will tell you that nothing less than perfection pleases the energetic little maestro. Yet he allows Janice, his six-year-old daughter, to run around backstage during his programs. He spends a great deal of his time at home practicing on the violin, accompanied by his wife.

Jan Garber and His Orchestra — Ain’t No Maybe in My Baby’s Eyes

Jan Garber and His Orchestra — Puttin’ on the Ritz

Jan Garber and His Orchestra — You Don’t Like It—Not Much

The Karen Files, pt. 7

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

It’s easy, sometimes, to think of our parents as somehow older than they are. We too often were guilty of thinking of Karen as being of the Greatest Generation, of imagining her listening and dancing to the big bands during the height of the Swing Era.

But she was born in 1933. She was just a child when Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and the rest were flying high. Heck, she was just 11 when Glenn Miller died.

She remembered and enjoyed that music, sure, much as we remember and enjoy the pop music of the 1960s, when we were kids. But it wasn’t the music of her adolescence and young adulthood. She grew into young womanhood during the post-big band era, when the focus moved to vocalists. Big bands were still around, sure, but they weren’t the dominant force they had been.

Hers was the era of pre-rock ‘n’ roll vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Nat “King” Cole, Patti Page, and Margaret Whiting.

For that matter, Karen wasn’t so old when rock ‘n’ roll began to capture the nation’s attention. She was 21 when Bill Haley and the Comets recorded “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954 and 23 when Elvis Presley‘s recording of “Heartbreak Hotel” became a No. 1 hit in 1956. She wasn’t likely to be found among the squealing teens at a Presley performance, but she wasn’t necessarily old enough to view the young rock-n-roller with the alarmed disapproval so many of her elders did. Presley was, after all, less than two years younger than Karen.

Similarly, we’re often a bit surprised to be reminded that Karen was just a kid during World War II and the events that preceded the United States’ involvement in it. This was brought home to me by the documents that make up this week’s installment of The Karen Files, which we found while sorting through the thousands of snapshots and documents Karen left behind.

The documents accompanying this text are pages from ration books. Until coming across these, we had no idea that children received ration booklets, too. It makes sense, though; obviously, a family of ten would have greater needs than a family of three, so assigning each child their own ration books (to be used, no doubt, by their parents) seems the ideal way to assure that each family gets what’s coming to it.

We’ve scanned and posted all the pages of the ration books for your consideration here. Perhaps many of you have seen ration books before—after all, every American had one, and of those millions of books, surely not a few got stashed when they were no longer needed, for later generations to come across, as we did, in dusty cartons long stowed away in attics or basements.

We learned a few not terribly weighty details about Karen’s life in May, 1942, from these documents. She lived at 509 South 4th Street in Okemah, Oklahoma (we knew she had grown up in a different house than the one where we visited our grandparents, but we didn’t know where it was). She was nine years old, stood four feet and one-half inches tall, and weighed 68 pounds. Her eyes were blue then, as always, and her hair was listed as blonde (light brown, we’d have to call it). Again, these details have no real import, but small things can have an impact when you’re trying to imagine loved ones at particular points in their lives.

We wish we’d thought to ask Karen what the heck she thought of Elvis Presley when he hit the national stage or how it felt to be a child during World War II. There are so many questions that we don’t think to ask our folks, even when we spend a lot of time thinking about the old days. Then a loved one’s mind grows feeble, due to illness or advanced age, or a life comes unexpectedly to an end, and it’s too late to ask.

View all this week’s Karen Files images.