The Rise and Fall of Popular Music
[A polemical history]
The Swing Era Begins
From 1935 until after the Second World War a jazz-oriented style was at the centre of popular music for the first time (and the last, so far), as opposed to merely giving it backbone. The white bands made the most money, but they had taken up the music because they loved it; they were fully aware of the debt they owed to the black innovators and they made plenty of their own contributions, resulting in popular music whose quality will be rediscovered as long as people play records.
A few white bands had been playing jazz-flavoured music and doing good business for some years, among them the Casa Loma. Roger Wolfe Kahn was the son of a millionaire; his band, which was resident at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, included such sidemen as Miff Mole, Jack Teagarden, Artie Shaw and others, but Kahn later turned to a sweet style. Chicago drummer Ben Pollack followed on from Goldkette and Kahn, employing Benny Goodman, arranger-trombonist Glenn Miller, Harry James and Teagarden, who was recruited by arranger Gil Rodin. Pollack's band was highly rated, but its recordings do not reflect its best work, because Pollack always had his eye on what he thought was the main chance; after struggling for years he sidetracked himself at exactly the time the Swing Era was about to happen. Promoting a vocalist who later became his wife, he neglected the band, which left him and hired Bob Crosby (Bing's brother) as frontman.
A big band might have three trumpets, two or three trombones, three or four reeds, and four rhythm instruments (piano, guitar, bass and drums): from twelve to sixteen or eighteen players, as well as singers. Henderson and Redman used banjo and brass bass (tuba) at first, but the increasing pressure of the tendency to play in 4/4 rather than 2/4 in rhythm sections accelerated the change to guitar and string bass. Gunther Schuller thinks this process may have been impeded because the tuba was easier to record than a string bass; 4/4 would have been twice as much work for a tuba player, and probably impossible at a quick tempo. But leaders who were arrangers, or who bought good arrangements, were innovating in a search for new voicings. Duke Ellington was the first to feature the string bass on recordings in the late 1920s (probably by shoving it closer to the microphone), yet more evidence of his expertise as a recording artist. When the Goldkette band went east in the mid-1920s it had two trumpets and Bix on cornet; other bands had been getting by with two trumpets, but added another to be up to date. Ellington's and Redman's bands first had three trombones in the early 1930s; Ellington had two bass players in the late 1930s, six trumpets in 1946, and always insisted that all his reed players double on clarinet.
As we have already seen, the arrangers were of the greatest importance, and we will meet many more of them. Judging from the recorded evidence, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that it was largely the black jazzmen and arrangers who knew that allowing the music to swing was the same thing as allowing it to breathe (a lesson often forgotten in today's pop music). The recordings from the late 1920s and early 1930s by many prominent white leaders, such as Ted Weems, Irving Aaronson and Gus Arnheim, now sound excessively busy and relentlessly cute. And it is true that the (largely white) music business had concluded that 'hot' music would not sell, and that imaginative arrangers ran into trouble with producers and A&R men. Yet this conclusion must be treated with some caution. The white arrangers Gene Gifford, Gil Rodin, Deane Kincaide and Bill Challis were gifted indeed, and when Don Redman enlarged the reed section of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, he probably did it so that he could write a richer sound like that being made by the Whiteman band. One of the best of all, bandleader, composer and reedman Benny Carter, said to Gene Lees, 'Bill Challis was my idol.'
Challis had been influenced by Bix Beiderbecke, whose inventive phrasing, beautiful tone and advanced harmonic thinking were followed by first Goldkette and then Whiteman's band. Bix and Trumbauer's classic 'Singin' the Blues' had been a Challis chart, as was Whiteman's little masterpiece 'San', which was recorded in 1928 by a smallish group of ten men, including Bix, Trumbauer, Jimmy Dorsey and Challis on piano. Whiteman's 'symphonic jazz' may or may not have been ponderous, but the dance band charts were excellent. Violinist Matty Malneck, pianist Tom Satterfield and others wrote good arrangements for Whiteman, but Challis's still astonish with their freshness.
Challis's arrangement of Rodgers and Hart's 'The Blue Room' was played by a big radio band, perhaps that of Nat Shilkret around 1930, and recorded in 1986 by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks: the album Bill Challis's The Goldkette Project on the Circle label included Spiegle Willcox on trombone, who'd played with the Goldkette band in 1926-7. The performance of 'The Blue Room' illustrates Challis's witty originality: after the introduction (itself unusually fine for the period), the reed section states the tune, with a rhythmic break of four notes by the brass section after sixteen bars, and again at the end. The first break consists of four notes, in two identical units of two notes each. A less imaginative arranger might simply have repeated this pattern at the end of the second phrase, but instead Challis wrote a group of four descending notes. The surprise can still raise a chuckle sixty years later.
In 1929 Melody Maker in Britain devoted eleven pages to an analysis of Challis's arrangement of 'Sweet Sue', composed the year before by Victor Young and Will Harris, but the paper attributed it wrongly to Ferde Grofé (as 'Singin' the Blues' was long attributed to Fud Livingston). Maceo Pinkard's 'Sugar' and Willard Robison's ' 'Tain't So, Honey, 'Tain't So', both recorded by Whiteman in 1928, were Challis's arrangements, the first done originally for Goldkette, then expanded for twenty-four men (including four violins). Both are miles ahead of most of the popular music of the period, and are full of fascinating chords which still sound adventurous today, yet exactly right. The Whiteman band's excellent playing of these charts and the fine recording produced by Victor make it clear why Whiteman and Challis continued to influence other musicians for many years.
The section leaders in the bands were important. They rehearsed attack and phrasing, and often helped to bring along good players who were not good readers: thus Hymie Shertzer and Art Rollini taught Vido Musso, the tenor saxophone star in the classic Benny Goodman band. (Musso said it was not the notes that bothered him but the 'resters'. Henderson's wife had helped with the music copying, and her writing could be difficult to decipher.) In the Count Basie band, Lester Young was a much better reader than Herschel Evans. Section leaders such as George Dorman 'Scoops' Carry (with Earl Hines, 1940-47), Langston Curl (with Don Redman, 1927-37) and Hilton Jefferson (who played with Claude Hopkins, Chick Webb, Henderson, Carter and Ellington) were admired by musicians, if less well known to the public. They were often not soloists, though they could hold their own when necessary; Wendell Culley, who played the famous muted solo on 'Li'l Darlin' ' in 1957, was Basie's lead trumpet for years.
It was clarinettist Benny Goodman who was in the right place at the right time, and became the King of Swing. Born in a Chicago slum to an immigrant family, he studied music at Hull House, a charitable institution; he first performed in public at the age of twelve, and was playing good jazz while still in short trousers. He played other reed instruments as well as clarinet, and even trumpet on records in the 1920s; after leaving Pollack in 1929, he became one of the busiest freelance musicians in the business. Often working with John Hammond, he played on Bessie Smith's last recording session and led the studio band on Billie Holiday's first session, both in 1933.
Goodman's successful recordings include Holiday's 'Riffin' the Scotch', 'Ol' Pappy' (with Mildred Bailey and Coleman Hawkins) and 'I Ain't Lazy, I'm Just Dreamin' ' (with Teagarden); 'Moon Glow', by a nine-piece group with Teddy Wilson on piano, appeared more than two years before the famous Goodman Quartet version; Waller and Razaf's 'Ain't-cha Glad?', backed with 'I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues' (by Arlen and Koehler), which had vocals and trombone by Jack Teagarden, was a two-sided hit at the lowest point of the Depression, when Goodman had not recorded as a leader for two years. He had played on scores of recordings backing singers, and with the Hotsy Totsy Band (Irving Mills's ongoing project, and one of the many names used by the Pollack gang as freelancers), among many others. But there was not much money in records in those days, and anyway Goodman's name on records by studio pick-up groups was not satisfactory.
He formed his own band for an appearance at Billy Rose's Music Hall. Benny Goodman and his (Music Hall) Orchestra, as it was billed at first, did five successful recording sessions for Columbia, the last two in early 1935. He changed to Victor in April, and had hits with 'Japanese Sandman', from his first Victor session, and, at the end of the year, Henderson's arrangements of 'Sometimes I'm Happy' and 'King Porter' back to back, the latter with a famous trumpet solo by Bunny Berigan. Notwithstanding the importance of Henderson's arrangements, historians have also pointed out the contribution of Spud Murphy, who wrote as much for Goodman as Henderson did. Murphy played with Ross Gorman in 1928, and also wrote for the Casa Loma Band; his 'Get Happy', for Goodman, is especially well remembered for the way in which it turns the jolly tune into a prototypical romp for swing band.
Goodman's band appeared on the Let's Dance radio show from late 1934 until May 1935, a three-hour dance program shared with Xavier Cugat and the sweet band of Kel Murray. The show's radio theme was 'Let's Dance', based on 'Invitation to the Dance', by Carl Maria von Weber, though Goodman used Gordon Jenkins's 'Goodbye' as both opening and closing theme on tour. The program was received on the West Coast an hour earlier than it was heard in the east, and the L.A. disc jockey Al Jarvis was a fan of the band and played its records on the radio. When it embarked on a nationwide tour in May 1935, the band did not do very good business at first; at Elitch Gardens in Denver, according to pianist Jess Stacy, 'everybody was across town listening to Kay Kyser'. But when the band reached California they found an audience of eager young dancers. At McFadden's Ballroom in Oakland there was such a large enthusiastic crowd waiting that the band thought it must have been a fluke. The next stop, at Pismo Beach, was another flop, but the Palomar Ballroom gig in Los Angeles on 21 August 1935 was such a sudden success it is often described as the beginning of the Swing Era. This is an exaggeration, and it is clear in retrospect that the Swing Era had been waiting to happen, but it was Goodman and his band that touched it off. His ten hits in 1934 doubled to twenty in 1935, and he credited his success to the fact that there were a large number of dancers who were not being well served.
In November 1935 an octet from the band made four sides in Chicago as Gene Krupa and his Chicagoans. Goodman's brother Harry was replaced on bass by the sixteen-year-old Israel Crosby (who later played for a decade with Ahmad Jamal's trio, then George Shearing); 'Blues of Israel' is particularly fine. In February of the next year they did it again, as Gene Krupa's Swing Band, this time with Roy Eldridge replacing Nate Kazebier on trumpet, Chu Berry replacing Dick Clark on tenor and singer Helen Ward (on two tracks) instead of trombonist Joe Harris. The appeal of Ward is not obvious in retrospect, but she was very popular; to her credit she disliked 'Goody Goody', and was surprised when it became one of the full band's biggest hits in 1936.
Harry Goodman was a merely competent bass player, and Krupa's drumming was very much in the Chicago mould, with dixielandish accents. It always comes as a shock all these years later to hear the lumpy 2/4 beat on 'Down South Camp Meeting', from August 1936. (Stacy said years later, 'you can't ask all drummers to keep good time'.) The band was precise, and the reed section sounded pretty; but it was often no more than pretty, and on some of the records moos monotonously behind vocalists, the way the pedal steel guitar is often used in country music today. Despite having four reeds (as well as Goodman himself), the section had nothing like the character of that of Whiteman's band, not to mention many a black band. Perhaps the formal training of the white musicians prevented them from contributing more in terms of individual tone production, but the smoothness was probably what Goodman wanted.
Arguments still arise among critics and musicians about whether Goodman had a good enough ear to imagine a richer sound or, later, to play more modern jazz, but he was too good a musician not to be able to play anything he wanted. The truth is that he was a strange man, haunted by the poverty of his childhood; having accomplished what he had, he saw little need to change the formula, especially since his audience was getting older when the Swing Era was over, and simply did not wish for a more modern sound. The sidemen and arrangers who wanted to play more modern music were younger than Goodman, and he may have been jealous. In later life he let slip a belief that he had to have his men angry with him in order to be an effective bandleader, which would go some way towards explaining his famous rudeness, about which there are an astonishing number of stories. He shot a famous 'ray' at a musician when he was displeased that could reduce a sideman to jelly, but Helen Oakley Dance said that he just couldn't understand how people could make a mistake, because he himself never did. He was also torn between popular and classical music, and adopted a different embouchure to play the latter; playing modern jazz would have exacerbated this physical confusion. On top of all that, from the time of his greatest success he was nearly always in pain from a back problem.
Certainly it was the precision and the reliability of his band (perhaps ensured by his hard discipline) that made it a success, as well as its swing, which is more evident on airchecks than on the studio recordings. He led the reed section on alto saxophone on 'Riffin' at the Ritz', one of the band's better studio tracks. The 1936 version of 'Bugle Call Rag' is hard to resist: at the beginning, when the band is stating the riff, one thinks of how many times one has heard it, but in less than three minutes the string of hot solos has worked its magic again. 'He Ain't Got Rhythm' has an irresistible guest vocal by Jimmy Rushing, and 'I Want to be Happy' has just the right chirpy tempo. In the end, one feels that white pop should always be this good. In any case, in 1935 Henderson made no records, Count Basie was still unknown, and the recordings and broadcasts of black bands were simply not promoted and marketed as the white ones were. Good as it was, Whiteman's classic band had broken up in 1930, being too big for the Depression era, and Pollack was busy courting his future wife. So it was Goodman's band that suddenly found the dancers, and defined the centre of the era's pop music.
In mid-1935 the first recording session of the Benny Goodman Trio, with Krupa and Teddy Wilson, yielded 'Body and Soul' and 'After You've Gone' back to back; Lionel Hampton was added in August 1936, and the quartet's first recording was 'Moon Glow'. Edgar Sampson's arrangement of 'Stompin' at the Savoy', written for Chick Webb, was a hit for the band in 1936 and even more popular for the quartet in 1937. Goodman got away with a mixed-race group by presenting it during the band's intermission, like a vaudeville act; Stacy was the band's regular pianist. But the excellent chamber music of the trio and quartet, together with the intelligent, witty and swinging interplay between Goodman, Wilson and Hampton, was commercially successful, proving that the public was willing to listen to good music during the Swing Era.
There were several hit recordings of 'Christopher Columbus' in 1936, including those of Goodman and Henderson, and the smaller groups of Andy Kirk, Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller (with Andy Razaf's words and Waller's saucy interjections: 'Since the crew was makin' merry . . . Merry got up and went home!'). Among Goodman's hits in 1937 were 'Goodnight, My Love' and 'This Year's Kisses', with vocals by Ella Fitzgerald and Margaret McCrae respectively. Goodman's rudeness to Helen Ward had driven her away, and Martha Tilton took over as vocalist, her successes including 'I Let a Song Go Out Of My Heart' and 'And The Angels Sing', the latter with trumpeter Ziggy Elman's famous 'Hebrew dance party' gimmick: originally an instrumental written by Elman called 'Fralich in Swing', recorded by Elman with members of Goodman's band, the Goodman hit version had words by Johnny Mercer.
Many bands were playing 'Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)', a tune by trumpeter and bandleader Louis Prima. In 1936 the Goodman band began to interpolate its arrangement (by yet another black arranger, Jimmy Mundy, who had written for Earl Hines) with 'Christopher Columbus', and the new arrangement was recorded in 1937; more than 8.5 minutes long, it was issued on two-sided 12-inch and (edited) 10-inch 78s. It became a symbol of the Swing Era, but the studio recording has lost much of its charm today, despite good playing by the band and solos by Goodman, Harry James and Musso; the long passages of Krupa's tom-toms no longer appeal.
Goodman had played at a jazz concert at the Congress Hotel in Chicago on a Sunday afternoon (young Helen Oakley's idea) and in any ballroom there could be as many people listening as dancing. The first jazz concert at Carnegie Hall was dreamed up by the agency who were promoting the Camel Caravan, Goodman's radio programme, sponsored by the cigarette company. According to Irving Kolodin, when Goodman was asked how long an intermission he wanted, he replied, 'I dunno. How much does Toscanini have?'
The band that played at the concert included Hymie Shertzer (alto saxophone), George Koenig, Irving 'Babe' Russin and Art Rollini (tenor saxophones), Harry James, Ziggy Elman and Gordon Griffin (trumpets), Vernon Brown and Red Ballard (trombones), Allan Reuss (guitar), Stacy (piano), Harry Goodman (bass) and Krupa (drums); Wilson and Hampton played in the quartet. James, Krupa, Wilson and Hampton all soon left to lead their own bands, bringing to an end the most famous Goodman lineup. The concert was a celebration of the arrival of jazz as the nation's most popular music, and afterwards many of the men headed for Harlem, where Basie and Webb were battling at the Savoy. The concert offered a jam session and a set-piece billed as 'Twenty Years of Jazz', both with guests, neither of which was particularly successful. There were two Tilton vocals, selections by the trio and the quartet, three Henderson arrangements, Sampson's 'Don't Be That Way', Basie's 'One O'Clock Jump', Mundy's 'Swingtime in the Rockies' and 'Life Goes to a Party', credited to Goodman and James and suggested by a Life magazine photo spread on the Goodman phenomenon. The event was recorded on acetates, using a single microphone; an album was released in 1950 and was a surprise hit after the Swing Era was over.
'Sing, Sing, Sing' at Carnegie Hall was not only much better than the studio version, but contained the best moment of the concert: an unscheduled piano solo by Stacy, which in 1950 turned out to be just as beautiful as everyone remembered it. In an interview with Whitney Balliet many years later (from which I have quoted above), Stacy said that Goodman usually hogged the solo space, and that he did not know why he had got the green light, unless Goodman had liked what he had been doing behind Goodman's solo. Stacy's solo was built on the tune's A-minor chord, and shows the influence of Edward MacDowell and Claude Debussy; it provided a marvellous balance for the bombastic arrangement which inspired it. It now makes us marvel at how many beautiful solos by uncounted musicians were never recorded at all: it is a high point of the whole era.
It became even more clear in 1952 that the classic Goodman band played better live than in the studio. A two-LP set of airchecks clumsily called 1937/38 Jazz Concert Number Two, one of the first issues of its kind and a number one album in Billboard, demonstrated that the band got as big a kick out of the dancers as the dancers got out of the band. It was the New Orleans 'second line' effect again.
Goodman moved to the revived Columbia label in 1939 and continued to produce a steady stream of hits for another decade. Dave Tough, without doubt the best white drummer of the era, replaced Krupa and was a great improvement. Vocalist Helen Forrest wrote in her autobiography that Goodman was the rudest man she had ever met, and Stacy (a modest man) was still amused decades later that Goodman had fired the estimable Jimmy Rowles in order to re-hire Stacy in 1942. Goodman fired people for undiscernible reasons, as if he needed to remind everybody who was boss.
Yet he was a great talent scout. It was the young pianist Mel Powell (later a classical composer in the school of Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter) who arranged 'String of Pearls' and 'Jersey Bounce' for a two-sided hit in 1942, as well as 'Mission to Moscow' in 1943. Eddie Sauter, who had worked for Red Norvo and Charlie Barnet, wrote 'Superman', 'Benny Rides Again', 'Clarinet a la King' and others, which were popular with jazz fans, musicians and critics, but less so with the public (though Sauter's arrangement of 'Intermezzo', a film theme, was a hit in 1941). Sauter's arrangements are regarded by many as a peak in the Goodman discography, yet Goodman often watered them down and seemed to be reluctant to play them or record them. He openly admired Mel Powell and treated him as an equal, partly because Powell would not have taken any nonsense from him, but Powell's better arrangements too were not welcomed without reluctance. And Goodman was not necessarily wrong from his point of view: some of the younger musicians in Goodman's pick-up bands in later years learned to admire Henderson's more conservative arrangements when they had been drilled to play them properly. The problem of art versus commerce is endemic in popular music, and it was Goodman's formula that kept the band working.
Henderson continued to arrange for Goodman in the 1940s, and Don Kirkpatrick arranged 'Idaho', with a vocal by Dick Haymes; other vocals were 'Darn That Dream' (Mildred Bailey), 'There'll be Some Changes Made' (Louise Tobin), 'Somebody Else is Taking My Place' (Peggy Lee) and 'Taking a Chance on Love' (Forrest). Goodman also deserved the credit he always got for hiring black musicians. The Benny Goodman Sextet recordings from 1939 to 1941 are probably the best he ever made, with Charlie Christian on electric guitar, Cootie Williams on trumpet and guests such as Count Basie; titles include 'Breakfast Feud', 'Benny's Bugle', 'Shivers', 'On the Alamo' and 'AC-DC Current'. The band's (and the sextet's) tenor saxophone soloist in 1940/41 was the excellent Georgie Auld, who later led his own bands (and played on the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese's period film New York, New York in 1977). On one sextet rehearsal session, unreleased for decades, Lester Young was present, together with Christian, Basie and Basie's rhythm section, an all-black group except for Goodman. With tape recording still a few years in the future, Columbia was recording everything on transcription discs, which years later yielded the warm-up sessions 'Blues in B' and 'Waitin' for Benny', both with Christian. Mundy was credited (with Goodman and Christian) on 'Good Enough to Keep', whose title was changed to 'Air Mail Special'. The band's drummers during the Columbia period included Nick Fatool as well as Dave Tough.
Goodman himself sang on 'Gotta be This or That' (1945) and 'Oh, Baby' (on two sides of a 12-inch 78 in 1946). He moved to Capitol in 1947; 'Moon-faced, Starry-eyed' had a vocal by Johnny Mercer, 'On a Slow Boat to China' had Al Hendrickson and 'It Isn't Fair' pianist and singer Buddy Greco, later a solo cabaret star.
On Capitol Goodman tried to play more modern music. In 1948 he hired Stan Hasselgard, an excellent young Swedish clarinet player -- the only time he ever featured another clarinettist -- but Hasselgard was killed in a car crash the same year. He also hired Wardell Gray, a superb tenor saxophonist who won much acclaim before he was murdered in Las Vegas, probably in a drug deal that went wrong. In 1949 Goodman employed Arturo O'Farrill, a young arranger from Cuba. (It was Goodman who nicknamed him Chico; he seemed to make a habit of not remembering people's names.) But Goodman did not like bop and soon gave up any willingness to play it. In 1950 he returned to Columbia, and a sextet version of the Louis Prima tune 'Oh, Babe!' was a hit, with Teddy Wilson, Terry Gibbs on vibraphone and a vocal duet by Nancy Reed and Jimmy Ricks (of the doo-wop group the Ravens).
In 1953 Goodman re-formed his classic band for an expensive tour with Louis Armstrong's All Stars that turned into a famous disaster. He managed to insult Armstrong at the beginning; then he was appalled at the vaudeville aspects of Louis's act, in which the overweight Velma Middleton did the splits, a contradiction of everything Goodman stood for. His insecurities caught up with him and he had a nervous breakdown. The glory years were over and he knew it; he retired to become an elder statesman of popular music, still adored by his fans, playing his classic hits over and over again. In The Benny Goodman Story (1955) the otherwise loveable Steve Allen played Goodman; he was not an actor, and was lumbered with the usual awful Hollywood film biography script. Goodman played at the Brussels World's Fair in 1958 and in the Soviet Union in 1962, and offended everyone connected with both tours. (The Russian one was recalled in a hilarious series of articles by bass player Bill Crow, published in lyricist and journalist Gene Lees's Jazzletter in 1986.) The original quartet re-formed to make the album Together Again! on RCA, a critical and popular success, in 1964. Goodman's niche in music is secure; in the mid-1990s more than eighty albums and compilations of studio tracks and airchecks were listed in the USA Schwann catalogue.
Other white jazz-oriented bandleaders were waiting in the wings in the mid-1930s, with some acclaim already under their belts. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra had hit records nearly every year from 1928 to 1935; the band included trumpeter Manny Klein, later one of the most sought-after studio musicians in the business. The Dorseys split acrimoniously, but both became very successful leaders of their own bands. Artie Shaw, like Goodman an excellent and busy freelance clarinettist, was soon almost as well known, and Charlie Barnet was also an experienced leader when he hit the charts in 1936. Isham Jones's band became a cooperative in 1937, and leader Woody Herman took it on to greater things. Many white sidemen led their own bands, of whom the best known were Harry James, Gene Krupa and Bunny Berigan.
There were also a great many sweet bands, which were not all completely corny. The band of society pianist Eddy Duchin got up a creditable bounce on 'Old Man Mose', sung by Patricia Norman, which was one of the biggest Duchin hits (partly because when she sang the word 'bucket' in the reprise, some listeners thought she had substituted an 'f' for a 'b'). Pianist Frankie Carle wrote 'Sunrise Serenade' and used it as a theme, but the huge hit recordings of it were by the Casa Loma Band and Glenn Miller. Another Carle success was 'Oh! What It Seemed To Be', which he also wrote; his vocalist was his daughter, Marjorie Hughes. He was too good a keyboard player to be offensively rococo; today's marvellous pianist, leader and composer Joanne Brackeen admits that she started by copying Carle off her parents' records.
One of the best of the sweet bands was that of saxophonist Hal Kemp, who was killed in a car crash in 1940. The arrangements were by John Scott Trotter, later Bing Crosby's music director for many years. The band's featured vocalist, Skinnay Ennis, had a breathy, half-whispered vocal style on 'When I'm with You' and 'This Year's Kisses', and was later famous for 'Got a Date with an Angel'. Reedman Saxie Dowell did novelty vocals (he wrote and sang 'Three Little Fishies') and later was a charming low-key radio disc jockey in Chicago. Ennis later led his own band, playing arrangements by Claude Thornhill and Gil Evans.
Harry James was a superb trumpet player, who began playing at the age of nine in his father's circus band, and was evidently one of the best-liked men in the business. His post-Goodman success was slow in coming, but he finally did well and continued to draw large audiences in places like Las Vegas until he died. His dance band music was not particularly jazz-oriented, though his first hit was a cover of 'One O'Clock Jump' (reissued in 1943 during a recording ban as 'Two O'Clock Jump'), and 'Strictly Instrumental' (written by Edgar Battle, among others) was an attractive chart from the Lunceford book. James's band was good enough in 1950 to be raided by Duke Ellington, and he later employed Buddy Rich on drums. His theme was 'Ciribiribin', in 3/4 time (published in Italy in 1898), and another hit was the trumpet virtuoso's 'Flight of the Bumble Bee'; his 'Sleepy Lagoon' was adapted from the 'valse serenade' of English composer Eric Coates.
Most of James's big hits were vocals. He hired the very young Frank Sinatra, who was soon stolen by Tommy Dorsey, and then Dick Haymes, a good singer in the same mould; Helen Ward and Helen Forrest recorded with James, and Kitty Kallen joined him around 1944. Forrest's hits were 'I Don't Want to Walk Without You' and 'I've Heard That Song Before'; James was listed as a co-writer on Duke Ellington's 'I'm Beginning to See the Light', which, sung by Kallen, was a number one hit in the white chart in 1945.
Gene Krupa's success as a bandleader was also slow at first, but was then enhanced by the great black trumpeter Roy Eldridge (thus linking two generations of jazzmen) and the young vocalist Anita O'Day, first of a new generation of hip white jazz singers. 'Let Me Off Uptown' was their duet; Eldridge sang on 'Knock Me a Kiss'. Tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura was another of Krupa's stars. Krupa became a better drummer as time went on, having already raised the profile of the timekeeper to that of pop star. He served some time in jail on a charge of possessing marijuana, but was widely believed to have been framed: a devout Catholic, he refused to pay off crooked policemen. He led small groups well into the 1960s.
The big band fronted by Bob Crosby, the famous crooner's brother, was an unusual one. After leaving Ben Pollack, arranger and reedman Gil Rodin organized the band as a cooperative; it hired Crosby, who was not a bad singer and got better. The band included Deane Kincaide (reedman and arranger), Yank Lawson (trumpet), Eddie Miller (tenor saxophone -- he had a lovely, light tone like that of Bud Freeman and Lester Young), Matty Matlock (clarinet and arranger), Bob Haggart (bass), Nappy Lamare (guitar) and Ray Bauduc (drums). Among those who passed through were pianists Bob Zurke, Joe Sullivan and Jess Stacy, clarinettist Irving Fazola and trumpeters Muggsy Spanier and Billy Butterfield. Many of the band's founder members were from New Orleans; they played an unusual big-band dixieland style, and the Bob Cats octet played the real stuff. The band's hits included the vocals 'In a Little Gypsy Tea Room' (1935, with Frank Tennille, father of Toni Tennille, of the 1970s duo Captain and Tennille), 'Whispers in the Dark' (1937, with Kay Weber) and 'Day In, Day Out' (1939, with Helen Ward). On 'Big Noise from Winnetka', a famous novelty duo by Haggart and Bauduc, Haggart whistled through his teeth while Bauduc used his sticks on the bass's strings. One of the band's best-known records was the 12" 78 'South Rampart Street Parade' / 'Dogtown Blues', written by Lawson and Haggart, who formed the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band in the early 1950s. (It became the World's Greatest Jazz Band after appearing at the annual Colorado Jazz Party and continued making albums well into the 1970s, when there were also frequent Crosby reunions.)
The band of Mal Hallett, a New England violinist and leader, was admired by many others. His earlier groups employed Krupa, Jack Teagarden, Frankie Carle, tenor saxophonist Toots Mondello (later with Goodman) and Jack Jenney, a first-class trombonist and also a legendary prankster. Jenney's own big band of 1939-40 failed, but he played the gorgeous trombone solo on the famous Artie Shaw hit version of 'Stardust'.
Bunny Berigan was probably the greatest white trumpet player of the Swing Era; he may be heard on Goodman and Tommy Dorsey records, and led his own bands. He also played on two RCA Victor all-star sessions. A hit version of 'Honeysuckle Rose', backed with 'Blues' (1937), was played by a quintet: Berigan, Tommy Dorsey, Fats Waller, Dick McDonough (guitar) and George Wettling (drums). 'Blue Lou' and 'The Blues' (1939) were by a big band. Berigan's unforgettable hit was 'I Can't Get Started', which he recorded twice. Artie Shaw plays clarinet on the earlier version; the more famous one, with Berigan's vocal and lengthy introduction, was issued on both 12-inch and (edited) 10-inch 78s. In retrospect, the 1938-40 band suffered from recording too many second-rate pop songs, while Berigan, an alcoholic, was eventually unable to play his own famous solos. Louis Armstrong is said to have refused to record 'I Can't Get Started', saying, 'That's Bunny's tune.'
Jimmy Dorsey led a band similar to that of Harry James in that it was a good mainstream dance band. He had been a superb alto player on many fine jazz records; when Tommy walked out in 1935, most of the members of the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra stayed with Jimmy, who became one of Jack Kapp's greatest successes on Decca. The band's very good and extremely popular vocalists were Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell; Kitty Kallen sang with it in the early 1940s before she joined Harry James. Sidemen included Ray McKinley on drums, 'Tootie' Camarata on trumpet, Freddie Slack on piano and Herbie Haymer on tenor saxophone. But, as with James, his biggest hits almost all featured the singers: 'The Breeze and I' (from the Spanish song 'Andalucia' by Ernesto Lecuona), 'Maria Elena' (a Mexican song), 'Blue Champagne', 'High on a Windy Hill', 'I Hear a Rhapsody' and many others were sung by Eberly; 'Green Eyes' (from Cuba), 'Amapola' (a Spanish song) and 'Tangerine' (from the film The Fleet's In) were all duets by Eberly and O'Connell. The band's last big hit was 'Besame Mucho' (from Mexico), a duet by Eberly and Kallen. Like most leaders on Decca, Dorsey also recorded with Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. He is rated as the seventeenth best-selling recording artist up to 1954, but brother Tommy was number four.
Tommy Dorsey was a volatile businessman, as well as a fine musician. He took over Joe Haymes's band in 1935 and won enormous acclaim, despite a high turnover in personnel. Like Goodman, he was not an easy man to work for, but at the time it seemed as though his band could do more things better than most others. He was a first-rate trombonist, though he knew he was outclassed by the likes of Teagarden. His strength lay in his beautiful legato playing on ballads, as on his theme 'I'm Getting Sentimental Over You' (which had already been recorded twice, and had been a hit for the brothers' band in 1934). At the RCA Victor all-star date in 1939 Dorsey had to be coaxed to play 'The Blues' with Teagarden present; the enchanting solution was a Dorsey legato statement of the theme surrounded by Teagarden's obbligato.
Tommy's was a great dance band: on a collection of all of Frank Sinatra's recordings with the 1940 band, it is astonishing to hear how the band could swing at very slow tempos. Among the musicians passing through were Berigan, Bud Freeman and Skeets Herfurt on reeds, and Dave Tough and Buddy Rich on drums; in 1938-9 the trumpet section had George 'Pee Wee' Erwin, Yank Lawson and Lee Castle, all of them fine players. The first big hits included 'The Music Goes Round and Round', with Edythe Wright, an inane novelty from 52nd Street that swept the USA. The very pleasant and easy-phrasing Jack Leonard, one of several boy singers, has since been underrated, followed as he was by Frank Sinatra.
On tour Dorsey played opposite a co-operative band called the Sunset Royals, who were fronted by various people, including trombonist Moran 'Doc' Wheeler, who later became an MC at the Apollo Theatre and an R&B-gospel DJ in New York City; Cat Anderson, who later became Duke Ellington's high-note specialist, joined the Royals in 1938. The band did one recording session in 1941 as Doc Wheeler and his Sunset Orchestra; but before that, in a theatre in Philadelphia, according to an item in Metronome magazine, the band had given Tommy Dorsey a going-over. Dorsey acquired his arrangement of Irving Berlin's 'Marie' from the Royals, and made it one of the biggest and best hits of the Swing Era, early in 1937: Leonard sings a strong straight line while the band chants a paraphrase of the lyrics, the most successful application of Don Redman's swing choir idea, and it has a superb trumpet solo by Berigan. It continued to sell for years, and reached the charts several times. On the other side was Dorsey's arrangement of 'Song of India', borrowed from Rimsky-Korsakov, also featuring Berigan.
Arranger Larry Clinton contributed 'The Dipsy Doodle' in 1937; he also wrote 'Satan Takes a Holiday', and soon led his own popular band. 'Boogie Woogie', Dorsey's most famous instrumental, was based on Pinetop Smith's piano solo of 1928. Dorsey's vocal group was the Pied Pipers, which had begun as an octet and slimmed to a quartet when hired by Dorsey; it contained the excellent Jo Stafford (who later married Paul Weston, one of Dorsey's arrangers). She sang solo on 'Manhattan Serenade' in 1942 and 'You Took My Love' the next year. Sinatra's hits with Dorsey began in 1940 with 'Polka Dots and Moonbeams' (by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, who became specialists at writing for Sinatra); other Sinatra hits, such as 'I'll Never Smile Again' and 'There are Such Things', all had him backed by the Pied Pipers. From Lunceford Dorsey hired arranger Sy Oliver, whose hits included 'Yes, Indeed!' (vocal duet by Stafford and Oliver), 'Well, Git It!' (featuring Ziggy Elman), 'On the Sunny Side of the Street' (a hip swing choir style vocal by the Sentimentalists, successors of the Pied Pipers) and 'Opus No. 1', a typical Swing Era riff. By the time of the last two, in 1945, the Dorsey band had incorporated strings, an expensive and unnecessary development; the Swing Era had begun to ripen.
Artie Shaw, like Goodman a first-rate clarinettist and a busy freelance, formed his own band in 1936, with vocalist Helen Forrest, arranger Jerry Gray, and Tony Pastor and Georgie Auld on tenor saxophones; George Wettling and then Buddy Rich played drums. Shaw was an intelligent man who hated the music business and left it several times; in 1954 (to Goodman's horror) he put his horn down and never touched it again. Of over fifty big hits up to 1946, the most famous was a sleeper. Pastor was also a novelty vocalist who later led his own band; he sang on a joky Shaw version of 'Indian Love Call' in 1938. But disc jockeys turned the record over to discover Gray's arrangement of Cole Porter's 'Begin the Beguine', later voted the third-favourite record of all time by the jockeys in a Billboard poll. From the same session, Shaw's composition 'Back Bay Shuffle' was another success, and Billie Holiday recorded her only track with the band, 'Any Old Time'; Shaw's self-composed theme 'Nightmare', from the next session, was another hit.
Shaw shocked the business by walking away at the height of this first success in late 1939, only to return from a holiday in Mexico and form a new band with another outstanding hit: 'Frenesi', a Mexican song, was arranged by William Grant Still for flute, oboe, French horn and strings, as well as the fifteen-piece conventional band. It was even bigger than 'Beguine' and another top DJ favourite. Another hit by Shaw's second band was his own somewhat pretentious 'Concerto for Clarinet', issued on two sides of a 12" 78. Several bands, including those of Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, had huge hits with 'Stardust' during this period, but Shaw's became the DJs' all-time favourite record (complete with slushy strings). Lena Horne made two sides with the band in 1941; vocalists Forrest, Kallen and Georgia Gibbs also worked with it.
Many of the white swing bands followed Goodman's lead in having small groups within them, such as Bob Crosby's Bob Cats and Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven. Shaw's Gramercy Five was among the most interesting. The original cast made eight sides in 1940, with Billy Butterfield on trumpet, Johnny Guarnieri on harpsichord, Al Hendrickson on electric guitar, Jud DeNaut on bass and Nick Fatool on drums. 'Summit Ridge Drive' was a top ten hit. In 1945 six more bop-flavoured sides were made, with Roy Eldridge on trumpet, Dodo Marmarosa on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Morris Rayman and Lou Fromm on bass and drums. Shaw's ambitions for his music exceeded his ability; he was a superlative soloist, but not the composer-arranger he wanted to be, and his irascibility got in his way. He later became a novelist and a theatrical producer, among other things; his autobiography The Trouble with Cinderella was almost a good book, but contained too much self-pity. He fronted big bands a couple of times in later years, but did not play.
Charlie Barnet came from a wealthy family and in 1929 was leading a combo on cruise liners at the age of sixteen; he led several bands before forming an excellent jazz-oriented outfit. He was a competent soloist on all the saxophones, specializing on tenor at first, but later on alto and soprano, because, he said, there were too many better tenor players around. He also occasionally sang, especially in the early years. 'The most enjoyable, in terms of fun fun, plus one of the greatest bands I ever worked with was Charlie Barnet,' said Buddy DeFranco (quoted by Ira Gitler in Swing to Bop). When interviewing a musician, the story goes, Barnet would ask him if he drank. If he replied in the negative, he was either lying or was the kind of man who never took a drink; in either case, he didn't get the job. Barnet enjoyed life, and so did the people who worked for him.
Of all the white bandleaders of the Swing Era, it was Barnet who most openly admired the black bands, and whose talent and leadership paid them the finest tribute: many of Barnet's recordings are still among the most delightful of the era. He covered several Ellington compositions, notably 'The Gal from Joe's' and 'Rockin' in Rhythm'; 'Charleston Alley' was arranged by Horace Henderson; 'Southern Fried' was co-written by Harlan Leonard; 'Jump Session' was recorded by several bands, including Don Redman's, and 'Flyin' Home' was the famous Lionel Hampton screamer.
But the band (chiefly Barnet, under the pseudonym Dale Bennett) also produced fine originals. Among the best from 1939 to 1941 were 'The Duke's Idea' / 'The Count's Idea'; a month later 'The Wrong Idea', in which the band imitated the sweet bands of the time, was backed by 'The Right Idea', one of the best. 'Leapin' at the Lincoln' was a head arrangement on Gershwin's 'Lady Be Good'; 'Afternoon of a Moax' was also called 'Shake, Rattle 'n Roll' ('moax' was a southern term for a square); 'Wild Mab of the Fish Pond' was for guitarist Bus Etri, whose nickname was Wild Mab: one night after a hotel gig some of his colleagues put him in the hotel's fountain. (Barnet's nickname later became Mad Mab. Etri and trumpeter Lloyd Hundling were killed in a car crash in 1941, a personal blow to Barnet, who could not bear to hire another guitarist for months.) Ray Noble's 'Cherokee' was arranged by trumpeter Billy May; it was Barnet's biggest hit and became his theme, which is no doubt partly why the tune (with its wide-open chords, like 'I Got Rhythm') became a favourite vehicle for modern jazzmen.
The band contained no world-famous soloists during its classic period, but always good sidemen, such as May and Bobby Burnet on trumpets, and reedman-arranger Lloyd 'Skippy' Martin, who also played clarinet (for instance on 'Leapin' at the Lincoln'). The Barnet band represented a peak in the quality of mainstream popular music that has not been exceeded, demonstrating for all time that a high average level of musicianship was more important than stars. All these arrangements were extremely well played, and never fail to swing. Again and again there are felicitous touches on the recordings, for example the tasty Ellingtonian harmony of the trumpets at the end of 'Rockin' in Rhythm'. In Barnet's saxophone solo after the false ending on 'Leapin' at the Lincoln' he starts so high that he sounds like Martin coming back on clarinet, then drops several octaves in four or five notes. (Or is it Martin coming back on clarinet? It is done so seamlessly that it's impossible to tell!) The swinging out-chorus, written by May, quotes Gershwin.
When playing 'Cherokee' in concert, the band improvised at some length; a sort of part two was recorded as 'Redskin Rhumba' (and there was also 'Comanche War Dance'). 'Pompton Turnpike' was written by Dick Rogers and trombonist-bandleader Will Osborne. Barnet led the band on soprano saxophone on this blues-flavoured instrumental; it celebrated Route 23 in New Jersey, the Newark-Pompton Turnpike, where the Meadowbrook was located, one of the most popular dance halls of the era. As with the other bands, many of Barnet's hits were by the vocalists. Mary Ann McCall sang 'Between 18th and 19th on Chestnut Street' (also by Rogers and Osborne) and 'Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga' (but was a better singer later, with Woody Herman). 'I Hear a Rhapsody' was sung by Bob Carroll.
'Blue Juice' may have been named after the band's bus; 'The Bar is Now Open' was another Horace Henderson tune. In October 1939 when the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles burned to the ground, the band lost almost everything, but Barnet's priorities were always in the right place: according to George T. Simon his comment was, 'Hell, it's better than being in Poland, with bombs dropping on your head.' Count Basie and Benny Carter lent arrangements, and one of the first new Barnet charts was called 'Are We Burnt Up?' Over the years Barnet employed more black artists than any other white leader, and without any fanfare, or even thinking about it. The only question was, 'How well does the guy play?' He simply did not bother to perform in places where there was going to be difficulty with an integrated band. As early as 1936 he hired trumpeter Frankie Newton and bass player John Kirby; among those who passed through were Benny Carter, Rex Stewart, Charlie Shavers, Trummy Young, Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry and Willie Smith, and vocalists Bunny Briggs (who later sang Ellington's Sacred Music) and the wonderful Lena Horne. Her lovely version of 'You're My Thrill' in 1941 featured Barnet on soprano saxophone. In 1965 she wrote: 'as far as color was concerned, it just never came up ... I just felt safe with him.'
Barnet moved from Bluebird to Decca in 1943, and as the Second World War no doubt disrupted his lineup, the number of Barnet hits declined; but 'Skyliner' in 1945 became one of his most famous instrumentals (another 'Dale Bennett' chart), and 'Cement Mixer (Put-ti, Put-ti)' was one of several hit versions of Slim Gaillard's novelty. He later made innovative records for Capitol, using arrangers such as Johnny Richards, Neal Hefti, Kai Winding, Gil Fuller and Tiny Kahn. His autobiography Those Swinging Years (1984, written with Stanley Dance) is full of candour and enjoyable anecdotes, and provides trenchant commentary on the reasons for the withering of the Big Band Era.
Trombonist Wilber Schwichtenberg had played with Red Nichols and Ray Noble; he changed his name to Will Bradley when he formed a band in 1940 (co-led by drummer Ray McKinley, who had worked for the Dorsey brothers). One of its first recordings was 'Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar', a two-sided hit at the height of the boogie-woogie fad, soon followed by 'Down the Road a Piece', a trio record, both with Freddie Slack on piano. Later came 'Scrub Me Mama, with A Boogie Beat', and more of the same; but it was a good, slick band. The hits included 'Celery Stalks at Midnight', yet another Swing Era riff; a copy of that 78 was memorably smashed by morons in the film The Blackboard Jungle (1955).
Given the quality of Barnet's music, and the stiff competition from the likes of Goodman and Dorsey, the phenomenon of trombonist-arranger Glenn Miller needs some explaining. Miller was far and away the most successful leader of the entire era. His time at the top was short, because he died in the English Channel on his way to entertain troops in newly liberated France, but he still managed to become the seventh best-selling recording artist of the whole period 1892-1954: with more than seventy top ten hits between July 1939 and September 1943, his success will probably never be equalled. Yet he was a tense individual who dealt in formulas, and seemed to avoid allowing his band to swing. (Tenor saxophonist Al Klink said years later, 'We were too scared to swing.') Miller did not acquire a first-rate rhythm section until he led an Army Air Force band. Much later Billy May, who left Barnet to join Miller because the money was better, told George T. Simon, 'The only man I ever knew him to be envious of was Kay Kyser, because he was the only bandleader making more money than Glenn was.' After the war May joked in a letter to Klink: 'Adolph Hitler is alive and playing Fender bass with Glenn Miller in Argentina.'
Born in Iowa (like Bix), Miller was not a great soloist, and some say he would have given up all his success to be a top-class jazzman. He appeared to have difficulty in expressing himself emotionally, and his employees often did not know whether he liked their work or not. Yet (like Goodman) he was capable of unexpected kindness, and he kept an eye on the ticket prices at the ballrooms and theatres, refusing to allow his young fans to be ripped off. When Barnet fronted Miller's band while Miller was ill, he would have done it for nothing, but Miller insisted on paying him generously. (When Barnet did a similar favour for Goodman, the latter gave him a cigarette lighter with an engraved inscription that had been altered; somebody else had given Goodman the lighter, and furthermore, said Barnet, it didn't work.)
Miller played trombone and wrote arrangements for Ben Pollack (1924-8) and Red Nichols (1929-30). The Charleston Chasers, a Columbia pick-up group, was basically Red Nichols's outfit from 1925 to 1929; for its last recording session in 1931 an eleven-piece band was directed by Benny Goodman, including Miller, Gene Krupa and Charlie and Jack Teagarden, and Miller wrote some special lyrics for one of Teagarden's several recordings of 'Basin Street Blues'. Goodman and Miller also played together in the pit bands for Gershwin shows. Miller added business management to his tasks while working with Smith Ballew (1932-4). Ballew, a handsome pop singer, led a successful band, employing first-rate talent, and had several big hits on various ARC labels from 1929 to 1931; on recordings his band was often the Pollack gang, moonlighting again. (Ballew later went to Hollywood, and the rumour persists that Ballew's voice was dubbed when a studio tried to make a singing cowboy out of John Wayne.) In 1934-5 Miller worked for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra, where his accomplishments included writing and singing some amusing novelty lyrics on 'Annie's Cousin Fanny'.
The excellent British songwriter and bandleader Ray Noble, whose records sold well in the USA, decided to move there. The USA musicians' union would not allow him to bring his band, so he brought vocalist Al Bowlly and one or two others, and hired Miller to assemble an American band. Noble had big hits in America every year between 1931 and 1949, except for a couple of years during the war; Miller helped him from 1935 to 1937, when Miller formed his own first band. Noble's lovely recording of his own song, 'The Very Thought of You', was an international hit in 1934 and featured Bowlly. (Born in what is now Maputo in Mozambique of Greek and Lebanese parents, Bowlly soon returned to London, where he was killed, not by the famous German bomb that hit the Cafe De Paris in March 1941, killing West Indian bandleader Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson along with many others, but by another bomb a few weeks later.) Noble's HMV discs, made in England, were admired by engineers in the USA for their excellent sound; part of the secret turned out to be that the band was recorded in a sizeable room at some distance from the microphone, rather than in the typically cramped studios of U.S. record companies, some of which were left over from the acoustic era.
Miller made a mark with 'Solo Hop' in 1935, using some of Noble's men. His own first band went broke, but late in 1938 he was recording for Bluebird with a new band, using his pretty 'sound' (a clarinet lead over the reed section) and the familiar 'oo-wah' of the muted brass. He was a huge hit at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York, a popular ballroom where leaders played for less money because of the room's radio wire. Miller's long-time associate Chummy MacGregor was not a first-class pianist; Herman 'Trigger' Alpert was a good bass player, but the various occupants of the band's drum chair never added up to much. Klink was an excellent saxophonist, but Miller's favourite (and the band's star) was Gordon 'Tex' Beneke, a vocalist whose distinctive Texas drawl was invaluable on many of the hits. Beneke was not as good a saxophonist as Klink, yet Miller featured him instead. Miller was the sort of businessman who thought that talent ran in families: Ray Eberle was not as good a singer as his brother Bob Eberly, while Marion Hutton (younger sister of singer and film star Betty Hutton, the 'blonde bombshell') often had trouble singing in tune. The band's vocal group was the Modernaires. On the band's broadcasts Miller's medley theme was 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'.
Miller's first big hit was his theme, 'Moonlight Serenade', originally called 'Now I Lay Me Down to Weep', a simple, saccharine tune played at a dirge-like tempo, and loaded with the clarinet lead. The uptempo numbers were often absurdly clunky records: 'Runnin' Wild' was first played by Art Hickman (and was sung by Marilyn Monroe in the film Some Like It Hot in 1959); Miller's 'Anvil Chorus' was a two-sided 78 based on the tune from Verdi's Il Trovatore: both were stinkers. Another 1939 hit was 'Little Brown Jug', a good arrangement by Bill Finegan given a lumpy recorded performance. (It is moved to 1944 in the 1954 film biography, because the poverty of the script needed to make a gimmick of it.) A great many of the Miller hits are unremarkable renditions of popular songs of the day, such as 'Wishing Will Make It So', 'Stairway to the Stars', 'Fools Rush In' and the inevitable 'Stardust'.
So why the enormous success? Why was one of the great peaks in popular music dominated by Glenn Miller? Why do millions of people still love his music, and why are more compilations of his recordings available today than almost anyone else's?
To begin with, despite the importance of the phenomenon of swing in music, it does not matter at all to many people, and in 1939 its lesson had definitely not been mastered by all the musicians. To put it another way, a lot of people still clapped on one and three, and things are not much different in the next century. Barnet was certain, on the basis of personal experience, that most people cannot tell good playing from bad, let alone what swing is. Also, Miller had decided not to compete directly with Goodman, Dorsey or Barnet, but to build an essentially sweet dance band that could also be defined as a 'swing band', so that he topped polls in both categories. There was an integrity to the sweetness, and the band was superbly reliable. Miller was a stickler for dynamics in performance, for example ('Observe the markings!' he would remind the musicians), so that the kids always got the sound they expected, and many of them bought a new Miller record, whatever it was. The arrangements too were reliable, often predictable but sometimes outstanding. And finally, the choice of material was nothing less than brilliant from a commercial point of view. Miller's achievement was to sum up popular music, as Whiteman had done earlier: each bandleader sounded to his contemporaries as if he were at the centre of it. 'Little Brown Jug' was a very old and familiar tune, and 'American Patrol', while it seems like a wartime novelty now, was in fact a march first published in 1885, and was probably vaguely familiar to Miller's audience. (The hit recording is considerably less disappointing than that of 'Little Brown Jug'.) 'Moon Love' was adapted from Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. In 'Yes, My Darling Daughter', adapted by Jack Lawrence from a Ukrainian folksong, Hutton asks the leading questions and the band chants the title's answer. 'Ida (Sweet as Apple Cider)' had already been made famous by Eddie Cantor, among others, and sounded like a quintessentially American song. (In Britain cider is an alcoholic drink, but in the USA it is just apple juice.) Billy May wrote an arrangement of 'Ida' that set Beneke's vocal against that of the band, but Miller would not use it; the swing choir was not part of his formula.
There were film songs ('Over the Rainbow', 'When You Wish Upon a Star'), radio themes ('You and I', a number one hit, was the Maxwell House Coffee-time theme, written by Meredith Willson) and sweet Latin songs ('Adios', 'Perfidia', 'Say "Si Si"'); many tunes were forever associated with Miller because of the sweet innocence of their lyrics, for example 'Elmer's Tune' and 'Moonlight Cocktail' (the tune written by stride pianist Luckey Roberts). Several other bands and recording artists with undoubted musical skills, from Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk to James Last and Barry Manilow, have been excoriated by critics for their perceived shortcomings, but to know your market as well as Miller did is an impressive accomplishment.
As in most of the other white bands, riffs were borrowed from black ones, such as Erskine Hawkins's 'Tuxedo Junction' (which is not a bad record, and a head arrangement, very different from Hawkins's own), and one of the biggest hits of the century, 'In the Mood'. A riff is a repeated rhythmic figure that suggests interesting harmonic ideas to the soloists. Among the most charming riffs are the simplest, such as Leonard and Barnet's 'Southern Fried', mentioned above. Most of the Swing Era tunes celebrating dance halls and hotel ballrooms arc little more than riffs: 'Stomping at the Savoy', 'Jumping at the Woodside', 'Riffing at the Ritz' and so forth. 'In the Mood' had appeared on several earlier recordings, such as Wingy Manone's 'Tar Paper Stomp' (1930) and Horace Henderson's arrangement 'Hot and Anxious', which was recorded by Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman (at very different tempos: Henderson's is slower, Redman's hotter). The venerable British journalist C. H. Rolph was certain that he heard the riff played by a cinema orchestra before 1920. Edgar Hayes was a black pianist and bandleader whose saxophonist Joe Garland wrote an entire arrangement consisting of nothing but the riff, naming it 'In the Mood'; it appeared in 1938 on the flip side of Hayes's record of 'Stardust' (which would have made the black chart, had there been one at the time). Barnet turned it down, but Miller recorded it within a few months. If you are going to exercise a riff for most of the length of a 78rpm side, you have to make it swing; otherwise a riff like 'In the Mood', which carries repetition to an extreme, soon becomes irritating. Among the differences between the two recordings was the fact that Hayes's drummer was the young Kenny Clarke. Despite Clyde Hurley's trumpet solo, and the famous 'chase' sequence between Klink and Beneke on tenor, Miller's version sounds like a bright-eyed and energetic imitation of swing. There are much better Miller recordings that are rarely heard -- 'Sliphorn Jive', written by Eddie Durham, comes to mind -- but you can hardly buy a Miller compilation without 'In the Mood' on it.
It is too bad that Miller's records are not better ones, yet a few of them hold up as well as almost any from the period. 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' and '(I've Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo' were both written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the Miller films Orchestra Wives and Sun Valley Serenade. Miller saw to it that the story line incorporated the band, rather than a mere appearance by it, making them better than average films of their kind. 'Choo Choo' was the first record to be formally certified a million-seller, serving notice to the business that the Depression was over at last; RCA invented the gold record gimmick for Miller. 'Don't Sit under the Apple Tree (with Anybody Else but Me)', written in 1942 by Lew Brown, Charlie Tobias and Sam H. Stept, is the sort of song which seems always to have existed until somebody plucked it out of the air, almost a good pop song of the nineteenth century. These three continued selling for years; all were jolly arrangements, well played and with a full complement of vocalists, and all were about travel and parting, the admixture of trains and place names helping to cheer up the nation during a world war: they were good pop records, and they still are.
On the other side of 'Moonlight Serenade' was Frankie Carle's 'Sunrise Serenade', also a slow, smoochy instrumental and a top ten hit, but a much better tune, a pretty arrangement and taken at a slightly faster tempo. 'Song of the Volga Boatmen' (cleverly arranged by Finegan) and 'String of Pearls' (Jerry Gray) are unique. All three of these very different sides are among Miller's best recordings; the tempos are just right and the rhythm section plays slightly behind the beat, rather than on top of it. 'String of Pearls' included solos by Beneke, Klink and Ernie Caceres, and a cornet solo by Bobby Hackett. (Critics were irritated that Miller hired the great cornettist to play guitar, but he admired Hackett, and hired him on guitar initially because he was having lip trouble at the time.)
Miller joined the United States Army Air Force as a captain and rose to major. When he was sent to England to entertain troops, the BBC wanted him to play everything at the same volume, to make it easier to broadcast, so he broadcast on the Armed Services Network instead. Robert Farnon led a Canadian band, and George Melachrino a British one. There are those who say that Farnon's was the best, but Miller had finally put together a good rhythm section: Alpert on bass, Ray McKinley on drums and Mel Powell on piano. Miller's contribution to morale was enormous, and he insisted on putting on extra shows wherever the crush was too great to allow everyone in. From the early days he had ensured that broadcasts were recorded; the USAAF band issued no recordings at the time, but Miller broadcasts have been endlessly recycled ever since. When he was lost on his way to France, flying in terrible winter weather in a small plane with no de-icing equipment, he was forty years old. His was one of the most successful sounds in the history of pop.
Klink later said, 'Miller should have lived and the music should have died.' Miller ghost bands have continued touring, with the cooperation of the estate; they were seen on UK television on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. The best of these in musical terms was Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra led by Beneke until 1947, when he fell out with the estate, perhaps because he did not want to stick to the Miller formula for ever. (The estate got even by seeing to it that he was not even mentioned in the film biography of 1954.)
One of Beneke's most interesting sides was 'Lavender Coffin', about the last wishes of a gambler, which he sang accompanied by a vocal group; the arrangement was a clever one, its laid-back jive and hand-claps on the beat reminiscent of 'Volga Boatman'. Interestingly, it was a cover of a rhythm and blues tune, written by Shirley Albert, which was a top ten hit in the black chart by Boston saxophonist Paul 'Fat Man' Robinson in 1949; other recordings of it were made by Lionel Hampton and Joe Thomas, the former vocalist and reedman with Lunceford. Cover versions of rhythm and blues songs would soon become more numerous; new independent labels and other changes in the business were making sure that popular music was mutating by 1949, whether the Miller estate liked it or not.