|Glenn Miller earned money to buy his first trombone by milking cows.
By 1920, when he was just sixteen years old, he was playing trombone in
dance bands. He enjoyed playing in several different bands and became fairly
well known, but he decided that he wanted his own band. Miller formed
his first band in 1937, using his musical ability and imagination, plus
his confidence and business skills. The first two years of the band were
By December, morale was the lowest ever. "One [trumpeter] could not
get to sleep at night until he'd had so much to drink that he would roll
off his bed and sleep on the floor." One member wrecked Glenn's car, and
other cars broke down. Probably the worst tragedy for the band was that
of the drummer Maurice Purtill leaving to play in New York. In January
of 1938, he decided that the band wasn't working, and they broke up.
March 1, 1939, Glenn was informed that his band was selected to play
at the Glen Island Casino. Miller was surprised, because his selection
was based on the performances at Paradise Restaurant, which he was not
exactly proud of. The Glen Island Casino gave the band its much-needed
success, after quitting there in late 1939, the band started to break records.
By 1940, the band was so successful that it could not fill all the dates
offered. They had an extremely busy schedule, playing three radio shows
a week, with rehearsals, five hours a night at the hotel, and four shows
a day at the Paramount. In addition, that summer they recorded more than
Many of the songs they recorded together have interesting histories.
For example, the group's theme song, "Moonlight Serenade" began in 1935
when Miller was working on a mathematical composition exercise. Mitchell
Parish wrote the final lyrics, which became "Moonlight Serenade," and was
recorded on the back side of the "Sunrise Serenade" record.
One of the most well remembered songs was "In the Mood." It was written
by Joe Garland, but it lasted eight minutes, too long to record. Miller
took the song and made his own arrangement to fit on one side of a record.
Chattanooga Choo-Choo." was just written for a movie, but sold over one
million copies, and Miller was presented with "a gold plated copy of his
record, and this became the prototype of the Gold Record now awarded by
the Record Industry Association of America for all million sellers.
After eight years of leading a band, as many bands do, Miller developed
his own distinct sound. "The miller 'sound' was a clarinet lead, with a
tenor sax - or saxes - playing the same melody one octave lower than the
clarinet." Other trademarks of his band included the steady brass section,
consisting of four trumpets and four trombones.
On September 27, 1942, Glenn Miller decided break up his band and
go to serve his country in the war. Once in the Air Force, he wanted to
assemble service bands to play marches and entertain troops, but found
the process difficult because of strict military politics. Eventually he
was assigned to the Army Air Forces Technical Training, where he did organize
a band. Miller wanted the band to go overseas, where the action was, and
the refusal with other military stress began to make him more irritable.
Once, he ordered his band to shave their moustaches, so they would look
like real soldiers. They did not like this, some of them had moustaches
for many years, and it made the wind instrument players change their technique.
Glenn was very stubborn. He insisted on going overseas and applied
for transfer using his full name, Alton Glenn Miller. Only then his application
was accepted. In the spring of 1944, the army sent a group of about sixty,
consisting of musicians, arrangers, producers, and announcers, to London,
England. The band began to play familiar tunes for the soldiers who needed
a taste of home. The band would have preferred to learn and play new songs,
just for some variety in the identical gigs. But Glenn knew what the soldiers
wanted to hear, and played it for them.
On December 15, 1944, Glenn Miller left in a plane for Paris, flying
over the English Channel, and was never seen again. There are now three
theories about how he died. The most accepted one states that the plane
crashed due to poor weather conditions. Another one thinks that the plane
was shot down by another plane of unknown identity flying higher than Miller's.
The third is that he arrived in Paris, only to die of a heart attack, and
the media made up the story of the plane crash to keep war morale up. We
will never know for sure.
After his death, "Tex Beneke, his first chair sax-man and vocalist
took over the band…Miller had finally became a musical success, yet his
orchestra lasted a scant 4 ½ years." Miller was just forty years
old at the time of his death, which ended all the grand plans he was making
for his band after the war. As said by George Simon in The Big Bands, "Of
all the outstanding popular dance bands, the one that evokes the most memories
of how wonderfully romantic it was, the one whose music people most want
to hear over and over, is the band of the late Glenn Miller."