Glenn Miller - Cafe Rouge - 1940

Glenn Miller - at the time the most popular band leader in America - over time; controversy.

Glenn Miller And His Orchestra – On The Air – 1940 – Past Daily Downbeat

Glenn Miller - Cafe Rouge - 1940
Glenn Miller – at the time, the most popular band leader in America – over time; controversy.

Glenn Miller and His Orchestra – Live at Cafe Rouge – Hotel Pennsylvania, New York – November 23, 1940 – NBC Red Network – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

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Glenn Miller – probably one of the most popular (and certainly one of the biggest selling) artists of the Swing era. Fans were legion and his music became the centerpiece for all things nostalgia in the 1940s. His was a popularity that few could rival at the time.

However, over time critical assessments have been made and the debate has raged over whether or not the music of Glenn Miller could actually be considered Jazz, a hybrid of Jazz or not at all Jazz, but what would become known as mainstream Popular music.

Probably all those assessments are valid. As a kid, and just getting into music, Miller’s records were part of my household as I am sure just about every kid growing up in America in the 1950s was as well. And I always enjoyed his instrumentals – over the years they have shared the turntable with Dizzy Gillespie, MJQ, King Pleasure and on and on. Miller’s vocal recordings; not so much -I could never really get into them and still find them cringeworthy in places. It’s just me – I am sure there are legions of detractors for that as well. Just a matter of taste.

But I am reminded that Jazz is a pretty big and all-inclusive tent and that fans of the more mainstream form have had notable champions over the years. I remember reading that Charlie Parker was a huge fan of Guy Lombardo and that Louis Armstrong took Miller’s records with him on the road.

Miller’s music has been criticized for being cold and antiseptic – that it was the result of over-rehearsal and nothing left for improvisation. That there was a rigid quality for a form noted for its freedom.

But here’s the deal; to quote Igor Stravinsky: “Real Freedom is achieved once the restrictions are set up”. Miller’s dogged sense of perfection could also be seen as a springboard for Bop; a direct reaction to strict formalism and a revolution in how music was viewed and performed. Would there be a Miles Davis and John Coltrane if there was no Glenn Miller? Hard to answer, but I suspect; no. Why? Because Miller represented the strict adherence to the written note and Miles and Coltrane saw the glimmers of light in between. I don’t know if there would be one without the other. But I think you have to be aware of one in order to appreciate the other.

All that said, here’s an example of the band in a live setting – giving an indication just how popular they were at the time. But also being live, there are gaffs and missed notes; always interesting side-lights in a live performance versus a studio one. So this can be listened to on a lot of levels – as pure nostalgia – as a glimpse of a different time – as an example of where music was and how it evolved from that point – to what arrangement can do and is capable of. A lot of things.

So that’s why I always ask to keep an open mind and not take everything on face value – with music, as with any art form, there is no single point of view. And checking this out, it might give you ideas.


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