Early bird tickets for Baltimore’s BEST party on sale now!

Glenn Miller Orchestra to swing into Turf Valley with big band memories 'Mystique' cited for its longevity


The swing music of the 1930s and 1940s elicits memories of a generation when everything was big -- the bands, the dancing and even the war.

It was a time when many people stepped out regularly to smoke-filled supper clubs and danced to songs in which trumpets and saxophones played lead, and romance and optimism was often the music's only message.

For those who yearn for the sounds of big band music, Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club in Ellicott City will present the Glenn Miller Orchestra in a dance concert next weekend.

The band, which was reorganized in 1956, travels the world playing the arrangements of its founder, the late Glenn Miller, who put together the original band in 1938.

The 20-member orchestra, which features five saxophone players, four trumpeters, four trombonists, three rhythm musicians and two vocalists, will perform several of the Miller standards, including "In The Mood" and "String of Pearls," and Tommy Dorsey's "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

But the concert will open and close with the orchestra's theme song, the soft and romantic "Moonlight Serenade."

Miller's original ballad was the first of his songs to feature the "sound" that distinguished his band from the others.

"Every band pretty much had its own distinctive style," said bandleader Larry O'Brien. "The hallmark of the Count Basie Orchestra was that he would always start out with a piano introduction. Tommy Dorsey had his trombone."

The Miller sound is a double clarinet lead. "The clarinet is on top while the tenor saxophone is playing a double melody -- the same notes -- an octave down," Mr. O'Brien explained.

Yet, some of the better known songs, such as "In the Mood" and "String of Pearls," do not have a clarinet lead.

In 1941, the orchestra sold more hit records than any of its contemporaries.

At the height of the orchestra's popularity, when he was 38, Miller disbanded the orchestra to join the Army. In 1942 he formed the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.

Two years later, as Miller flew from London to Paris to set up his band at Allied bases, his plane went down over the English Channel.

When the war ended, the military band, under Ray McKinley, was disbanded, and the civilian band was reorganized as the "Glenn Miller Band Under the Direction of Tex Beneke."

The group toured for four years until Mr. Beneke, who had played saxophone for Miller, wanted to name the band after himself. Miller's wife, Helen, objected, and the band folded.

In 1956, when the movie "The Glenn Miller Story," with Jimmy Stewart in the title role, renewed interest in Miller, Mrs. Miller decided to reorganize a band.

Mr. O'Brien became its head from 1981 to 1983 and then returned in 1988.

The band plays 48 weeks a year, five times a week, throughout the world. It has performed annually in Japan for 26 years.

"The movie was a big hit there," said Mr. O'Brien, who, like Miller, plays trombone. "When I went there in 1981, the people gave me gifts and ceramics of Jimmy Stewart.

"American music was always popular there. The Japanese are fond of 'Danny Boy' and romantic tunes like 'Stardust' and 'When You Wish Upon A Star.' "

A Japanese company even produced two of the band's records. "The Japanese are interested in products that will be around for a while," Mr. O'Brien said.

In England, the Glenn Miller Society sponsors recitals, playing Miller's old records.

"Glenn was a big morale booster in England during World War II," Mr. O'Brien said.

"Winston Churchill said he is 'one of our biggest propaganda factors of war.' "

Next month, the band will head to South America.

But the band also attracts local fans.

About four years ago, the orchestra performed a New Year's Eve show for Maryland Public Television, featuring Rosemary Clooney.

"Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke was there," Mr. O'Brien said. "He's a big fan of the band. Sometimes he shows up when we play. Johnny Unitas is also a big fan, and he also sometimes comes" to the performances.

The orchestra has performed at Turf Valley four times a year for the past four years. "It's always a sellout," said Kelly Quinlan, the hotel's marketing assistant.

Mr. O'Brien attributes the longevity of the band to what he calls the "Glenn Miller mystique."

"It hasn't died," he said. "Among the young people, not everybody will know Count Basie's 'One O'Clock Jump' or Harry James' 'Cheerie Beerie Bim,' but they will know Glenn Miller's 'In The Mood.' "

Several factors are responsible for the continued interest in Miller, Mr. O'Brien said:

"Glenn joined the Army; he didn't have to. He put together a band that has yet to be equaled; it was self-contained, had its own arrangers.

"He also bucked up the morale of the English. Finally, he disappeared mysteriously. No trace of the plane has been found."

Although several bands have tried to imitate "The Sound," none has succeeded.

"You could try to duplicate the formula, but that doesn't mean the results are the same," Mr. O'Brien said. "If the band didn't sound like the Glenn Miller Orchestra, it wouldn't be in business very long."

The Glenn Miller Orchestra Ballroom Dance will be May 28 fro 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club in Ellicott City. Tickets are $20.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad