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Glenn Miller and the Swing/Big Band Era

Glenn Miller led the most popular big band in the world during 1939-42 and the most beloved of all the swing-era orchestras. His big band played a wide variety of melodic music and had tremendous success in every area of music. He was with the group for two years, and put together an enjoyable and well-rounded show. Glenn Miller was a man who influenced bands greatly for years.
Alton Glenn Miller was born on March 1, 1904 in Clarinda Iowa. His family had a tendency to move frequently, to places such as North Platte, Nebraska, and Grant City, Oklahoma. It was in Grant City that Glenn bought his first trombone, at the age of 13. He earned the money by milking cows for $2 a week (Glenn Miller Biography).

Glenn attended high school in Fort Morgan, Colorado. He studied at the University of Colorado for 2 years. It was in college that his interest in music flourished. He continued to play the trombone, his favorite instrument. Even at his young age, he was good enough to play in the Boyd Senter Band in Denver. At that point his love for music took over. Miller dropped out of school and went to the west coast to try his luck at being a musician.
Miller played with many small bands until he had the opportunity to join Ben Pollack’s orchestra in 1926. At that time the band included such well-known musicians as
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Benny Goodman, Gill Robin, Fud Livingston, and Dick Morgan. In September of 1926, the Pollack Band went into the recording studios and worked on “When I First Met Mary” and “Deed I Do”. These were probably the first record arrangements that Glenn Miller wrote. He stayed with the band until it went to New York in 1928 (Glenn Miller Story).

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It was then that he married his early love, Helen Berger, and moved with her to Manhattan. In the coming years, he developed his talent by working with Red Nichols in pit orchestras, as Smith Ballew’s musical director, and with the Dorsey Brothers. In 1934, Miller helped form Ray Noble’s American Orchestra, which soon became popular through radio broadcasts. Miller was the lead trombonist and arranger.
In 1937, he left the band, and his own popularity among big band circles enabled him to form his own band, the Glenn Miller Orchestra. They brought out a few records, and went on tour, but the attempt was doomed from the start. He could not keep the orchestra together and had to let all but four musicians go. What Miller needed was his own trademark to distinguish him from the other bands. In 1938, with encouragement from friends, he gave it another try, and Miller built up his new orchestra on the basis of the four remaining musicians Hal McIntyre (alto), Rolly Bundock (bass), Chummy MacGregor (piano) and Bob Price (Glenn Miller Story). This time Miller was lucky enough to be supported by one of the most important agencies of the General Artists corporation and to obtain a record contract with RCA Victor’s Budget Bluebird Label. Glenn Miller again went on tour. At this time, he had the distinguishing characteristic in
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his music of having a clarinet double the sax melody an octave higher. Times nonetheless, were hard until the big breakthrough came in 1939.

The General Artist Corporation managed to get Miller an engagement at the Glen Island Casino New Rochelle. Glenn Miller’s time had come: on May 17 the band played its first night to a sold-out house and by the end of the engagements all box-office records had been broken.

From there they traveled to Baltimore at the beginning of September. At Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theater all records were again broken. The orchestra returned to New York and played in front at the largest audience in the city’s history at the New York State Fare. On September 9, he broke Guy Lombardo’s record attendance from the year 1931 and on October 6 helped Carnegie Hall to achieve new record receipts. The recording was also going full swing. Four records per week were being recorded by the orchestra. It was during this period, on April 4, that Miller’s signature


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