12/10/2004

Musical Influences Top 10: #11 - Glenn Miller

OK, so it may be cheating to start a top 10 with number 11, but Glenn Miller died about 11 years before I was born, so his influence is mostly posthumous. Well, entirely posthumous to be technically correct.

Born in 1955, my conscious growing up was done entirely in the sixties. We had a behemoth of a stereo system known as a "radiogram", sort of a cross between a record player and a credenza. Looked like furniture, but, hey, it played records too!

My mother was the record fiend, and I think she had three. There was Australian crooner Frank Ifield (Oh, Frank, how "I Remember You"). The second was the Syd Lawrence Orchestra, a Glenn Miller soundalike band, and for the life of me I can't remember what the third one was. Probably the Sound of Music soundtrack.

These three records got heavy airplay at the weekends and so I heard In the Mood, String of Pearls, Moonlight Serenade and Chattanooga Choo Choo a million times over the course of the decade. Then there was the movie, The Glenn Miller Story. Miller was played by the charming Jimmy Stewart who managed to put a shiny smooth gloss on Miller's character. When I first saw it I was too young and naive to realize that the hints of irritable perfectionist that Stewart conveyed were writ much larger in real life.

But oh my God, what wondrous music it was, and remains to this day. The sax and clarinet emphasis that gave Miller that smooth, buttery sound is still recognizable 50 years later in about three notes. The fact that I cut my teeth listening to a British hack Miller cover band doesn't even detract from the memory. It did, however, make finding the original Miller recordings later in life much more rewarding. Who knew there were so many other songs? Who knew the raw material was so much, well, rawer? The other difference was that the Syd Lawrence band was, as far as I remember, 100% instrumental. Finding the vocals of Tex Beneke and the Andrews Sisters later was incredible.

I'm sure my love of instrumental music stems from this early influence. Even now I don't really care too much about lyrics, and certainly my first impression of a new song is invariably how it strikes me musically. Lyrics are for digesting later. Maybe that's why I'm not a big fan of hymns - the melodies are plodding and repetitive and we use the same tune over and over for different hymns. After all, sing one 8.7.7.8.7.7. hymn and you've sung them all. And Miller, if nothing else, was an innovator. Finding a distinctive sound has been a must for commercial success in the music biz through the ages, but he succeeded beyond even his own wildest dreams.

Well, Captain Glenn Miller, lost in an inauspicious airplane accident over the English Channel in December 1944 (conspiracy theories notwithstanding), you made an indelible impression on me decades after your death and I thank you for your contribution to musical ingenuity. Now, if only somebody, anybody, had even thought to encourage me to learn an instrument back then...

Comments:
I think the idea of a top-10-musical influences list is a cool one. A song by one of my top-10's, Peter Paul & Mary, says it best:

"Music speaks louder than words -
It's the only thing that the whole world listens to,
Music speaks louder than words -
When we sing, people understand."

My earliest influences were evenly split between classical music and folk music. I found classical music double-dosed, though, because I heard the albums (yes, I'm old enough to have "done vinyl") but I also heard it on "Tom & Jerry" and "The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Show"...

All my life, my life has been tightly intertwined with my personal "soundtrack" - what Michael Card would call "the rhythm and rhyme of the poem of your life." So though I don't share your enthusiasm for Glenn Miller, I certainly understand it.

It would also be interesting to hear the emotions that go with certain songs or performers. Long before Tom Cruise said it, I knew I had "a need for SPEED" from listening to REO Speedwagon's "Roll With the Changes" and "Ridin' the Storm Out." "Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity" from "The Planets" always reminded me of the grandeur of the cosmos. And every Christmas, I am assured that outside of the angels on the *first* Christmas, no one can put any more "JOY" into "Joy to the World" than Lady Soul, Aretha Franklin's version of it.

I can't wait to hear the rest of your list...
 
when I was at Cambridge, I played (upright bass) in a Miller-style swing band. It is riotously good fun - the kind of music that even while you're playing it makes you want to get up and dance at the same time.
 
Mmmmm - what a great choice! My Dad was a huge Glenn Miller fan - he loved all the big bands, but Miller especially. I remember hearing "In the Mood" around the house, and my Dad tapping his toe, or solo jitterbugging. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was another one.

That music was so great - huge energy and great harmonies. It was thick and rich and really a lot of fun. I think it got a lot of people through the war years.

Great idea to do a list like this - I'll be looking forward to the countdown.

;-)
 
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