Music Album Review: ‘The Essential Glenn Miller’ (2005)

(C) 2005 Sony BMG Music Entertainment

Rating: 5 out of 5.

He was neither an outstanding soloist nor showman nor an original composer. Instead Miller’s personality combined idealism with a formidable work ethic in a soul that was deeply musical. – Mike Plaskett, in the liner notes for The Essential Glenn Miller

Boy, the way Glenn Miller played
songs that made the hit parade…. –
Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Those Were the Days, theme song for All in the Family

On June 25, 2005, Sony’s Bluebird/Legacy label released The Essential Glenn Miller, a two-disc compilation album of Big Band era music performed by trombonist/bandleader Glenn Miller and the two ensembles he led between 1939 and 1944 – The Glenn Miller Orchestra and Glenn Miller & the Army Air Force Band.

Glenn Miller defined a genre. Big Band jazz performed by Miller was sparkling, romantic and definitely not out of the same old dance-band tool kit. It was more. It was like a miracle. The sound that band could make was simply overwhelming, stunningly gorgeous. It lit you up inside, made you want to hold your girl in your arms really close, made you think that the world was made for love and that it would all never end. This essential collection of all of Miller’s most popular hits will bring you back to one of the most romantic eras of music. – back cover blurb, The Essential Glenn Miller

Image Credit: Public Domain

Produced by Barry Feldman for this reissue and mastered by Doug Pomeroy, The Essential Glenn Miller presents 38 tracks – 19 on each CD – recorded by Miller and two bands between April 1939 and April 1944. Happily, Feldman and Pomeroy don’t follow the strict release order of the songs; Moonlight Serenade, which was recorded on April 4, 1939, nearly four months before In the Mood, is saved to bring the curtain down on The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s commercial recordings before raising it on the section devoted to Miller’s 1942-1944 stint as leader of The Army Air Force Band.

Tracklist
1-1 In the Mood 3:36
1-2 Tuxedo Junction 3:26
1-3 Serenade in Blue 3:25
1-4 Blueberry Hill 2:51
1-5 (I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo 3:14
1-6 Moon Love 2:52
1-7 Over the Rainbow 2:28
1-8 Stairway to the Stars 2:50
1-9 Little Brown Jug 2:48
1-10 A String of Pearls 3:13
1-11 Juke Box Saturday Night 3:03
1-12 The Woodpecker Song 2:32
1-13 When You Wish Upon a Star 2:51
1-14 Imagination 2:47
1-15 The Booglie Wooglie Piggy 3:23
1-16 Moonlight Cocktail 3:15
1-17 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 3:39
1-18 Blue Rain 3:09
1-19 Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar 3:04
2-1 Pennsylvania 6-5000 3:12
2-2 Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me) 3:10
2-3 Elmer’s Tune 3:06
2-4 Chattanooga Choo Choo 3:26
2-5 The Story of a Starry Night 3:28
2-6 At Last 3:03
2-7 American Patrol 3:16
2-8 Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread) 2:31
2-9 The Nearness of You 3:11
2-10 Blue Orchids 2:52
2-11 Song of the Volga Boatmen 3:23
2-12 Moonlight Serenade 3:22
2-13 Over There 2:00
2-14 The St. Louis Blues March 4:25
2-15 Peggy, The Pin Up Girl 3:21
2-16 Along the Santa Fe Trail 3:18
2-17 Mission to Moscow 2:31
Medley (8:47)
2-18a Londonderry Air (Danny Boy)
2-18b Shoo-Shoo Baby
2-18c The Way You Look Tonight
2-18d Beautiful Blue Danube
2-19 G.I. Jive 3:09

The idea behind The Essential Glenn Miller is not to trace the brilliant if prematurely ended career of Glenn Miller (his small UC-94 Norseman disappeared over the English Channel on December 15, 1944 with then-Major Miller, pilot John R.S. Morgan, and another U.S. Army officer) in chronological order.

Instead, this double album seeks to introduce the era-defining trombonist/bandleader to modern listeners. The Essential Glenn Miller is geared mostly music fans – like me, for instance – who were born after World War II and have only heard American Patrol, Serenade in Blue, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and the seemingly cliched Moonlight Serenade in old movies or documentaries about World War II. Its track listing allows us to browse through Miller’s parade of hits from 1940, 1941, and 1942 and discover the glorious synergy of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and vocalists such as Ted Beneke, Ray Eberle (who sings Blueberry Hill, which predates the better-known cover by Fats Domino by 16 years, Marion Hutton, and The Modernaires. The Essential Glenn Miller thus is a mix of purely instrumental numbers and instrumental-with-vocals performances.

Most (31) of the tracks (19 on CD 1, 12 on CD 2) cover the last three years of Miller’s stint with The Glenn Miler Orchestra, while the last seven were recorded by Major Glenn Miller and the morale-boosting ensemble he put together for the military – The Army Air Force Band.

“We didn’t come here to set any fashions in music. We merely came to bring a much-needed touch of home to some lads who have been here a couple of years.” – Glenn Miller to George Simon from England in 1944

In these last seven tracks – Over There, The St. Louis March, Peggy the Pin-Up Girl, Along the Santa Fe Trail, Mission to Moscow, and – especially – the Medley, those of us who live in the 21st Century get a musical time capsule to an era where the doom and gloom of a global war were the backdrop for what many consider the most romantic era of American pop music.  

Peggy, is that you? Image by Please Don’t sell My Artwork AS IS from Pixabay 

Along with the two compact discs, The Essential Glenn Miller comes with an insert (which doubles as the album’s front cover) with a detailed tracklist and an essay by the host of Rhythm Sweet & Hot, Mike Plaskett.

The first four pages of the insert list the songs in the tracklist and provide information such as who composed each track, soloists, vocalists (when applicable), recording dates, and original releases. Plaskett’s essay – part of which was quoted in the album’s back cover blurb – is a loving reflection on Miller’s style, musical philosophy, his impact on American jazz and the Big Band era, and his musical legacy.

The hallmark of the Glenn Miller sound was a distinctive sax section voicing featuring a clarinet playing the melody or lead part. Other bands occasionally used a clarinet lead but not with Miller’s crafty harmonization and not with the same player teamwork. Miller’s reed style also employed dozens of combinations from five saxes to five clarinets and every variation in between. Moreover, during a given piece the band’s brass section tones could change from moment to moment.  Observant dancers might notice the trumpeters and trombonists placing a virtual parade of differently-shaped mutes into the bells of their instruments, producing anything from a metallic pinpoint of sound to a soft, pastel glow to a muffled bark. – Mike Plaskett

In The Essential Glenn Miller, fans – old and new – get a cornucopia of music that transports them to an era where ballads and dance tunes were antidotes for the bleakness, savagery, and sadness of World War II. The music in the 38 tracks is in turns innocent, glorious, romantic, joyful, sentimental, cheerful, and elegant, and it cheered millions of people in the Allied nations who were caught up in the “mighty endeavor” of defeating the Axis in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific either on the battlefield or on the all-important home front.  

If you’ve never owned a Glenn Miller record, or even if you have a stack of reissues of his recordings on the Bluebird label, The Essential Glenn Miller is definitely worth adding to your music library.

As Plaskett writes in his essay:

Miller possessed rare musical imagination and taste, and he could use them with extraordinary skill and strength. That’s what it took to pull together a group of musical free spirits and shape them into a shining young orchestra that swept everything before them – and whose echoes here in a later century still charm us and touch our hearts.

Truly, this is the musical stuff that dreams are made of.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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