It’s Miller time The Glen Miller Orchestra swings into town this month • By BARRY DAVIS Glenn Miller’s plane may have mysteriously dropped off the radar screen more than 70 years ago, but the legacy of his orchestra and compositions lives on.
In December 1944 the legendary bandleader and trombonist was on his way from England to France to entertain US troops when his plane disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel.
From 1939 to 1944, Miller was the world’s best-selling recording artist, and such was his popularity that his orchestra maintained a busy performing schedule long after his death.
For the last 30 years, a major part of the Miller flag-flying mantle, particularly in Europe, has been undertaken by the Glenn Miller Orchestra under the aegis of 65-yearold Dutch conductor and pianist Wil Salden. He first brought the definitively feel-good ensemble to these parts three years ago, and now he and the band are returning for two concerts: the Culture Palace (Charles Bronfman Auditorium) in Tel Aviv on October 12 and at the Congress Center in Haifa on October 13.
Although he was born six years after Miller vanished off the face of the Earth, Salden says he got into the infectious rhythms of Swing Era at an early age.
“Although I also was a Beatles fan, at the age of 12 I also was fascinated by all the big band stuff,” he says. “My favorites were Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Ella Fitzgerald.”
The Dutchman says he was taken with the Miller sound and also with the charisma of the man.
“From the beginning, I was fascinated by the Glenn Miller music, Glenn Miller as a person and his history as a bandleader,” he says.
Salden notes that Miller also knew how to enlist the help of topnotch support professionals to get his scores over in the best possible way.
“The arrangements he played were excellent. He was a clever bandleader working together with the best arrangers for this big band music: Billy May, Bill Finegan and Jerry Gray really were the best. Outstanding,” he says.
It seems that Miller was savvy both on and off the stage.
“This combination [with the arrangers] made this band very successful,” continues Salden.
“Glenn Miller also was a clever musician and businessman. He knew exactly what people wanted to hear.
He played well-known songs and, arranged by one of these three composers, a simple melody did sound great.”
The list of Miller smash hits makes for impressive reading. Tunes such as “Moonlight Serenade,” “Tuxedo Junction” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” sold in the millions and have maintained their timeless appeal over the years. “Tuxedo Junction” sold an unprecedented 120,000 copies in its first week and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” brought Miller his first Gold Record award.
Miller started out when Swingbased big bands were very much the order of the day, and there were quite a few large ensembles that were well set before he came on the scene.
However, Salden says that Miller managed to carve his own niche in the market sector, particularly because of an inspired instrumental choice.
“The Glenn Miller sound became very unique because, with the clarinet as leading instrument in the sax section, everyone could hear the difference between the Glenn Miller Orchestra and other big bands, such as [the ones led by] Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington.
Salden may run a hot show, but he never loses sight of the source. As far as he is concerned, there is no reason to tinker with the late jazz icon’s wares.
“Maybe I learned something about the way Glenn Miller gave his performances, regarding knowing what people want to hear. I am convinced about the fact that people are coming to hear the arrangements Glenn Miller played,” he observes, adding, “They probably would not buy tickets to hear compositions and arrangements written by Wil Salden. So we always play the original Glenn Miller arrangements.”
Miller’s concerts were not just a feast for the ears.
The bandleader and his combo boys put out plenty of energy on stage, and audiences the world over just lapped it up. Salden has bought into the visual packaging line and says he and his musicians enjoy their work and do their best to convey that along with their slick readings of the Miller charts.
“People enjoy our shows because we always have a lot of fun on stage, playing this wonderful Swing music. We have fun during the show, and there is a lot of action during our performances. We are on stage in a black tuxedo with a gray or red tie.”
Salden is also perfectly happy to stick to Miller’s orchestration format, too.
“Of course, we cannot change our instrumental lineup for different concerts because you have to play all the Glenn Miller songs as a big band, so we always need four trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones, plus rhythm section. And, of course, our singer.”
With more than 4,000 shows behind him, Salden has gained a keen understanding of how people from different cultures around the world respond to the Miller sound.
“The response from the audience is different in several countries we visit,” he notes. “People in Germany or Holland are rather quiet during the show, but at the end everyone is absolutely enthusiastic, and there are standing ovations. In the southern countries and in Eastern Europe, people are already showing their emotions at the beginning of the show.”
One might have thought that the Miller fan base largely comprises older people, but Salden says that, too, varies from place to place.
“I think that in Western European countries, the audience is older. In Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland, there are a lot of young adults visiting our shows.”
Salden says he and the band received an enthusiastic reception on their previous trip here and that he is looking forward to coming back.
“During our last visit in Israel, we also saw a lot of young people. I remember that the atmosphere at the venues was great,” he recalls.
Salden says that after three decades at the helm, he never tires of playing Miller’s songs and has his own picks of the Miller catalogue.
“My favorites in our show are ‘I Want To Be Happy’, ‘Let’s Get Away from It All’ and ‘A String of Pearls,’” he says.
The members of the Tel Aviv and Haifa audiences will, no doubt, find plenty to enjoy and groove to later this month.For tickets and more information: Tel Aviv *3221 and http://kupatbravo.co.il; Haifa (04) 837-7777 and https://barak-tickets.co.il