Friday, August 9, 2013

Tuxedo Junction

“The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra” ® (source)
The concert at the Ravello Festival, on the beautiful outdoor belvedere at Villa Rufolo with views along the spectacular Amalfi Coast, was billed as “The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra” ® Now, Glenn Miller was in his heyday as an American big band leader in the 1930s and 1940s, and in fact died tragically young (40) in 1944 when a plane crossing the English Channel during war time was lost. He was leading his band in entertaining the troops at that time.

So who exactly would we see on the belvedere in Ravello? The look was 1940s, the tuxedos had satin lapels, there were bow ties, handkerchiefs peeking from breast pockets, the band leader wore a white jacket, and there was a girl singer in a stunning evening dress. 

The music began: ‘Moonlight Serenade’, ‘Shiny Stockings’, ‘Little Brown Jug’ -- yes, it sounded remarkably like Glenn Miller’s Orchestra. When the band leader paused proceedings to introduce himself, he turned out to have an unintentionally funny Dutch accent. He was Wil Salden. As the evening progressed and various performers were introduced, it seemed that what we had here was a band of Dutchmen playing American music - playing it very well, in fact. But was this a tribute band?

Fortunately, there was a program, and I purchased one for a very reasonable €3. It was money well spent. I learnt that after the sad and unexpected demise of Glenn Miller, his band played on. And on and on, under a variety of leaders over the years, and the astute management of something called Glenn Miller Productions, Inc. In 1990, this company, presumably the official keeper of the Glenn Miller legacy, appointed Dutchman Wil Salden to be “leader of the Glen Miller Orchestra for Europe”. So - the franchise made a territorial expansion. And ever since then, Wil has been tirelessly travelling his band across the face of western and eastern Europe, and even venturing deep into Russia, playing up to 200 concerts per year - though they’ve slowed down now to only 150 -160, since travel time has increased. On night trains and in hired coaches, they criss-cross Europe. Obviously performers come and go - counting the singer, there are 16 members of the troupe - but Wil guides them indefatigably on.

The stage awaits at the Ravello Festival
For performers with such a gruelling schedule, I must say that they are consummate pros. They play vividly and authentically, and appeared to enjoy themselves (especially Wil). He plays the piano and sings; there’s a drummer and double bass player, then four trumpets, four trombones, and five saxophonists, two of whom double as clarinetists, and one who takes up the baritone sax at times. Various brass players also join the girl singer and Wi from time to time, forming a vocal quintet. 

Interestingly, Wil does his best to actually replicate the Glenn Miller ‘sound’. He appears to be a close student of the Swing genre, and says in the program:
“With us, as with Glenn Miller, the clarinet plays the lead and is accompanied an octave lower by the second tenor saxophone. The accompaniment, played by two alto saxophones and the first tenor saxophone, stays within the octave between the clarinet and the second tenor saxophone. Since the lead clarinet dominates the alto saxophone, the saxophone seems half an octave higher...”

I give you this interesting quote to illustrate Wil’s passion for having his band sound as close as possible to the original. He claims that radio stations often prefer to play his band’s recordings of the old numbers because they sound authentically like the originals but are much better quality, being modern recordings. 

So in a way, Wil’s band is both a descendant of the original Glenn Miller orchestra, and a very special tribute band.

“Swing, Brother, Swing!”
Swing music is danceable and hum-along-able; it’s joyous and catchy. It’s a close sister to Jazz, but a fusion of different Jazz styles, and somewhat more ‘white’. It was popular from the 1920s through to the end WWII, and one feature of Swing was the formation of “Big Bands” based on lots of brass players. From the program:
“Swing describes the style of Jazz in the thirties...On one of his albums in the late twenties, Louis Armstrong told his musicians to “Swing, Brother, Swing!” and so he gave the style a name. In 1928/29, a new way of playing developed in Harlem and particularly in Kansas. When this new style got together with the music of Chicago and New Orleans, Swing was created. It then spread along the road of historic Jazz to New York.”
I was interested to learn that ‘Swing’ had a special resonance in Germany during the inter-war years, since the ‘Jazz’ was banned by the National Socialists as ‘corrupted music’. A European overlay on Jazz added some “white precision” that “took away some of Jazz’s expressionism but gave it a clear European, singable sound that was accepted by a wide public.”

'Somewhere Over The Rainbow’

But back to Glenn Miller, who took the Swing scene by storm from humble beginnings to broadcasting and concert success across America. He was one of the country’s favourite band leaders when he enlisted in the army and flew to his fate. ‘Moonlight Serenade’ is considered his signature tune; but there are lots of others you’ll know, and possibly love. In the Ravello concert we were treated to great renditions of favourites from the Big Band era: ‘American Patrol’, ‘Ain’t We Got Fun’, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, ‘Cheek to Cheek’, ‘Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree’, ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’, ‘In The Mood’, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, and - of course - ‘Tuxedo Junction’.

The original.....

And today....

No comments:

Post a Comment