Glenn Miller's reputation was a contradiction, regarded as both a jazz genius and also strongly disapproved of, by many jazz aficionados.
They muttered about his meticulous musical preparation that went against the improvised spirit of jazz, but what rankled more was that The Glenn Miller Orchestra was immensely successful. Miller used his phenomenal popularity to raise the morale of civilians, and over one million troops, during World War II.
Miller’s musical revolt began in Nebraska. His father gave him a mandolin, but the boy was interested in brass and quickly traded his strings for an old horn. In Missouri, he moved on to the trombone, playing in a town band and at 14, now a resident of Fort Morgan, Miller joined his high school band.
Music pulled Miller from his college career in 1923; lectures were interfering with too many auditions. He toured with several orchestras, settling for a while in Los Angeles and writing some arrangements for Ben Pollack’s group. He then moved to New York, recording with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the as yet unknown Bing Crosby, and others.
His first recording under his own name used six horns, a rhythm section and a string quartet, and sold only a few hundred records. Two years later, Miller formed his own band, but that too secured only a few brief gigs.
Depressed, back in New York, Miller realised the problem: he needed a unique sound. What he invented was a new reed section sound. He made the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor sax on the same note, while three saxophones play a complementary harmonic line. With this sound, The Glenn Miller Orchestra was on the sweet road to success.
Then came Pearl Harbour. Miller joined the army with the rank of captain and devoted himself to reorganising the army band. Then he formed the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, that gave over 800 performances to US servicemen in two years.
Set to tour Europe, Miller left London on a flight to Paris in December 1944. His transporter disappeared over the English Channel and the wreckage was never recovered.
His band continued to play for troops until August 1945, when the members were discharged and returned to New York.