16 June 2014

You have to love it

I was taken by the sound of the clarinet with sax and then, surprisingly, I read that it's a signature sound of Glenn Miller's bands: clarinet and tenor sax playing unison melody with three saxes harmonising within one octave. We were at the Glenn Miller Orchestra at the Canberra Theatre. My Mum was over for her birthday and it's around her era. But listening to the tunes, Glenn Miller is pretty much everyone's era. I recognised them all; maybe I missed one or two. Admittedly there was a lot of grey hair, both on and off stage. The band was introduced later in the night, and there was plenty of education there, too. There were players with performance degrees, retired professors, jazz PhDs, symphonic players, experience with bands of Harry James, Gene Krupa, Ellington and Tommy Dorsey. I wondered about age, here. There was a sparkle of voices with Wendy Smith-Brune and Mark Kopitzke as soloists, a female trio (as in Andrews Sisters) called the Swing Kittens. The five all sang together as the Modernaires, the singing wing of Glenn Miller's own band. There were four dancers appearing as the Broadway Swing Dancers (all the way from Sydney). Interestingly, they were playing the original charts, so this is authentic. I was offput when they started smack on 7.30, while a line of audience was still waiting to enter; they might have delayed the early night by five minutes. But as I heard this string of hits, I came around. These guys actually work hard. They are touring Australia for 11 weeks and 58 gigs. My favourite was At last, so sentimental and apt for a time of war. But what a string of other hits: In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Pennsylvania 6-5000, Chattanooga Choo Choo, A String of Pearls, Kalamazoo, American Patrol, Tuxedo Junction, Little Brown Jug. The Kittens did a few Andrews Sisters songs: Bye bye blackbird, Beer barrel polka and inevitably Boogie woogie bugle boy. The first half was the commercial band and I preferred this. The post-interval set concentrated on his Army Air Force Band of 1942–1944, more march tunes although with Glenn Miller's jazz/blues reformulations. The band was five woodwinds (sax/clarinet), four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass, drums and musical director Rick Gerber on another trombone. Nice and swinging. I strained for the bass. The drums were firm and confident including in two solos. The solos were typical of these big bands: short and spelling the chord and some high trumpet notes. I most liked Glenn Morrisette's tenor that dissolved into some dissonance in later tunes. This was enjoyable music that's part of our jazz history, even if on the popular side. Everything about it was familiar, and not just the music. Old mate pianist Ron Lucas was there, looking great. Bell Shakespeare was in the Playhouse with Henry V and what few words did I catch?: Once more unto the breech, dear friends... then fireworks. What odd synchronicity, but entertaining. Nice night; much enjoyed.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra under musical Director Rick Gerber played at the Canberra Theatre with Wendy Smith-Brune, Mark Kopitzke, the Swing Kittens and the Broadway Swing Dancers

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