You may have attended events in CU-Boulder’s Glenn Miller Ballroom, but may not know the facts surrounding the man it was named after. There’s a reason, after all, that the Glenn Miller Ballroom has good acoustics for music, and is built as a ballroom in particular.
Glenn Miller was one of the most popular jazz artists of the 1940s. Known for his big-band swing style and his intense (some said unorthodox) discipline in practice, he and his Orchestra are still among the top best known jazz musicians of the era (and certainly of the swing era). Miller is also still known as an unparalleled arranger and composer. Recognize the song “In the Mood?” How about “Tuxedo Junction?” Both of these jazz standards are Miller’s most famously known songs.
As a trombonist, Miller made the unusual choice to feature it (and the clarinet) in many of his arrangements. More often, he would combine tenor sax and clarinet in the melody, with saxophone supporting in harmony. Not the usual setup for jazz of this time, and it gave his Orchestra a distinctive sound. Miller’s band actually was almost solely responsible for the immense popularity of swing in the 1940s, though detractors criticized his precise composition and disciplined practice. In a time when jazz music was thought of to be a mainly improvisatory, impulsive art, Miller’s elaborate orchestrations were denigrated as almost stuffy, like classical music. That is, until the swing era erupted into full, well, swing.
Interested in music since childhood, Miller began his musical education in high school, and continued to make music his first priority, dropping out of CU-Boulder soon after enrolling, to pursue his musical career. His wife Helen was also a Boulderite–he met her in college and married her, later adopting two children together.
After much work in various big bands, as well as finding much success with his own Orchestra (after initial struggle against those who didn’t at first embrace his new sound), Miller joined the Army as a military band leader, then soon after transferred to the Air Force, where he never stopped playing and composing music, until his mysterious and untimely death in 1944.
- Glenn Miller and his Orchestra have appeared in two films: Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives.
- Miller was never officially declared dead, as his plane was lost without a trace over the English Channel and his body was never found. He’s been officially MIA since 1944.
- Miller was awarded a bronze star posthumously, which his wife accepted for him.
- He was at first widely criticized for his style, which was thought of as “forsaking real jazz” (bio). But it was his approach to the music that made people redefine what “real jazz” is, and began what would later be known as the Swing Era in jazz music.
- In 1946, there was officially instituted a “Glenn Miller ghost band” (wiki), created to continue Miller’s distinctive style all over the world. These ghost bands still tour the globe today: one for the U.S., one for the U.K., and one for Europe.
Image credit: Wikimedia via Creative Commons license