Composed by J.S. Pierpont; arranged by Bill Finegan and Glenn Miller. Additional lyrics by Hal Dickinson and Bill Conway.
Recorded live on the CBS “Moonlight Serenade Chesterfield Time with Glenn Miller” radio show on December 24, 1941.
Glenn Miller, first trombone, directing: Dale “Mickey” McMickle, first trumpet; John Best, Billy May, Bobby Hackett, trumpets; Jimmy Priddy, Paul Tanner, Frankie D’Annolfo, trombones; Lloyd “Skip” Martin, lead alto saxophone; Ernesto “Ernie” Caceres, alto and baritone saxophone/clarinet and vocal; Wilbur Schwartz, alto saxophone and clarinet; Gordon “Tex” Beneke, tenor saxophone and vocal; Al Klink, tenor saxophone; J. Chalmers “Chummy” MacGregor, piano; Bill Conway, guitar; Edward L. “Doc” Goldberg, bass; Maurice “Moe” Purtill, drums. Tex Beneke and Ernie Caceres, vocals. The Modernaires vocal group: Ralph Brewster, Hal “Spooky” Dickinson, Chuck Goldstein, and Bill Conway.
We continue our holiday festival of seasonal music with one of the all-time favorites, “Jingle Bells,” composed in 1857 by J.S. Pierpont. One of the best performances of this song was the joyous performance of Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. This recording was taken off the air on Christmas Eve, Wednesday December 24, 1941 at 10:00 p.m., a little more than two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack. The radio show was Glenn Miller’s very successful “Moonlight Serenade with Glenn Miller,” sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes. (Miller is shown at left with an ever-present Chesterfield.)
The Miller band was completing a staggeringly full year of work that Christmas Eve that included not only their thrice weekly Chesterfield broadcasts over CBS, but many other broadcasts each week from the band’s home base in Manhattan, the Cafe’ Rouge of Hotel Pennsylvania; many recording sessions for RCA-Bluebird; touring across the nation where the band played in many large theaters in major cities, and ballrooms far and wide; work on a feature film in Hollywood, Fox’s Sun Valley Serenade; and a three-week stand at the Paramount Theater in Times Square, where they played numerous shows each day. Very often, there was literally not enough time in each day for the Miller band to be presented in all of the venues where their music was being demanded. How they were not utterly burned out by this grind can only be explained by the fact that the members of the band were very strong young men with great endurance, and the fact that Miller somehow was able to keep their morale very high through periods of backbreaking work. An added consideration was that the members of the Miller band were among the best paid musicians not only in New York, but in the entire nation as a result of their hard work. All of the performers in the Miller band, including Miller himself, had previously experienced the “norm” for musicians, which is to be chronically underemployed, with the consequent chronic cash shortages. They were not going to let this golden opportunity slip away.
Miller himself had by the end of 1941 accumulated a great deal of money by leading his band with ever-increasing success each year since 1938. (Miller is shown at right emerging from his palatial apartment at the Cotswold on Byrne Lane in Tenafly, New Jersey. He moved there in the spring of 1940. Photo: Glenn Miller Archive, University of Colorado, Boulder.) Though he was a few years older than most of the musicians in his band (he was 37 years old in 1941), he was still as strong as they were, physically, and especially emotionally. He had been a professional musician since the early 1920s, and had in his career also experienced many ups and downs, but now was on the biggest up of his life. He had worked ceaselessly over the previous four years with this band to build its success. But by the end of 1941, he realized that he had achieved nearly as much as was possible in these endeavors. Also, Miller was deeply disturbed by the events of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the U.S. into World War II, and was beginning to think about ways in which he might be helpful to the U.S. war effort. Throughout the first half of 1942, he sent out feelers to the U.S. military, trying to see where he might fit in. By September of 1942, he knew he would be going into the U.S. Army Air Force to lead a band of military men made up of many of the best musicians from many of the best bands of the swing era. Their job would be to keep the morale of Americans, in the military and on the homefront high. On September 27, 1942, the Miller civilian band played “Moonlight Serenade” together for the last time.
This performance of “Jingle Bells” is remarkably joyous, given the generally ominous atmosphere in the U.S. in the days immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack and the U.S. entry into World War II. It is introduced over Miller’s theme song “Moonlight Serenade,” by one of CBS’s star announcers, Paul Douglas, who later had a successful career in Hollywood films. Miller himself is also heard. By late 1941, he was a polished professional in delivering whatever lines were required on his radio show. The Miller band, whose performance abilities were honed to a sharp edge by near constant work, play the Bill Finegan/Glenn Miller arrangement of “Jingle Bells” with casual ease. Notice the fluid saxophone section playing and the powerful brass. Tex Beneke (from Fort Worth, Texas) and the Modernaires sing the traditional “Jingle Bells” lyric with some hip swing era twists, and then Ernie Caceres (from San Antonio) puts a little Mexican-American spin on some special lyrics. Trumpeter Billy May (from Pittsburgh) has the climactic jazz solo, playing with a Harmon mute with the stem removed, and generating considerable swinging momentum. (Above left: The Miller band at Cafe’ Rouge of Hotel Pennsylvania in the early evening of December 24, 1941, before the Chesterfield broadcast included here.)
Tex Beneke (at left) went on to success leading various bands after World War II, and for a time led the post-war Miller ghost band. (Miller was lost in action in December of 1944.) His orientation was always in the Miller tradition. Billy May had a long and successful career as an arranger and conductor in Hollywood stretching from the mid-1940s into the 1980s. (Above right: Trumpeter Billy May plays a solo with Glenn Miller looking on approvingly.)
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
For more songs of the Christmas season, check out these links:
And here is a link to a beautiful piece of music that evokes winter:
Hi there, Michael. First of all, best wishes for the happiest of holiday seasons, and a joyous, prosperous and healthy new year. Too many blogs and lists and sites on the Internet to keep up with, but your site is one that I look forward to and read with a great deal of satisfaction. Always a lot to be learned from your comments. So, do you take requests for a recording and analysis? If so, would you consider Claude Thornhill’s PORTRAIT OF A GUINEA FARM?
Mark, Thanks for those kind words. I greatly enjoy posting the music and history of the swing era (and beyond) here. We have such a rich musical heritage that finding great things to post is not that difficult.
I will accede to requests that I think fall within the sweep of what I do here, and Claude Thornhill’s music most certainly does. I will soon be posting his superb recording of “Snowfall,” something you in southern California don’t have to deal with in winter, but we here in the Midwest do. Claude’s “Portrait of a Guinea Farm” is one of his greatest recordings, and one that has fascinated me for a long time. Yes, it is on my list of things to post and discuss. These two recordings are pure Claude, meaning that they were composed and arranged by him. I also have a number of things Claude did with Gil Evans that are wonderful, but represent Gil’s absorption and extension of the Thornhill style. They too will soon appear here on swingandbeyond.com
Best holiday wishes to you and yours.
As usual wonderful post Michael. Happy holidays to you and your family.