Composed by Antonin Dvorak; arranged by Jerry Gray.
Recorded live in performance by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra on a CBS Chesterfield broadcast on December 18, 1940 in New York.
Glenn Miller, first trombone, directing: Reginald Dale McMickle, first trumpet; John Best, Ray Anthony and Billy May, trumpets; Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy and Frankie D’Annolfo, trombones; Hal McIntyre, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz, B-flat clarinet; Ernesto “Ernie” Caceres, alto saxophone; Al Klink and Gordon “Tex” Beneke, tenor saxophones; John C. “Chummy” MacGregor, piano; Jack Lathrop, guitar; Herman “Trigger” Alpert, bass; Maurice “Moe” Purtill, drums.
The story: One of the major benefits of living in northeast Ohio for me is to be near Blossom Music Center (pictured below), the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra. I have been lucky enough to have attended many concerts there over the years, some by jazz and pop artists, but mostly by the Cleveland Orchestra itself, playing the music they play in their autumn/winter/spring home, the magnificent Severance Hall in Cleveland.
I recall my first visit to Severance Hall in early 1972. We were required to attend a concert there by our college music appreciation professor. I went with a friend of mine who knew less about the music we heard that night than I did, if that was possible. I don’t recall what we heard, but I vividly recall sitting near enough to the stage to be able to observe the conductor, George Szell, very closely. He was a most severe looking man, and he obviously had every musician in the orchestra performing at the top of their ability. The creative tension between him and them was palpable. That experience was enough to hook me. I have returned to Severance Hall many times, with many different people, and have enjoyed a wide variety of music there. As I began to learn more about the music the Cleveland Orchestra presented, I came to understand what an excellent ensemble it is.
Recently, I attended a concert of the Orchestra at Blossom Music Center at which Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony was performed. Aficionados of the “classical” repertoire often sniff at this music, carping that, despite its musical merit, which is considerable, it is a “war horse” that has been over-performed by symphony orchestras. My take on that is if it is over-performed, that is because it is wonderful music, and audiences love it. My opinion was reinforced by the standing ovation the music received from an audience of several thousand, and three curtain calls for the Orchestra, its soloists, and its guest conductor, the dynamic young phenom Rafael Payare.
The Cleveland Orchestra onstage at Blossom Music Center July 25, 2021, with guest conductor Rafael Payare.
I enjoyed the Cleveland Orchestra’s virtuoso performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) in E minor, Opus 95 immensely. Dvorak was not only a master at creating myriad attractive and dramatic musical textures, but he also had the gift of melody. Nowhere is that gift more beautifully displayed than in the second of the four movements of this symphony, the Largo. (“Largo” is an Italian word meaning “slow, in a dignified style.”) But as much as I enjoyed Dvorak’s Largo as played by the Cleveland Orchestra and its stellar soloists, I found my mind sometimes slipping off that performance, and recalling Glenn Miller’s (and Jerry Gray’s) marvelous synopsis of this same music.
The music: By the time Glenn Miller made this recording of Dvorak’s Largo, he and his band had just about completed a full year on their thrice weekly fifteen-minute Chesterfield-sponsored CBS network radio show. That show was used masterfully by Miller to provide his fans with frequent doses of music in the Miller style. The format of the show was simple: almost all music and very little talk. In order to cram as much music into each show as possible, Miller devised several stratagems. The most well-remembered are his clever four-tune medleys, framed by the concept …something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. (I wonder if Helen Miller, Glenn’s very bright spouse, had anything to do with this idea.) Beyond that, Miller also had his arrangers create many short charts, the prime objective of which was to present as much of a tune’s melody as possible in two or two and a half minutes.
The beautiful melody of Dvorak’s Largo from his “Symphony No. 9 – From the New World,” satisfied every criterion for presentation on Miller’s radio show. The melody is not only beautiful, it is memorable; it is presented in a smooth, danceable Jerry Gray arrangement that celebrated that great melody; it clocks in at 2:14; and it was not composed by a member of the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), therefore it could be broadcast on radio during the ASCAP radio ban. (See note 1 below to find out more about ASCAP.) Although the ASCAP ban would not start until January 1, 1941, Miller was throwing red musical meat to his audience on this December 18, 1940 show. He knew well that they loved this melody. He had first tried it on a Chesterfield show the previous summer, when he took time out of an appearance at the Coliseum in Lincoln, Nebraska on July 2, to go on the air for fifteen minutes selling Chesterfields. Miller played it often after that, always getting a strong, positive audience reaction. It was played a lot through 1941 during the ASCAP ban, but continued to be successful with Miller’s audiences long after that ban was over on October 31, 1941.(1)
What has always struck me about this aircheck recording is the sumptuous sound produced by the Miller band on it, especially by the reed quintet. They sound like a magnificent pipe organ. Notice how they play the introduction, and then their first eight-bar melody sequence on the bridge using one breath. This long-breath technique was something Miller’s reed section did quite often to enhance the singing quality of their playing. The other instrumental sounds heard are the solotone-muted trombones led by Miller, and the straight-muted trumpets, led by Mickey McMickle. Later the trumpets switch to cup-mutes. The piano bits and interjections throughout this performance are by Chummy MacGregor, whose playing could be quite eccentric. But here it genuinely enhances the music.
Composed by John C. MacGregor; arranged by Bill Finegan.
Recorded live in performance by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra from an NBC sustaining radio broadcast on October 7, 1940 from the Cafe’ Rouge of Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.
Glenn Miller, first trombone, directing: R.D. McMickle, first trumpet; Rubin “Zeke” Zarchy, John Best and Charlie Frankhauser, trumpets; Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy and Frankie D’Annolfo, trombones; Hal McIntyre, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz, alto saxophone and B-flat clarinet; Al Klink and Tex Beneke, tenor saxophones; Ernie Caceres, baritone saxophone; Chummy MacGregor, piano; Jack Lathrop, guitar; Herman “Trigger” Alpert, bass; Maurice “Moe” Purtill, drums. Voices heard: Alan Robinson, NBC announcer, and Glenn Miller.
More story: In the autumn of 1940, there was much talk and trepidation in the world of swing about the threatened ASCAP/radio boycott which was hurtling toward an unprecedented banning of ASCAP composers’ music from the airwaves. If this were to happen, it would result in a prohibition of a very large proportion of the music in all band’s repertoires from radio broadcast. That would severely challenge the creativity of bandleaders and radio executives to put together programs of non-ASCAP music for broadcasts. It did happen, and the period of prohibition lasted from January 1 to October 31, 1941.
As usual, Glenn Miller was well ahead of this development. Miller, in typical fashion, set out to solve this problem in a way that would be as beneficial as possible to his band. That was always his foremost concern. Then he acted to enhance his own fortunes, which of course were tied to those of his band. Finally, he got down to the nuts and bolts of getting music into his band’s radio performance repertoire so that it could be broadcast during the ASCAP ban, especially on his sponsored network radio show.
Like many other bandleaders, he began to have his arrangers take a whack at memorable “classical” themes, most of which had been composed long before the swing era and indeed before the founding of ASCAP, which happened on February 13, 1914.(2) Among those Miller had success with, in addition to Dvorak’s Largo, were Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus,” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”
But a bigger problem loomed for Miller: the ASCAP ban would prevent him from using his own theme song, “Moonlight Serenade,” on radio. Miller had composed that melody in the mid-1930s, and had used it as his theme since the inception of the Miller band in 1937. It had a lot to do with him becoming an ASCAP member, largely because of its almost constant broadcast on radio, which generated a good deal of copyright performance royalties. In the spring of 1939, Miller recorded “Moonlight Serenade,” and that generated still more royalties for him (so-called “mechanical” royalties), and enhanced his rank at ASCAP. From that time on, “Moonlight Serenade” became a steady and ever-larger money generator for Miller. But of equal importance, it became his musical signature, the melody he signed on and off of his many radio broadcasts. Indeed, Miller’s Chesterfield (cigarettes) CBS network radio show was called Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade. Even today, more than 80 years after all this was going on, “Moonlight Serenade” and Glenn Miller are synonymous.
The Miller band in the spring of 1940: L-R front: Paul Tanner, Jimmy Priddy, Frankie D’Annolfo, Miller, vocalists Marion Hutton and Ray Eberle, Al Klink, Willie Schwartz, Hal McIntyre, Chummy MacGregor, Ernie Caceres, Tex Beneke; back: Legh Knowles, John Best, Dale McMickle, Clyde Hurley, Dick Fisher, Moe Purtill, Rolly Bundock.
So the process of coming up with a substitute for “Moonlight Serenade” was one that Miller guided very carefully. His selection of Chummy MacGregor to create his new radio theme was quite deliberate. The full story of the relationship between Miller and MacGregor has not been told, even though MacGregor wrote a 144 page single-spaced typescript recalling his involvement with Miller, which covered some sixteen years. Suffice it to say that MacGregor and Miller were friends, and that MacGregor was very supportive of Miller in his earliest days as a bandleader, when the going was tough, and later, when the band was successful, and the challenges a bit different. (MacGregor was trusted by Miller to hold on to the cash the band made on one-nighters between bank deposits. Sometimes, Chummy was carrying as much as $40,000.00, which made him very nervous. But Miller really appreciated what MacGregor was doing to help out.) And Miller was very loyal to and supportive of his friends.(3)
Sometime in late September of 1940, Miller set in motion the creation of an alternate theme song. MacGregor recalled: “Glenn wrote the first four bars, and I finished it.” I suspect that Miller had more to do with it than that. (4) The new theme was premiered on a sustaining NBC radio broadcast from the Cafe’ Rouge of Hotel Pennsylvania on October 7, 1940. During the ASCAP ban, it was used as both a sign-on and closing theme; after the ban ended, it was used as the closing theme for the Miller band. Miller’s music publishing firm, Mutual Music Society, Inc., published the song (which later got a lyric by Saul Tepper). Despite making a rather substantial contribution to the creation of “Slumber Song,” Miller took no credit for composing it. He let MacGregor have 100% of the composer royalty. But he got 100% of the publisher’s royalty as owner of Mutual Music.
Out of adversity, Glenn Miller had fashioned a win-win situation. That is the mark of a great leader. (Above left: Chummy MacGregor and Miller.)
“Slumber Song” is in essence a lullaby. Its languid melody and tempo fit its title. They also allow the Miller band to bring out in this performance the many harmonic voicings Bill Finegan used in this arrangement, especially in the reeds. We know that Finegan had to employ the most famous stylistic device, the placing of Willie Schwartz’s clarinet an octave above Al Klink’s tenor saxophone, so radio listeners would know what band they were listening to, and he does that quite masterfully as the reeds play the tune’s bridge for the first time. But in other places, we hear various harmonic mixtures of the five saxophones (here two altos, two tenors and a baritone), set off by the open brass played down into the players’ music stands at first, then raised and played more loudly with their bells pointed at the NBC remote microphones at the Cafe’ Rouge. (Above right: Glenn Miller rehearses his reed section in the Cafe’ Rouge of Hotel Pennsylvania L-R: Willie Schwartz, Al Klink, Hal McIntyre, Ernie Caceres and Tex Beneke. Photo courtesy Karl Pearson.)
The tenor saxophone that is featured is played by Tex Beneke, who excelled at playing ballads with great warmth.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) Information about when and where “Goin’ Home” was performed by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra in the period 1940-1942 comes from Moonlight Serenade …A Bio-discography of the Glenn Miller Civilian Band, by John Flower (1972).
(2) The founding of ASCAP in 1914 was a direct result of the Copyright Act of 1909. The Copyright Act of 1909 (Public Law 60-349) was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt and went into effect on March 4, 1909. The 1909 Act granted protection to works published with a valid copyright notice affixed on them. The initial copyright term remained at twenty-eight years, with a renewal term of twenty-eight years, but the author was granted the right to terminate any transfer of his copyright between the initial and renewal term. The 1909 act also included the first compulsory mechanical license, allowing the reproduction of a musical composition without the consent of the copyright owner provided the person adhered to the provisions of the license, which in a practical sense meant paying license fees. ASCAP was founded to collect the license fees and then to pay them to the owners of the copyrights that had been licensed.
Among the founding members of ASCAP were the musical giants of the day: Irving Berlin, James Weldon Johnson, Jerome Kern, John Philip Sousa. In 1914 and for many years after, songwriters made earned the most money from royalties earned through the sales of sheet music. Protection from unauthorized printed reproduction of their compositions was a right clearly established under U.S. copyright law before 1909. But what was novel about the Copyright Act of 1909 was that it created a new property right, specifically that the composer also had the right to a share of any other revenue generated by his work, including by “mechanical” reproduction. Initially, this included phonograph records, then radio broadcasts, then the music heard in feature films and television. ASCAP’s fundamental goal was to “assure that music creators are fairly compensated for the public performance of their works, and that their rights are properly protected.”
This new, indeed revolutionary part of the Copyright Law of 1909 was challenged in the courts. The ultimate result of those legal challenges is to be found in the U.S. Supreme Court case styled Herbert v. Shanley Co. (1917). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the majority opinion in that case. He said, among other things: “If music did not pay, it would be given up.” As any professional musician knows, Holmes wasn’t referring to musicians themselves in that statement, but to places of business in which copyrighted musical works are presented, whether such music was live or recorded and, critically, whether or not it generated direct revenues. “Whether it pays or not,” continued Holmes, “the purpose of employing it is profit, and that is enough.” As applied to the specific facts of that lawsuit, the decision in Herbert v. Shanley Co. forced Shanley’s Restaurant in Manhattan to pay a fee to the songwriter Victor Herbert (the plaintiff in the case) for playing a song he had composed on a player-piano during dinner service at that restaurant.
(3) Miller assisted two friends from his days with Ray Noble’s band, trumpeter Charlie Spivak and pianist Claude Thornhill, when they decided to form their own bands. He did the same for saxophonist Hal McIntyre, who acted as his lead alto saxophonist, and often as diplomatic intermediary between Miller and his sidemen, in the years 1937-1941.
(4) MacGregor transcript, page 122.
For a polar opposite approach to Dvorak’s “Largo,” I commend to the readers of “Swing & Beyond” Si Zentner’s “Like Home,” arranged by Bob Florence, on the album “Suddenly It’s Swing.”