“Pavanne” (1939) Glenn Miller/ (1970) Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra

“Pavanne”

Composed by Morton Gould; arranged by Bill Finegan and Glenn Miller.

Recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra for Bluebird on April 18, 1939 in New York.

Glenn Miller, first and solo trombone, directing: Bob Price, first trumpet: Dale McMickle and Legh Knowles, trumpets; Al Mastren and Paul Tanner, trombones; Hal McIntyre, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz, alto saxophone and clarinet; Al Klink and Gordon “Tex” Beneke, tenor saxophones; Stanley Aronson, alto saxophone; J. Chalmers MacGregor, piano; Arthur Enns, guitar; Rowland Bundock, bass; Maurice “Moe” Purtill, drums.

The story: I have written often about the excitement I feel when listening to a band, an instrumental soloist or a vocalist when they are in the midst of “happening.” By that I mean when they are just beginning to demonstrate greatness. This recording was made when the early stirrings of greatness were to be heard in the music of Glenn Miller’s band in the spring of 1939. Before then, Miller had a good band, though however well they played, they had not yet begun to really be successful in a big way with audiences. The process of building their success took place through the first half of 1939, starting slowly, and accelerating greatly through the early summer, when they were appearing and and broadcasting on radio over NBC on a sustaining (unsponsored) basis from Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. Musically, the Miller band kept getting better through this period as well.

The Miller band in the Bluebird recording studio in Manhattan on April 4, 1939, the day they recorded “Moonlight Serenade.” Front, L-R: Stanley “Moose” Aronson, Willie Schwartz, Hal McIntyre, Al “Mose” Klink, Tex Beneke; middle: Paul Tanner, Al Mastren, Frankie Carlson, Rolly Bundock; back: Mickey McMickle. Note that Klink is playing alto saxophone.(1) Carlson, who was Woody Herman’s regular drummer, was subbing as Miller awaited the arrival of Moe Purtill.

Glenn Miller and His Orchestra were rehearsing in the Haven studio on West 54th Street in Manhattan the afternoon of March 1, 1939, Miller’s 35th birthday. Prior to that, he and his band had been playing rather unremarkable series of one-night stands for several weeks. The last date they had played was on February 26, at the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The dates from February 27 through March 2 were open. At that moment, the prospects for success for the Miller band were not particularly bright. Then, something happened that in retrospect started to change Miller’s fortunes for the better. Mike Nidorf (2), Miller’s liaison with General Amusement Corporation (later General Artists Corporation) (GAC), Miller’s booking agent, brought him the news that the band had been booked for a location engagement lasting several weeks at Glen Island Casino in New Rochele, New York, starting on May 17. That venue was valuable to any band that played there because of the NBC radio network connection there which allowed frequent nationwide radio broadcasts. The amount of good publicity for those bands and their music that resulted was immense. This was a major breakthrough for Miller.

Parleying the Glen Island engagement into another major booking for the Miller band, Nidorf sold them to Frank Dailey at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, playing-up the idea that he could pre-empt what was hoped to be the breakout success for the Miller band at Glen Island Casino. They opened at the Meadowbrook on either March 5 or March 7 and stayed there until April 20. Through that engagement the Miller band was broadcast (on a sustaining basis) over the NBC Blue radio network on Sundays at midnight, and Thursdays and Fridays at 11:30 p.m. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, they were broadcast over the Mutual radio network. These broadcasts were having an effect: more people were becoming aware of who Glenn Miller was and what his music sounded like.(3) (Above left: The interior of the Meadowbrook Ballroom.)

The music: Morton Gould (1913–1996) was an American composer, conductor, arranger, and pianist. He was a child prodigy who was always adept at improvisation at the piano and writing musical compositions. His first composition was published when he was six. Gould studied at the Institute of Musical Art (predecessor to the Juilliard School of Music) in New York. In the early 1930s, he worked in a wide variety of venues in New York playing piano. When Radio City Music Hall opened on December 27, 1932, Gould, then nineteen years old, was hired as the staff pianist. By 1935, he was conducting and arranging orchestral programs for New York radio station WOR, one of three flagship stations for the Mutual Broadcasting System (4), and began to become known to a national radio audience by combining popular music with classical music. Although Gould got his start and created his public persona on radio in the 1930s and 1940s, he also composed music for Broadway, for feature films and for television. (5)

Gould also composed symphonic pieces. One such was his American Symphonette No. 2, which was completed in 1936. “Its second movement, entitled Pavane, took on a life of its own, and kept getting faster and faster and getting further away from its original feeling… as various bands converted it into a swing instrumental. ‘Glenn Miller did a jazz/swing version which was quite different, but very exciting, and an awfully good arrangement… When I first heard it, I said ‘What is it? But I thought it was a hell of a good performance.'”(6) (Above right; Morton Gould – 1941.)

The Miller recording performance is indeed very good, and it reflects Miller’s insistence on perfection. At this phase of what eventually became Glenn Miller’s great civilian band, he had a tendency to really lean on his sidemen to achieve letter-perfect performances. Consequently, the music, as beautifully performed as it is, is a bit stiff. Nevertheless, this recording has a period charm that is beguiling.

The arrangement, which has always been attributed to Bill Finegan, sounds to me like it is much more the work of Glenn Miller than of Bill Finegan. Miller did not hesitate to revise the work of his arrangers in this early period, sometimes quite extensively. (Below left: editor-in-chief, Glenn Miller.)

The adjectives minimalist, repetitive and catchy certainly apply to the first and third choruses of this arrangement. The performance starts with an introduction that includes Chummy MacGregor’s piano, Moe Purtill’s choked high-hat cymbals, and the straight-muted brass. The first chorus of this AABA 32-bar song is played with Miller’s signature reed sound, Willie Schwartz’s clarinet blended with Al Klink’s tenor saxophone playing the melody, with those straight-muted brass adding a sonic and rhythmic contrast for the first 16 bars. The muted brass play the secondary melody on the bridge or B segment against low, humming saxophones. On the final A section of the first chorus, the format of the first sixteen bars is repeated. This is all done very simply and predictably: Miller’s intention was to make sure the listener heard the melody and heard the essence of his signature reed voicing through the first chorus.

The second chorus, surely one of Miller’s best efforts, begins with a totally different sound, that of the clipped open brass, moving up in register, undergirded by the three open trombones, which make very interesting oo-ah sounds as tenor saxophonist Tex Beneke begins to play his solo. This background scheme is followed through the first eight bars of Beneke’s solo, and then repeated in the second eight with the trombones adding a subtle but effective growl. (Below right: bassist Rolly Bundock, drummer Moe Purtill and pianist Chummy MacGregor – 1939.)

The next sixteen bars presents another Miller device, one that would be used to great effect in his soon-to-be-recorded “In the Mood,” that of an ensemble that builds intensity by using dynamics. The open brass, played gently and quietly, but rhythmically, set up a riff. Then the reeds, by contrast, come in, warm and smooth. All the while, the instruments are being played ever louder, until the climax is reached by the entire band playing forte, with drummer Moe Purtill capping the roar of the band with a few well-placed cymbal swishes.

The third chorus reprises the sounds of the first chorus, with a brief trombone solo by Miller himself (played with a straight mute), just enough to add a new sound to the music. The performance dwindles dynamically into the quiet ending, provided by the muted brass and the almost inaudible final bass note, provided by Rolly Bundock.

The first chorus of this performance has always suggested to me the music of swing era eccentric, Raymond Scott. The second and third choruses are vintage Miller.

P.S. Morton Gould composed “Pavane” using the title “Pavane,” as used most memorably by Maurice Ravel to identify his iconic composition Pavane for a Dead Princess (Pavane pour une Infante Defunte). Somewhere along the line between the original title and Miller’s Bluebird record, a second “n” was added.

“Pavanne”

Composed by Morton Gould, arranged by Glenn Miller and Bill Finegan. The original arrangement was reconstructed by Billy May.

Recorded by Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra on July 8, 1970 for Capitol in Hollywood.

Billy May, directing: John M. Best, first trumpet; Clarence F. Sherock, and Uan Rasey, trumpets; Francis “Joe” Howard, Dick Noel and Lew McCreary, trombones; Wilbur Schwartz, first clarinet and alto saxophone; Abe Most, alto saxophone; Justin Gordon and Plas Johnson, tenor saxophones; Jack Nimitz, alto saxophone; Ray Sherman, piano; Jack Marshall, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Nick Fatool, drums.

The music:

If anyone understood Glenn Miller’s approach to music, it was Billy May. May worked in the Miller band for almost two years, during the time of its greatest success. He played trumpet, often taking jazz solos. He also wrote a good many arrangements for the band. But it is unlikely that he ever played “Pavanne” while he was a member of Glenn Miller’s band. That tune was arranged and recorded in the spring of 1939, some eighteen months before May arrived on the Miller scene. Big bands during the swing era, especially successful ones like Miller’s, had a voracious appetite for music. Consequently new tunes/arrangements were constantly being added to the band’s book, and old ones retired. (7) Nevertheless, when May reconstructed the Miller/Finegan arrangement and then led a band of swing era veterans on this recording of it, the resulting music reflected not only the character of the Miller original, but the spirit and skill of this band of master musicians. The brilliant high-fidelity stereophonic sound also allows the listener to have a much more vivid listening experience.

The signature Miller reed sound in this performance was handled by clarinetist Willie Schwartz, who had played on the original recording, and tenor saxophonist Justin Gordon. Bassist Rolly Bundock, who also played on the original, can be heard in this recording much more clearly and distinctly. His work with the other members of the rhythm section is more relaxed and flowing than in the Miller recording. The first trumpet part in this performance was played by John Best, a Miller alumnus summa cum laude, who had his own sound and rhythmic approach, both of which reflected a deep swing sensibility. (Above left Miller alumni at a Swing Era Orchestra recording session in 1970: L-R: Rolly Bundock, Billy May, Willie Schwartz and John Best.)

The tenor saxophone solo in the second chorus is by Justin Gordon, whose sound and feel for the music was quite different from Tex Beneke’s in 1939. The sound of the building open brass together with the fluid reeds after Gordon’s solo is a joy to hear. Particularly effective is how bassist Bundock and drummer Nick Fatool dig in and swing mightily as the ensemble builds to its climax.

The brief trombone solo in the third chorus was played by Joe Howard.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mile Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Al Klink joined the band in late January of 1939. He was asked to play alto until an opening on tenor came up, then he could switch to tenor, his preferred horn. It appears that Klink did play alto for about three months, until shortly before Stanley Aronson left the band on April 21, 1939. Therefore, it is likely that Klink played tenor saxophone on this recording.

(2) Miller hired Mike Nidorf as his personal manager at the end of 1939, at the time he and his band began to be featured on their own CBS network radio show, Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade, sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes.

(3)The details of the Miller band’s activities in the period from February until May of 1939 come from: Moonlight Serenade …A Bio-discography of the Glenn Miller Civilian Band (1972), by John Flower, (44-60). Hereafter Flower.

(4) The other two major radio stations that affiliated with WOR in 1934 as flagship stations for the Mutual Broadcasting System were WLW in Cincinnati and WGN in Chicago.

(5) The basic outline of Morton Gould’s early career was extracted from the Wikipedia post on him.

(6) The Swing Era 1938-1939 (1970), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner, (55).

(7) Known performances of “Pavanne” by the Miller band, other than the Bluebird recording made on April 18, 1939, include one broadcast from Glen Island Casino in the summer of 1939, and two that were broadcast in the early days of Miller’s tenure on his Chesterfield radio show, on January 18 and March 7, 1940. (Flower: pages 60, 84, 120 and 144.)

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2 Comments

  1. I’ll never forget hearing “Pavanne” for the first time, on the newly released on CD set, THE COMPLETE GLENN MILLER (1938-1942). I’d heard all the big hits by then and a few obscurities, but not that one. Something must have taken me momentarily far enough away from the speakers that I couldn’t hear the brass, coming in low after the first two choruses, at all. For an instant, I thought, “What an abrupt ending to a short side!” and then when the ensemble, with the reeds added, became louder, I realized what was going on. I had to play the track over and listen at closer range. “Pavanne” became one of my all-time favorite Miller sides. I agree that, despite the arrangement’s being attributed to Bill Finegan, the performance strongly suggests that Glenn had significant input, for the details you mention, which are Miller band trademarks. The Lunceford band’s excellent take, from ’40, also employs dynamics and repetition in a pronounced way — and swings more — and yet it doesn’t have the impact with me that the GM recording does. Perhaps because I’m so familiar with the nuances (some of which having to do with the rhythm section) of Glenn’s original, the Time-Life “recreation” doesn’t come close to the effect of the ’39 take for me. It’s very true that the Miller band’s great precision was sometimes achieved at the expense of swing. Many of the early records on which Ray Eberle is present suffer as much from rather leaden charts and exact, though plodding, instrumental execution as from the young vocalist’s inexperience. “Pavanne,” from just as the band was poised to take off commercially, does indeed have a “period charm,” despite — or because of — its simulation of true swing.

    The title always fooled me. Learning the name of the Ravel piece that became the basis for “The Lamp is Low” (which Miler, among others, recorded in ’39), I then assumed that both Gould and his “Pavane” also went further back than the Swing Era. I can see how Glenn might have been attracted to the song’s structure — I hear a harmonic similarity between “Pavanne” and Miller’s own “Solo Hop.”

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