“Slip Horn Jive” (1939) Glenn Miller/Eddie Durham

“Slip Horn Jive”

Composed by and arranged Eddie Durham.

Recorded by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra for RCA Bluebird on June 2, 1939 in New York.

Glenn Miller, first trombone, directing: R.D. McMickle, first trumpet; Legh Knowles and Clyde Hurley, trumpets; Paul Tanner and Al Mastren, trombones; Hal McIntyre, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz alto saxophone and clarinet; Al “Mose” Klink and Gordon “Tex” Beneke, tenor saxophones; Gabriel “Gabe” Gelinas, alto and baritone saxophones; J. Chalmers “Chummy” MacGregor, piano; Richard Fisher, guitar; Rowland Bundock, bass; Maurice “Moe” Purtill, drums.

The story: Swing cognoscenti know that even though Glenn Miller was a good arranger, he was a great editor of arrangements written by others. In addition, by 1939, he had been a professional musician for 15 years. In that time, he had sat on many bandstands with many bands in many settings. He had learned that what may work on a dance date in a ballroom or a cabaret might not necessarily work as a part of a stage presentation in a theater, or on a record. He came to view the three minute and thirty second time limitation on a record as a good thing because he knew that most people, especially that vast majority of the public that are not musicians, inevitably grow bored with most musical performances that continue much beyond three minutes. Consequently, he adapted his skill as an arranger to retool, refine and distill the work of others, and in the process cut-out what his musical taste, which was very good, told him was redundant, and worked against a well-paced arrangement that had a beginning, a middle and an end.

Some of the arrangers Miller edited, most notably the brilliant but rebellious Bill Finegan, deeply resented Miller’s editing. At age 22, when Finegan first came into Miller’s employ, he really didn’t understand the entire situation Miller was operating in as the leader of a band that was quickly rising in popularity. Although Finegan accepted the increasingly generous pay he received from Miller to produce arrangements, he didn’t seem to comprehend what Miller had to do day after day, week after week, month after month to create the cash-flow that supported the Miller band, including him. Eventually, especially after he and fellow-arranger Eddie Sauter led their own band in the 1950s, he came to a deep and profound understanding of what motivated much of what Miller did musically. Glenn understood and did what it took musically and in most other ways to create, nurture, grow and sustain his audience. That was difficult for Finegan to do, and he never really succeeded at doing it.

An early crucible of swing was the Bennie Moten band, which called Kansas City its home. This photo, taken at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia in 1931, shows how many of the musicians in this band went on to make important contributions to the music of the swing era. Trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page is on the far left. Trumpeter Ed Lewis is third from left. Eddie Durham is fifth from left. Count Basie is the pianist on the left stool; to his left is vocalist Jimmy Rushing. The other pianist is Benny Moten. Behind him is future bandleader Harlan Leonard. Second from right is Ronald “Jack” Washington.

A perfect example of Miller editing an arrangement written by someone else, and then creating an excellent recording from it, is to be found in his handling of “Slip Horn Jive.” That composition had been developed by pioneering swing arranger Eddie Durham, who through the 1930s had honed his skills as a trombonist, guitarist and arranger in the bands of Bennie Moten, Willie Bryant, Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie. Durham’s role in creating many of the earliest arrangements played by the Basie band in the period from 1937 to 1938, when he was a member of that band (and Lunceford’s before that), has not received the attention and critical comment it deserves. When I say Durham developed “Slip Horn Jive,” I mean he had co-composed it in the early 1930s with trumpeter Edgar Battle and then continued tweaking it while he was a sideman with Basie (mid-1937 to mid-1938), and after that when he became a free-lance arranger.(1)

One of Durham’s first clients as a free-lance was Benny Goodman, for whom he revised “Topsy,” which he had composed and arranged for Basie. Benny recorded it on November 10, 1938. At the same time, Durham was making the connections that would lead him to Glenn Miller. (BG himself may have provided that linkage.) It appears that the Miller-Durham association began in early 1939, and continued well into the summer of that year.

In early 1939, after about a year of development, the Miller band was gradually evolving into a fine swing band. The arrangements they played were varied, and often written by a good many arrangers outside of the Miller band. Through many of those arrangements, Miller was trying to establish a style for his band, centered around the clarinet-led reed sound that would soon become his trademark. Although Bill Finegan had become a full-time arranger for Miller by early 1939 (Jerry Gray would not arrive until very late in 1939), and had begun to contribute some swinging arrangements that often included the stylistic touches Miller wanted, Glenn clearly understood that he also needed some charts from arrangers who deeply understood how to make a band’s music swing. And for these arrangements, he was much less concerned that they conform to his stylistic requirements: they just had to swing.

He had observed the huge positive impact the swinging arrangements written by Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Jimmy Mundy and Edgar Sampson had had on his friend Benny Goodman’s band through the late 1930s. Indeed, Miller had arrangements by some of those same writers in his band’s book. But he wisely sought out charts by another master of the swing idiom whose musical voice was different from those other arrangers. He also liked the music made by the Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie bands. Eddie Durham, a master of swing arranging, who had made distinguished contributions to the music of both of those bands, was as far as Miller was concerned the right man at the right place at the right time.

Although their association was relatively brief, probably less than a year, Durham’s work with Miller nevertheless had a substantial and salutary impact on how Glenn’s band played in mid and late 1939, especially when swing was called-for.

There is some evidence of the Miller-Durham relationship man-to-man in the book Eddie Durham, Swingin’ the Blues …The Virtuosity of Eddie Durham. This highly anecdotal book was written by Durham’s daughter, Topsy, as a tribute to her father, something that he certainly deserved. Far more specific information about the specific arrangements Durham wrote for Miller can be found in Glenn Miller   …A Bio-Discography of the Civilian Glenn Miller Band, by John Flower. The first Durham arrangements to appear in the Miller book arrived around June 19, 1939. they were on: “Concert in the Park,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “I Want to Be Happy.” (2) Several more came in in the period of June-July 1939. The final two arrangements Durham did for Miller were delivered in late November 1939. (3)

The music:

In August 1938, Count Basie performed Durham’s arrangement of the old jazz standard, “Nagasaki” on a broadcast from the Famous Door on Manhattan’s West 52nd Street. An aircheck recording of that performance reveals “Slip Horn Jive” nestled within “Nagasaki” once the first chorus is completed. Trombonist Benny Morton played the swinging riff figures that were transferred to the whole Miller trombone section, thus suggesting the tune’s title. Eddie Durham, late in his life, told the jazz historian and musician Loren Schoenberg that “…he regretted never thanking …Benny Morton, whose extended ending (on Basie’s “Nagasaki”) he borrowed and orchestrated for Miller’s trombone section. But it should be noted that the item in question was in fact adapted by Morton directly from the horn of Louis Armstrong…” (2)

The four bar introduction opens with surging trombones (Miller leading), then the rest of the band.

This first chorus begins with the trombones again, playing the catchy main melody for four bars, this being followed by a descending figures played by the ensemble, with this eight-bar sequence then being repeated. The bridge has the hot open trumpets (led admirably by Mickey McMickle) carrying that secondary melody forward. The first eight-bar sequence is then repeated to complete the first chorus. (McMickle is shown at left, with a cup mute.)

McMickle then leads the charge through the short modulation into tenor saxophonist Tex Beneke’s improvised solo. Beneke was a formidable technician on his horn, though not always the most compelling jazz improviser, especially at fast tempi. My informed speculation is that Durham may have gently suggested to Tex that he check-out some of Lester Young’s recordings, to get some guidance in how to swing, and that Tex did this. I have long detected some of Lester’s approach to swing in Beneke’s solos in mid-1939. (Alas, this influence was short-lived.) (At right – Tex Beneke.)

The next solo is by trumpeter Clyde Hurley. Hurley was playing very well during his tenure with Miller, from mid-1939 to mid-1940. Hurley, a Texan, was formed in the same crucible as Harry James, and their playing at that time had a lot in common: bright, edgy tone, good range and lots of swing. Miller himself takes a pair of brief but good trombone solos following Hurley.

Then the serious riffing starts, basically contrasting the bright brass with the supple reeds. Tenor saxophonist Al Klink and trumpeter Hurley pop in for a few tasty improvised bars that provide a sonic contrast to the ensemble riffing. Durham continues the riffs after these solos, but soon employs a patented Louis Armstrong technique, of slightly altering the basic riffs as they build rhythmic tension to a powerful climax.

This is a great performance of an inspired swing composition/arrangement by a band that was quickly becoming one of the best on the scene.

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) More information on Eddie Durham’s career through the 1930s when he was perfecting his approach to swing arranging can be found in this post here at swingandbeyond.com: https://swingandbeyond.com/2022/09/25/countless-blues-and-i-want-a-little-girl-1938-lester-young-with-eddie-durham-and-buck-clayton/

(2) Glenn Miller   …A Bio-Discography of the Civilian Glenn Miller Band, by John Flower (1972), 70. Hereafter Flower.

(3) Flower, 104.

(2) Liner notes for the Bluebird-BMG compact disk Swinging Instrumentals …Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (1995), by Loren Schoenberg.

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