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Music For The Memorial Day Weekend: Glenn Miller At War And More

Programs for the holiday of personal and public remembrance.

Memorial Day flag

Photo: Flickr

Bandleader Glenn Miller was one of several hundred thousand Americans who lost their lives in World War II.

This week’s Afterglow Memorial Day show, which takes a look at Glenn Miller’s World War II military orchestra, was nearly a Night Lights show, and I wanted to post about it here because I think it may be of interest to some Night Lights listeners.

The Glenn Miller brand still generally connotes corn to many jazz fans, but even if you don’t care for the civilian “In the Mood” band (full disclosure: I do), you may well find the AAF, as the wartime band came to be known, worth a listen. Miller was able to recruit some superlative players, such as pianist Mel Powell and bassist Trigger Alpert, and his arranging staff was top-notch. And while the AAF was designed to please just about everybody with its wide-ranging variety of ensembles, it could also be surprisingly hip, waxing “Moon Dreams” long before Miles Davis seized upon the tune for his Birth of the Cool sessions, and even serving up a take on the bebop anthem “Night in Tunisia” before either Charlie Parker or composer Dizzy Gillespie had been able to lay down their versions.

One of the most exciting things about putting together this program was contacting AAF veteran and trombonist Nat Peck. Mr. Peck, who, among other things, went on to play with the Clarke-Boland Big Band, is now 86 years old and lives in London. He was gracious enough to speak with me on the phone for nearly an hour about his wartime experiences as a member of the Miller orchestra, providing a living connection to a period of history that may now seem increasingly remote, but which continues to fascinate many of all ages.

Historian Michael McGerr, a previous guest on several Night Lights programs, joins this show, as well as jazz educators and bandleaders Brent Wallarab and Janis Stockhouse. There’s a wealth of music from the AAF, recorded both stateside and during their stay in Europe, and several historic radio broadcast excerpts as well:

I Sustain The Wings: Major Glenn Miller Goes To War With The Army Air Force Band.

For a longer, 94-minute version of the show that includes more music, commentary, and background, click on the link at the bottom of the program post, or go directly to the audio file here.

Memorial Day On Night Lights

This week’s Night Lights show, Reminiscing In Tempo: Remembrance In Jazz And Popular Song takes a look at music rooted in loss and memory.

You can also check out several past Night Lights Memorial Day programs that I’ve devoted to musical elegies written for jazz musicians, such as Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (for Lester Young), Bill Evans’ “NYC’s No Lark” (for Sonny Clark), and many more:

Finally, here’s the great trumpeter Clifford Brown–subject of Benny Golson’s jazz elegy “I Remember Clifford”–performing “Lady Be Good” and “Memories of You” on Soupy Sales’ TV show in 1955:

Best wishes for a long weekend, a long life, and a growing understanding of how and why those who are no longer with us mattered (and still matter) in our sense of who we are and what we might yet become.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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