Swinging & Swaying

Dancing Down Memory Lane: World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra fills Bosque Arts Center’s Frazier Performance Hall with toe-tapping swing jazz and 1940s ballads

CLIFTON – The auxiliary hangar at the World War II Bassingbourne Airfield is humid; the air filled with cigarette smoke; the hi-energy big band music is loud and the dance floor is filled with couples celebrating the fact they are alive and kicking. Girls in twin sets, with skirts flaring as they’re swung around by their partners; the G.I. Joes looking handsome in their uniforms.

A slew of young ladies stationed along the wall in awe of the pilots who just walked in still wearing their shearling bomber jackets as they light up their Lucky Strikes. The young ladies eagerly wait for their chance to learn this new dance, the jitterbug brought to the United Kingdom by the United States soldiers.

These heartwarming World War II images all came to mind when the World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra played some of their famous chart-topping, up tempo tunes and honey dripping, smooth ballads at the Bosque Arts Center Troubadour Series concert Feb. 17 before a near-capacity audience at the Frazier Performance Hall.

During the ballads, the scene changed to a more sophisticated image with men in tuxedos gliding across the wooden parquet dance floor in a slow foxtrot, delicately holding their satin and chiffon-clad ladies, as the light bounced off the crystal dance hall chandeliers.

More than any musical ensemble, Bandleader Glenn Miller and his Big Band Orchestra inspired the World War II generation and boosted morale with many, many number one hit chart songs. Thanks to the music they heard, many in the audience took a nostalgic trip down memory lane, remembering moments in which their parents cut a rug to the iconic tunes like “In The Mood” and “Moonlight Serenade.”

“This was the best!” Jan Kieta said after the performance. “It was just a fantastic evening! Thank you BAC for arranging this incredible event for us all! The memories it brought back to many of us --the listening and dancing with our parents – wonderful!”

The selection of songs gave each of the band members a chance to be recognized individually and to shine in their solos. Some band members are also part of the Moonlight Serenaders, singing backup vocals for the delightful nightingale Jenny Swoish who seemed to have traveled a time warp to appear in 1940s elegance and style on the Clifton stage.

Quite a few of the selected songs played by the orchestra came from the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade in which Glenn Miller played Phil Corey, a Dartmouth Troubadour band leader. The band members in the movie were the Glenn Miller Orchestra musicians. The movie also features the much loved song “At Last,” made especially famous in 1960 by Etta James, and is a wedding staple.

The Thursday concert included the Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra’s exquisite arrangement, which drew “oooeh’s” from the crowd when it was announced and the most applause.

With its unique jazz sound, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is considered to be one of the greatest bands of all time. The present Glenn Miller Orchestra was formed in 1956 and has been touring worldwide ever since and is the longest touring big band. They tour around the world as well as across the United States, this orchestra tours 48 weeks out of the year. The Glenn Miller Orchestra displayed their musicality, their discipline and were visually entertaining, embodying the showmanship of their original bandleader.

They strayed twice from the Glenn Miller repertoire, but staying within the 1940s wheelhouse; once with Frank Sinatra’s “When You Smile,” and the upbeat “Get me to the Church on Time,” from My Fair Lady.

Clifton High School Band Leader Matt Nelson had brought several of his jazz band students along to help passing out programs and assisting the band. The students got to share ideas with the band members over dinner and had the unique and cool opportunity to study the musicians as they played.

Fourteen-year-old Clifton Middle School Jazz Band member Zachary Zander was by far the youngest person in the audience. Zachary who plays percussion instruments loves the Bossanova. He particularly loved the jazz syncopation he heard.

The CHS and CMS jazz bands will be bringing their music to the Clifton Lions Club meeting March 10 and during their Spring concert at the end of April.

And it has its own distinctive “sound." That sound is created by the reed instrument clarinet holding the melodic line, doubled or coupled with the tenor sax playing the same notes; and the harmonies produced by three other saxophones, while growling trombones and wailing trumpets add their “oo-ahs.”

They are currently under the musical direction of saxophonist Erik Stabnau, who commented on the hall’s impressive acoustics, the five saxophones, three trumpets, three trombones, piano, stand up bass and drums delivered the band’s big, big sound without any amplification that evening. Only the vocalists were amplified.

The swinging and swaying evening filled with nostalgia and much-loved tunes was made possible by concert underwriters Dick and Susan Frazier and Roland and Joyce Jones, as well as concert sponsors Lee and Leanne Donner, Dick and Susan Frazier, Anna Lax, Rowland and Janet Jackson, and Peggy Sue Reed. Thanks to them, the King of Swing, and the unique Glenn Miller sound lived on in the hearts and minds of the audience on the cold and blustery February evening in Clifton.


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