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Steve Hansen: Glenn Miller Orchestra brings memories to Lodi

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Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2014 12:00 am

Suddenly, it was 1941 again as the Glenn Miller Orchestra played at Hutchins Street Square on Saturday night.

Miller became famous in the late 1930s and early ‘40s with his big-band sounds. A number of his tunes became smash hits. He continued to top the charts until his plane disappeared over the English Channel in 1944.

Today, the band is headquartered in Lake Mary, Fla. It was reborn in 1956 and plays throughout the United States 48 weeks per year. In September, the group will be embarking on a tour to Japan.

The energetic Nick Hilscher became the band’s leader in 2012. He’s also the lead soloist, with a voice that resembles the original Tex Beneke.

During the performance, four other band members joined him in song to rekindle the close harmonies of the Modernaires with “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (the first gold record ever) and “Kalamazoo.”

Hilscher told the audience that he became a fan of big-band music in 1989. The orchestra leader was 11 years old when he first saw the 1954 move “The Glenn Miller Story,” starring James Stewart and June Allyson.

Lead vocalist is young Natalie Angst from Vacaville. She became a member of the group in March of this year. Last weekend, her parents were in the audience for Lodi’s one-night stand. The slender, longhaired blonde opened with a rousing solo of “Get Me to the Church on Time.” But the Lerner and Loewe hit seemed a little out-of-place among the top ‘40s tunes, as it was not published until 1956.

The orchestra entertained a largely age 60-plus crowd for two hours with many famous hits. They included the opening number of “Moonlight Serenade,” a Miller original composition, along with “String of Pearls,” “In the Mood,” “Little Brown Jug,” “American Patrol” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” The latter had a tapping cymbal, instead of a bell representing a ringing telephone. It’s a minor point, but personally, I prefer the original sound.

Band musicians are all top performers coming from many parts of the U.S. Most are solo artists who entertain with ad lib takes during various numbers. Two, among the many experienced, are multiple award-winning jazz pianist Austin Byrd and fast-paced drummer Dean Schweiger.

Folks tapped their feet or fingers to the swinging rhythms. A bearded gentleman two rows in front of me really “got down” by bouncing his shoulders, waving his arms and bobbing his head in all four directions. I could see it was a little irritating to the elderly woman who was sitting behind him.

The audience was obviously thrilled with the overall performance as indicated by the standing ovation. An encore number was completed before the band departed.

Hutchins Street Square was a good place to have the show. Acoustics were generally good, although the audio could have been turned down a notch. Brass instruments can hold their own pretty well in a small setting without the need for additional amplification.

Another problem is that the seat rows are too close together. They make it difficult to exit without getting “leg intimate” with nearby strangers.

But when all is said and done, I’m glad Hutchins Street Square officials are able to bring great performers to our small city. The concerts are local, convenient and when you stop to think about it, where else can one get professional entertainment and a seat in the best section of the theatre for less than 50 bucks?

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and a University of the Pacific music graduate.

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