Glenn Miller and his band turned out hit after hit in the late 1930s and early 1940s — “In the Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Little Brown Jug.” His timeless music has held up against fellow bandleaders Tommy Dorsey and Harry James.
But can he best the King of Swing?
Bands performing the work of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman will compete for audience approval at the Battle of the Big Bands on Saturday evening at Hutchins Street Square.
The concert will kick off the third round of the concert series.
“You are the first stop on the Battle of the Big Bands show No. 3,” producer Gary Vecchiarelli said.
The third wave of the touring show features Miller and Goodman; the first two waves featured Miller as well, first against Tommy Dorsey, and second against Harry James. Miller emerged victorious.
“Miller knocked them all out of the park,” Vecchiarelli said.
But he doesn’t think Miller will have an easy time of it this go-round.
“Benny Goodman is going to give Miller a run for his money,” he said.
The concept of the touring musical competition grew out of a show Vecchiarelli put on at the Tropicana in Las Vegas — a 19-month-long weekly dance party featuring the music of the legendary big bands. People loved the show, but wanted less about the bandleaders and more of their music, he said.
So Vecchiarelli worked with musical director Carlos Luna to create the traveling battle.
“(Luna) has taken the show and made it what I requested: non-stop music,” he said.
A typical big band features 17 musicians, with four of those performers in the rhythm section. Vecchiarelli’s version has two big bands — one for each of the two competing bandleaders — with a shared rhythm section between them.
“We were able to get ahold of all the original charts that the big band leaders used to play their music,” he said.
Lia Booth and Don Lucas will be the girl and boy singers — slang from the 1940s for female and male vocalists.
Booth is a jazz singer from Southern California who is earning a name for herself as a rising star in the genre.
Lucas is a Boston native who spent two years on tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, opening for stars like Mel Torme and Rosemary Clooney.
The bands are all top-notch musicians, Vecchiarelli said — experts at keeping the audience’s attention with a dazzling performance.
“That’s all I want — engage and entertain,” he said.
Lodi residents who saw round one of the Battle of the Big Bands last year will be able to see an entirely new show on Saturday. Not only will the selection of Goodman’s hits be all new — last June, Miller was pitted against Dorsey — but there’s a new lineup for the Miller side as well.
Vecchiarelli hopes to bring out fans of the big bands, both those who heard the songs when they were new and younger folks who like good music. Audiences of all ages have enjoyed the show, he said.
“One lady used the word ‘uplifted,’ and that just really gave me tingles,” he said.
Whether audience members are familiar with the big bands or hearing them for the first time, they’ll have a say on who gets to continue to the next wave of the tour: Miller or Goodman. The winner is decided by an applause vote at the end of the show.
“I want them to come out and enjoy the music, because they’ll take it home with them,” Vecchiarelli said.
Benny Goodman (1909-1986)
Goodman was the ninth of 12 children born to David and Dora Goodman, Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire. He grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Chicago, and his family has little money. However, his father took the family to free concerts at a local park on Sundays, and enrolled Goodman and two brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue.
As an adult, Goodman moved to New York City, where he became a session musician for radio and Broadway, playing clarinet and saxophone.
Goodman led one of the first integrated bands. In the early 1930s, black and white musicians weren’t allowed to perform together in parts of the South. Goodman’s band was successful enough they could refuse to tour in the South without harming their prospects.
But it was after six months performing on “Let’s Dance!” that he earned his nickname “The King of Swing.” In August 1935, Goodman and his band played at McFadden’s Ballroom in Oakland. When the band began playing songs arranged by Fletcher Henderson and Spud Murphy that had been broadcast on “Let’s Dance!” the audience went wild. They took that show to Los Angeles for a three-week engagement that got such a response, it’s considered the beginning of the Swing Era.
Goodman continued to play swing through the 1930s, experimenting with bebop and classical music in the 1940s and beyond.
Glenn Miller (1904-1944)
Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa, and earned the money for his first trombone by milking cows. As a teen, his family moved to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where he first became interested in dance band music.
He earned a spot in Ben Pollack’s band in Los Angeles, but by the late 1920s began turning toward arranging and composing music — though he continued to play, occasionally as a freelancer floating between bands. In 1928, he released a songbook called “Glenn Miller’s 125 Jazz Breaks for Trombone.”
But his first attempt at leading a band failed. He went back to the drawing board, moving to New York and setting out to create a unique sound blending clarinet and tenos saxophone. Working with Wilbur Schwartz on clarinet, the Glenn Miller Orchestra managed to stand out from the crowd. Soon, his records were everywhere, even dominating the country’s jukeboxes, according to Time magazine.
The band became regular performers on CBS radio, and appeared in two feature films, “Sun Valley Serenade” and “Orchestra Wives.” They were slated for a third film, but Miller joined the Army in 1942.
While traveling to visit U.S. troops in France in December 1944, Miller’s plane vanished over the English Channel.