Glenn Miller Orchestra: “City Lights & Music Nights” celebrates big band sound

By STAFF REPORTS,

The Glenn Miller Orchestra is the most popular and sought-after big band in the world today for both concert and swing dance engagements. 

The big band is coming to Hattiesburg’s Saenger Theater at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb 9, as part of the recently-announced City Lights + Music Nights concert series. The series is being made possible by Arden Bennett of Ardenland Music Production, Forrest Health and The First Bank – A National Banking Association and several community businesses and leaders. 

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn kicked off the series last Friday night.

With its unique jazz sound, the Glenn Miller Orchestra is considered to be one of the greatest bands of all time. The present orchestra was formed in 1956 and has been touring consistently since, playing an average of 300 live dates a year all around the world.

The band first took shape when its founder, Glenn Miller, dropped out of school to pursue a professional career in music, touring with several orchestras.

He ended up in Los Angeles, where he landed a spot in Ben Pollack’s group, a band that included a guy named Benny Goodman. Here, Miller also got the chance to write some arrangements. 

Miller played and recorded with the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (who on several of their records, featured an up-and-coming singer by the name of Bing Crosby), Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon and Coleman Hawkins. 

In addition, during that time, Glenn cut 18 sides for Goodman, and also worked for radio studio conductors like Victor Young, Carl Fenton and Jacques Renard. 

In 1934, Miller became the musical director of the Dorsey Band, and later went on to organize The Ray Noble Orchestra, which included such players as Charlie Spivak, Peewee Erwin, Bud Freeman, Johnny Mince, George Van Eps and Delmar Kaplan, among others.

In April 1935, Glenn Miller recorded under his own name for the first time. Using six horns, a rhythm section and a string quartet, he recorded “Moonlight on the Ganges” and “A Blues Serenade” for Columbia. But selling only a few hundred records, he continued his position with the Noble Orchestra.

In 1937, Glenn Miller stepped out to form his own band. There were a few recordings and a couple of week-long stints in New Orleans and Dallas, and many one-nighters, but it was not to be. Though the group would play one more date several days later in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Glenn gave his men their final notice on New Year’s Eve at the Valencia Ballroom in York, Pennsylvania. Broke, depressed and having no idea what he was going to do, he returned to New York City.

Formed in March 1938, the second Glenn Miller Orchestra — which would later include the likes of Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle, Paul Tanner, Johnny Best, Hal McIntyre, and Al Klinck — soon began breaking attendance records all up and down the East Coast. 

Record-breaking recordings followed. And there was, of course, Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” radio series for Chesterfield cigarettes which aired three times a week over CBS.  In 1941, it was off to Hollywood where the band worked on its first movie, “Sun Valley Serenade.”

Miller was inducted in the Army in 1942. He was transferred into the Army Air Corps, where he ultimately organized the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. 

In less than one year, the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band engaged in more than 800 performances. Of these, 500 were broadcasts heard by millions. There were more than 300 personal appearances including concerts and dances, with a gross attendance of over 600,000. But Glenn was not to participate in the final six months of these activities.

In the Fall of 1944, the band was scheduled to be sent on a six-week tour of Europe and would be stationed in Paris during that time. Miller decided to go ahead, in order to make the proper arrangements for the group’s arrival. And so, on December 15th, Glenn Miller boarded a transport plane to Paris, never to be seen again.

These days the orchestra continues on under the leadership of band director and male vocalist Nick Hilscher, a first-rate singer of the American Songbook. A native of Atlanta, he began his professional career in his teens, playing piano and singing in the Atlanta area. 

In 1998, Nick became the featured male vocalist with the orchestra. He worked with the Glenn Miller Orchestra for one year, taking a year off from college, and then returned to school to finish his degree. After earning his degree in 2000, Nick returned to his singing post with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, performing an average of 300 shows a year in venues like the Hollywood Bowl and New York City’s Birdland. His touring has taken him to all fifty United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe, South America, and Japan.

Nick worked with the Glenn Miller Orchestra until February 2005. Since that time, he has been performing solo acts as well as small tours as a featured artist with various bands. In 2005, Nick was the featured vocalist for a 100th birthday celebration of Tommy Dorsey with the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Victor Goines. During the same year, he was the featured vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra on a cruise celebrating Tommy Dorsey’s 100th birthday and continued in that role working closely with the legendary Buddy Morrow. Buddy, who directed the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra from 1977-2010, served as a great encouragement and mentor to Nick, bringing out the best in Nick’s performances and musicianship. Nick was chosen to carry on as director of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra after Buddy’s passing.