The sold-out crowd at Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center for the Arts is ready to sing ’n swing this Saturday, October 23, 2021 evening with a concert of big band jazz presented by The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Glenn Miller was America’s #1 best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best-known big bands on the planet.
Miller was born in Iowa in 1904, but as a youngster, moved with his family to Missouri. By the time he was 11, he had made enough money from milking cows to buy his first trombone. After moving to Colorado, during his senior year of high school, Miller became keenly interested in a new style of music called “dance band music.” In fact, he was so taken with it that he formed his own band with some classmates and by the time he had graduated, he decided to make his mark as a professional musician.
After college, Miller went to New York City where he found work as a freelance trombonist with musicians including Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. After marrying his college sweetheart, Helen, in 1937, he started his own group. By 1938, however, the group had disbanded.
Discouraged, Miller created a new sound where he had a clarinet and tenor saxophone play the exact same part while three other saxophones played harmony together within a single octave. With this magical combination differentiating his band from all others that existed in the late 1930s, Miller signed with RCA Victor’s Bluebird Records and produced a string of hits which included “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a recording which was awarded the first gold record.
In 1942, at the peak of his musical career, Miller decided to volunteer for the armed forces. He formed a 50-piece Army Air Force Band, which he took to the UK in 1944 and presented over 800 performances. While flying from the UK to France to make arrangements to move his band there, Miller’s aircraft disappeared in 1944 in bad weather over the English Channel. His wife, Helen, accepted his Bronze Star medal on his behalf.
In 1946, the Miller estate authorized a band which was led by Tex Beneke; this edition of the group toured until 1950. After the release of the motion picture The Glenn Miller Story in 1956, the Miller estate authorized yet another band, the original version of the current orchestra that still tours today.
Inside the sleek and modern Grunin Center auditorium, the lights dim and an announcement is heard, “Please welcome to the stage The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra under the direction of Eric Stabnau!”
The 13 musicians of the Glenn Miller Orchestra open with one of Glenn Miller’s signature songs, “Moonlight Serenade,” a number composed by Miller himself. In person, the orchestra’s performance sounds similar to the Grammy-inducted 1939 recording of the tune, but crisper, fuller, and more alive. Music lovers can still enjoy the old-time vibrato of the saxophones as they contrast with the trumpets’ and trombones’ punctuating countermelody but, now, in high-fidelity courtesy of the natural-sounding acoustics inside the Grunin Center auditorium.
Musical director Eric Stabnau counts off “Caribbean Clipper” before playing a tenor sax solo on this upbeat composition.
Trumpets blare and drums roll as Stabnau switches over to clarinet on this swingin’ number.
Miller’s 1941 #1 hit, “A String of Pearls,” is up next — the sweet saxophones playing the infamous melodic strain which is then punctuated by the trombones. The trumpeters play with mutes on this arrangement that features dynamics ranging from pianissimo to fortissimo.
Drums and brass open “The St. Louis Blues March” before being joined by the rest of the band. Percussionist Dean Schweiger keeps the march feel going as he leads the orchestra on a swingin’ musical journey which features trombone, saxophone, and bari sax solos.
Stabnau introduces vocalist Kate Curran who shines on Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
With her stylized hairdo and her sparkling off-the-shoulder gown, she smiles as she croons in her rich alto voice, “I wonder where my basket is?” before the boys in the band respond, “So do we, so do we, so do we.”
Reeds and rhythm section — tinkling piano, brushes on drums, and plunking bass — play the introduction to “Sentimental Journey” before being joined by the brass. Curran sways slowly to the melodious sound until it’s her turn to add her sweet voice to the mix singing, “Gonna take a sentimental journey/Gonna set my heart at ease/Gonna make a sentimental journey/To renew old memories” on this slow and sumptuous arrangement.
Curren takes leave of the stage as the band glides into their performance of Miller’s 1938 #1 hit, “Tuxedo Junction.” This number features the group’s top-notch trombone section waving plunger mutes as the band swings.
The orchestra follows up with a Glenn Miller tune that has no title but, as Stabnau explains, is “just a number in the Glenn Miller Library of arrangements” — “705.” This upbeat, toe-tapper features trumpet, tenor, and baritone sax solos, and brass players use hats to mute and move the sound to cheers and applause.
The orchestra follows up with an instrumental version of the Etta James staple, “At Last,” where the reeds sing the melody. They’re followed by the trombones which add vibrato as the players wiggle their slides. Piano sweetly plays beneath the floating notes of the horns, and the bass walks along to the soft brush beat of Schweiger’s drums.
Moving on to Miller’s 1941 hit, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” the intro sounds like a train leaving the station and the reeds play the infamous melody to a walking bass.
Kate Curran and Erik Stabnau perform as a vocal duo on this number which features the famous, “Pardon me, boy/Is that the Chattanooga choo choo?/Track twenty-nine/Boy, you can gimme a shine?” lyric before trombones wave from side to side.
“American Patrol” is a 1942 Miller tune which combines original themes in addition to well-known American melodies like “Dixie” and “Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean.”
Stabnau dedicates the number to all of the veterans in the audience who stand to be recognized. The crowd applauds for the veterans as the music rolls and heads bop to the beat of this appealing number.
During a short intermission, we chat with several members of the crowd who share their opinions of the concert thus far. Exclaims Margaret from Brick, “The Glenn Miller Orchestra is just terrific! I love all the songs they played — every one of them is a favorite!”
Whereas Joseph from Lakewood recalls, “I used to go to dances where The Glenn Miller Orchestra performed,” Karen from Bayville declares, “I love this band! I keep wanting to get up and dance,” explaining, “Swing is our favorite dance.” Karen’s husband, Junior, agrees, adding, “I just wish there was a place where we could dance right now.”
Following intermission, saxophones open “Little Brown Jug” — a rollicking swing version of the well-known 1869 folk tune — arranged for the band in 1939. In a perky rendition featuring a tenor sax solo, drummer Dean Schweiger keeps the tempo steady as the musicians rise to play this toe-tapping classic.
“Adios” is a Miller arrangement from 1941 which features brass solos in the form of trumpet and trombone.
It’s followed by a number about which Stabnau says, “Sing along if you know the lyrics, and if you don’t, you’ll catch on quickly.” Saxes bow and trombones sway on a swinging version of Miller’s 1940 Top 5 hit, “Pennsylvania 6–5000,” complete with the audience vocalizing the title in rhythm along with the band.
Curren’s warm and melodious alto voice is featured again on “I Know Why (and So Do You),” a song which was the “B” side of “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” and on a delightful arrangement of “I Won’t Dance” her voice dancing as she sings while the band crescendos to applause and whistles.
The reeds play the melody in harmony backed by the talented rhythm section on “Stardust,” and Curren and Stabnau sing a vocal duet on the audience-pleasing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” which elicits cheers and applause.
The audience enjoys a highlight of the evening’s musical feast with the band’s performance of one of Glenn Miller’s signature songs — his 1940 hit that topped the charts for over three months — “In the Mood.” Its soft dynamics grow to loud blasts of the brass which create live the classic sound for which this legendary musical group is famous.
Following huge applause, Stabnau and the Orchestra conclude tonight’s stroll down Memory Lane with a reprise of “Moonlight Serenade.” The crowd responds with a standing ovation, and Stabnau asks, “Would you like to hear one more?”
The audience responds in the affirmative and the band plays an encore of Miller’s 1940 arrangement of “Oh, So Good” which features a potpourri of solos on trumpet, bari sax, bass, clarinet, and piano — in addition to band members shouting in unison, “Oh, so good, so good” — on this upbeat and happy way to end the show.
The crowd rises to its feet once again whistling and cheering while Stabnau, Curren, and the band wave goodnight.
As we make our way out of the auditorium, we catch up with Karen from Bayville who comments, “It’s really cool how the band controls the dynamics — they can play really soft and, then, really loud,” continuing, “I also really like the vocalist, Kate Curren. She has the look and the style — great hair and a great smile — and I love how she subtly swayed as she was singing.” Her husband, Junior, agrees, adding, “The entire Glenn Miller Orchestra was fantastic! I’ve been listening to them since I was six or seven years old.”
We also chat with several family members of drummer Dean Schweiger who are in the audience tonight. Exclaims Schweiger’s nephew Conrad, from Marlton, “It was a really cool show! I liked that I could feel the beat — I wanted to tap my toes!”
Recalls Schweiger’s mom, Annette from Marlton, “Dean’s father used to play this type of music all the time; it was our dinner time music. When Dean was three years old, he’d play his drums when his dad would play the trumpet.”
Declares Schweiger’s dad, Paul from Marlton, “I never dreamed Dean would get to play with this band — I’m very proud of Dean!”
We additionally chat with Schweiger himself who reveals, “It’s very good to be back playing music again after the pandemic. Last year, I didn’t think it would ever come back, so I took a hiatus. Now, it’s so refreshing to be playing music again for a live audience — and this was a great crowd, too!”
Lastly, we chat with Hank from Lakewood who sums things up by asserting, “The Glenn Miller Orchestra is just fabulous! I’d never seen them live before, and they’re better than good — they’re great!”
To learn more about The Glenn Miller Orchestra, please go to glennmillerorchestra.com. To find out about future events at Toms River’s Grunin Center — including The Jazz Lobster Big Band featuring Tony Corrao on Nov. 21, Splish Splash: The Music of Bobby Darin on Dec. 3, and The Eric Mintel Quartet on Dec. 5 — please go to grunincenter.org.
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