segunda-feira, 2 de novembro de 2009

Jerry Gray - A Salute to Glenn Miller

  1. Elmer's Tune
  2. Blue Rain
  3. Jersey Bounce
  4. Anvil Chorus
  5. Poinciana
  6. Restringing the Pearls
  7. Pennsylvania 6-5000
  8. Sun Valley Jump
  9. Perfidia
  10. Johnson Rag (Featuring Dave Harris)
  11. Serenade in Blue
  12. One O'Clock Jump
A Salute to Miller

A son of first generation Italian immigrants who settled in Boston, Generoso Graziano studied violin from the age of seven, played accordion as well and was self-taught as an arranger. By the time he joined another Bostonian, Artie Shaw (Arthur Arshawsky) in 1936, he was known as Jerry Gray. Soon Shaw, with Gray as his principal arranger, was locked in a battle with a very different breed of American musician, a model of mid-western caution and reserve from Clarinda, Iowa, Glenn Miller. The battle was one of supremacy in the pop music magazines as the Best Big Band in a nation then awash in sweet and swing bands, playing to dancers and vast radio audiences and record buyers coast-to-coast. Shaw reached the top with "Begin The Beguine" arranged by Gray. Then Miller did it with Joe Garland's "In The Mood", which Shaw had first but failed to edit and tailor as Glenn did to fit a three-minute 78-rpm record. Artie Shaw was both intellectually and emotionally unable to cope with his sudden celebrity status and, late in 1939, he simply abandoned his band in New York.

Within weeks Jerry Gray had been recruited by Miller to share principal arranging duties with Bill finegan. There Jerry Stayed until Glenn broke up his civilian band in September of 1942 to soon build a new orchestra, all-star in every way, for the Army Air Force. Of course, one of the first musicians Captain Miller persuaded to join him was Gray who knew how to write for strings, for which Glenn had big plans, almost all of which came to fruition. The service band had twenty strings, including a number of first-chair players from the New York Philharmonic.

With both the Miller civilian band and the AAF band Jerry Gray not only arranged but wrote many originals, some of which became very big hits. "A String Of Pearls", "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "Sun Valley Jump" were among them. Another great arranger-composer, Mel Powell, was also with the service band as was drummer-leader-singer Ray McKinley. These three led splinter units of the Miller service band in England and continued after by-then Major Miller disappeared forever in the fog over the English channel on December 15, 1944. It was Jerry Gray, however, who conducted the band that soon returned to the States. In 1946, Gray, once again a civilian, moved West and led the band on his own radio show, then took on similar duties for Club Fifteen, the Bob Crosby Hollywood-originated radio show with Jo Stafford, Dick Haymes, Margaret Whiting and the Andrews Sisters. He was finally persuaded to lead his own band playing his Miller-style arrangements and hits. He talked Willie Schwartz into playing clarinet lead, as he had done for Miller, hired the best studio guys, got a Decca record contract and finally sttled in Texas.

The band on these 1958 sessions heard in this collection was probably the best Gray ever had, made up of the cream of Local 47 studio musicians and key members of the Les Brown band. Reeds were played by Babe Russin, Ronny Lang, Willie Schwartz, Dave Harris and Jerry's brother-in-law, John Rotella. Trumpets were Ray Linn, Frank Beach, John Audino, Zeke Zarch (another Miller alumnus) and Al Porcino as well as Johnny Best, like Jerry a veteran of both Miller and Shaw. The all-star trombone section has Jimmy Priddy, Hoyt Bohannan, Joe Howard, Ray Sims and Milt Bernhart. Wow! Rhythm here is by the great Mel Lewis, drums, famed Rolly Bundock, bass and Ernie Hughes, here often featured, at the piano. Dave Pell was the producer on the date, which accounts for all the Les Brown guys (Dave played alto in the best, most swinging band Les ever had) and Bones Howe was the recording engineer.

As Dave says, "The Glenn Miller band itself never sounded this good". It was all done 2-track with a limited number of microphones. Dave adds, "The lawyers controlling the Miller estate tried to block the original release of the records that came from this session, they were that good. But you can't copyright arrangements, which were all Jerry's". You'll notice differences from the original performances, of course. Section work replaces the vocals. Reeds take over where violins swelled in the case of "Poinciana", which Gray had written for the Air Force Band. All the tenor sax solos are by Babe Russin (a star of the Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey bands and the movie "The Glenn Miller Story") and all the trumpet solos with the Miller civilian band on some of the same titles, notably "Sun Valley Jump" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000".

I've mentioned that Best played both with Shaw (joining Artie just shortly after Gray came aboard) and Miller. He is often called a Louis Armstrong-influenced player but Johnny says he didn't listen to Armstrong records very much until he told Shaw that his goal was to learn to play like Bunny Berigan. Said Artie, "Who do you think was the idol for Bunny? Louis Armstrong! Better get some records and start listening." It wasn't long before Best's solos, always melodic and inventive, took on some of Satchmo's force and range. It's very apparent on these recordings. John says he found it more musically exciting to play with the Shaw band but he and Artie fought and split more than once and finally Best moved to the Miller band where he settled into a comfortable groove. "At one point Glenn actually paid me $125.00 a week", he says, "Of course I paid all my hotel bills and food and clothes and gasoline out of that, but a buck went a long way in 1940!" Everyone was young in those days, too. Most of Miller's men were in their twenties and the leader was barely in his thirties. Sidemen needed stamina to do seven shows a day at the Paramount Theater in New York, the CBS radio show three days a week, early-morning or late night recording sessions, plus one-niters. And, after the summer of 1939 at the Glen Island Casino and the "In The Mood" break-through the band couldn't possibly fill all the gigs it was offered, even working twelve or more hours a day every day of the week. That the musicians were able to continue to perform wonderfully well, look rested and play with spirit and showmanship is a credit top the leader, even though Glenn was never one-of-the-boys, ruled the band like the military Major he later became and most of the musicians (and arrangers) were sick of the clarinet-lead sound. Glenn also was the perfect, always charming host on his Chesterfield radio show and on stage as well. What's most remarkable is that over a half a century later the Miller magic, reflected in his music, was still there: still the number one big band of all time!

Let's look at the Jerry Gray-arranged Miller hits collected here. "Elmer's Tune" was an eight-bar tune mortician's assistant Elmer Albrecht invented, noodling around at Chicago's Aragon ballroom during breaks of the Dick Jurgens band. Jurgens completed the tune, brought in a lyricist and had himself a hit. But the BIG version was by Glenn Miller. It hit Number 1 in October of 1941.

"Blue Rain" is a now nearly-forgotten Jimmy Van Heusen melody that reached its peak after Miller was in the service: 1943. "Jersey Bounce" here features the muted trumpet of Ray Linn and terrific section work by all. Jerry Gray turned Verdi's "Anvil Chorus" into pure swing. This revised arrangement stars Mel Lewis on drums and pits the massed trumpets against the reeds in the last chorus or two. On "Poinciana" Willie Schwartz has a rare clarinet solo. Producer Dave Pell says "Re-Stringing The Pearls" is "String Of Pearls" played sideways. "Pennsylvania 6-5000" is true to the original except that Johnny Best's trumpet solo is even better. The same can be said of "Sun Valley Jump". "Perfidia" is as romantic as ever but with trombones and saxes instead of the Modernaires. Now - about "Johnson Rag". Better this should be a surprise to you. Suffice to say it is an exception to the Miller sound, that it's fun and that Dave Harris has the sax solo. Jerry skips the Billy May intro to "Serenade In Blue" but shows what a beautiful melody Harry Warren wrote (number two in the fall of 1942). "One O'Clock Jump" is a 'head' arrangement designed to give solo space to pianist Ernie Hughes and to the trumpets of Ray Linn (with mute) and John Best (open horn).

There's no question but that this is exceedingly delightful music all the way. We can look forward to a follow-up release with Jerry Gray again showing how important he was to Glenn Miller and why both men were so important to the Swing Era.

Fred Hall, May 1997.

(Fred is a prolific writer on music and musicians and host of the internationally-syndicated radio show, "Swing Thing")

Arranged and conducted by Jerry Gray

Band Personnel:

Wilbur Schwartz, John Rotella, Ronny Lang, Dave Harris, Babe Russin - saxes
John Best, Ray Linn, Frank Beach, John Audino, Zeke Zarchy, Al Porcino - trumpets
Jimmy Priddy, Hoyt Bohannan, Joe Howard, Ray Sims, Milt Bernhart - trombones
Ernie Hugues - piano
Mel Lewis - drums
Rolly Bundock - bass

Produced by Dave Pell

Recording Engineer: Bones Howe
Liner Notes by Fred Hall

Recorded Direct to 2-Track Stereo at Radio Recorders, Hollywood, California, February 18, 24 and 25, 1958.

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