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News > Big Band is Back Glenn Miller's legacy lives on
Big Band is Back Glenn Miller's legacy lives on

Posted 12/7/2012   Updated 12/7/2012 Email story   Print story


by Donovan Jackson
Air University Public Affairs

12/7/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, AL  -- The Glenn Miller legacy continues with the 31st annual Glenn Miller Holiday Concert, performed by the United States Air Force Band's Airmen of Note, at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Troy University's Davis Theatre in Montgomery.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the original Glenn Miller Christmas Eve concert, performed for Maxwell Airmen in 1942.

"The last Glenn Miller concert that I went to was two years ago," said Bill Chivalette, curator for the Enlisted Heritage Hall. "The sound of the music was so good that it sent chills down my spine."

Those planning to attend the concert are encouraged to bring canned food products to donate to the Montgomery Area Food Bank. In its ongoing fight against hunger and poverty, the food bank will be distributing the canned goods across south-central Alabama.

"Concert attendees who decide to donate will be helping to supply food to those who need it the most," said Bill Havron, deputy director of the food bank. "Besides collecting the food, I am really looking forward to the concert," he said. "I had attended the concert several times while I was on active duty."

Miller, then a captain, was assigned to Maxwell in 1942 as an assistant special services officer during a time when almost every family in the country, including those of Maxwell Field and the Alabama River Region, had sent family members to fight in World War II. Miller, a well-known musician and bandleader, gave a concert to Maxwell Airmen on Christmas Eve.

"Glenn Miller's big band sound provided a holiday morale boost to the Airmen," said Dr. Robert Kane, director of the Air University History Office.

"Glenn Miller was like the Elvis of his time," Chivalette said. "His star appeal had even helped to recruit more troops for the war."

In 1982, Air University Commander Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a jazz enthusiast and a Miller fan, proposed to then Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar that Air University and Montgomery jointly sponsor a free Christmas concert to commemorate Miller's 1942 Christmas Eve concert.

A holiday tradition to entertain Maxwell and Gunter Airmen and the River Region communities began, and this year's concert marks the 31st time the big band holiday sound has been performed locally.

Known for his attention to detail, perfectionism and unrelenting rehearsal schedule, Miller's style of music came from his determination of never wanting to sound like the masses.

His unique musical sound is comprised of a clarinet playing a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave.

"He was a perfectionist, and you could tell once you heard him and his band play," Chivalette said.

While stationed at Maxwell, Miller played trombone with the Rhythmaires, a 15-piece dance band, in Montgomery and in service clubs and recreation halls on Maxwell.

During World War II, Miller and his band toured nonstop. During the 14 months the band was active, it played in 11 overseas locations, performed 505 radio broadcasts, gave 353 personal appearances and took part in 956 morale-raising activities to more than two million troops in combat zones.

Miller died at the age of 40 on Dec. 15, 1944, while flying from the United Kingdom to Paris to play for the Soldiers. His plane, a single-engine U.S. Army Air Force's UC-64 Norseman, disappeared while flying over the English Channel. No trace of the aircrew, passengers or plane has ever been found, and Miller's status is missing in action.

The band continued to play for a short time after Miller's disappearance. In August 1945 the band gave its last performance at the Washington Press Club for President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The band members received an honorable discharge.

"Glenn Miller's name will live forever within the Air Force," said Chivalette. His legacy has carried on through the Airmen of Note, a band within the United States Air Force Band. Airmen of Note was created in 1950 from smaller groups within Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., and continues to play jazz music for the Air Force community and the public.

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