Performing in New York for the first time since their concert at Lincoln Center 21 years ago in 1998, the Glenn Miller Orchestra (the present incarnation of which was formed in 1956; the original in 1938) brought enthusiastic audience members at The Town Hall on a nostalgic journey back to the Swing Era of the 1930s and ‘40s, with the iconic hits of the legendary band leader and other popular selections from the Great American Songbook. The two shows on October 19, produced by Didier Morissonneau, were a national stop on the world tour of these world-class talents, playing more than 300 dates per year, over a span of 48 weeks, with a rotating set list that allows fans to attend every night and never hear the same show twice.
Under the musical direction of Nick Hilscher, who, along with Hannah Truckenbrod, also provided the lead vocals, the orchestra – featuring eighteen masterful musicians on saxophone, trombone, trumpet, bass, drums, and piano – presented a total of nearly two dozen songs from their repertoire of 900 unforgettable standards of jazz and swing. The program for the show didn’t include a printed set list, but you didn’t need one. In addition to introducing all of the band members and singers (including special surprise guest Linda Purl) to the audience, Hilscher, in his role as host, identified each of the songs by name and shared fascinating facts and interesting anecdotes about them and their history (both in the evolution of the GMO and in the context of the period). Those included such familiar favorites as Miller’s signature “Moonlight Serenade” (the GMO’s theme song, with which they open and close each show), “Pennsylvania 6-5000” (for which the audience was encouraged to join in on the titular lyric), “Tuxedo Junction” and “String of Pearls” (#1 hits of 1940 and ‘41), “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (which earned the first Gold Record ever awarded, for its sale of 1.2 million records in 1942), and the timeless classic “In the Mood” (Miller’s most popular track, which topped the music charts for thirteen straight weeks in 1939, and helped to secure his success and fame as the top bandleader in the world), along with some lesser-known numbers like “I Know Why (And So Do You)” (from the orchestra’s first motion picture, Sun Valley Serenade, filmed in 1941).
The virtuoso performance captured the authentic sound of the period, from the vibrant richness of the full orchestra, which filled the large historic theater to the rafters (they don’t call them “big bands” for nothing!), to the jazzy swinging rhythms, stylized movements of the brass and mutes in time to the music, and sensational instrumental solos – each and every one demonstrating a flawless command of the genre. The vocals, too, were top-notch deliveries of the originals, marked by the suave and debonair crooning and demeanor of Hilscher (whose outstanding rendition of “Serenade in Blue” built to a powerful crescendo), the star quality of Purl (bringing personality to her solo on “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” written by Steve Allen in 1956), the smooth, mellifluous, and resonant voice of Truckenbrod, who brought down the house with her perfect pitch, impressive range, and spot-on recreations of the vintage stylings (the sentimental ballad “I Wish You Love” was a standout), and the pleasant harmonies of The Moonlight Serenaders (composed of Hilscher, Truckenbrod, and members of the band) on such lively tunes as “Little Brown Jug” and “I’ve Got a Girl in Kalamazoo” – two among the concert’s many highlights that kept the performers and the audience swinging, swaying, snapping, and clapping along to the beat.
If you missed the shows in New York, and are “in the mood” to swing along with the phenomenal Glenn Miller Orchestra, you can listen to their CDs, or catch their big-band sound live on stage at venues throughout the US and the world, on dates throughout the year.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.