Glenn Miller: The Godfather Of Bop?


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The revolutionary "Salt Peanuts" bop phrase occurs three times on the commercial release of Glenn Miller's 1939 recording, played in full unison by the brass section.
The idea of Glenn Miller being the godfather of bop at first sounds like the most outlandish of ideas. Yet this is just what he became. In 1939, Glenn Miller recorded the first evidence we have of what would become known as be-bop (later known as bop).

Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary tells us that bop is "jazz characterized by harmonic complexity, convoluted melodic lines, and constant shifting of accents and played at a very rapid tempo." The word be-bop comes from the Spanish word "ariba," which means "Go!" The Miller recording we are going to examine was a song co-written by Eddie Durham and "Taps" Miller, both favorite musicians of the Count Basie Orchestra.

The song? "Wham (Re-bop, Boom-Bam)." As arranged by Eddie Durham for Glenn Miller, this recording contains the same revolutionary musical phrase later heard on Dizzy Gillespie's trailblazing 1944 recording with Charlie Parker: "Salt Peanuts." How this came about is one of the most overlooked mysteries in the history of jazz.

Eddie Durham was born August 19, 1906 in San Marcos, TX, and died on March 6, 1987, in New York City. He led an incredibly varied life as a pioneering electric guitarist, trombonist and arranger. He wrote arrangements for all of the best-known big bands of the era, including Jimmy Lunceford, Artie Shaw, Count Basie and Glenn Miller. He was also a prolific composer, writing "Topsy," "Slip Horn Jive," and "Glen Island Special" in addition to "Wham (Re-Bop, Boom-Bam)." After a long absence, he returned to playing and touring with a group of ex-Basie musicians in 1969, remaining active until his death.

Eddie Durham's lyricist on "Wham..." was Marion Joseph "Taps" Miller who was born July 22, 1915 in Indianapolis, IN. Like Durham, Miller was a triple threat performer, predominantly active as a dancer although he also played trumpet. He gained fame in the late 1930's and Forties as a dance in stage productions as well as a sideman in several big bands including two stays with Count Basie's organization (1942 and 1947 - 1949) as a singer and trumpet player. In tribute to his best friend Taps, Buck Clayton wrote "Taps Miller" for the Basie band who recorded it for the first time on December 6, 1944. One of "Taps" Miller's showstoppers at his personal appearances was singing "Wham! (Re-bop,Boom-Bam)" while playing his trumpet and dancing!

"Wham (Re-bop, Boom-Bam!)" was among several songs arranged and contributed by Eddie Durham to the Glenn Miller Orchestra at a recording session scheduled for August 1, 1939, at RCA Victor Studios in New York City. This session also included "In the Mood," "An Angel In a Furnished Room," "Twilight Interlude," "I Want to Be Happy," and "Farewell Blues." "Wham..." was pressed onto the "B" side of a Bluebird 78 RPM record (B-10399), the "A" side given to another hit song of the era, "My Isle of Golden Dreams."

The revolutionary "Salt Peanuts" bop phrase occurs three times on the commercial release of Glenn Miller's 1939 recording, played in full unison by the brass section. They occur at 01:02, 01:13 and at 01:36 on the record.

On the immortal Dizzy Gillespie / Charlie Parker 1944 recording of "Salt Peanuts," our bop phrase is heard as both a brief but recognizable vocal interjection by Dizzy as well as a noticeable instrumental phrase, appearing an astonishing 14 times in 3:16 minutes! These occur at 00:11, 00:14, 00:17, 00:20, 00:24, 00:33, 00:36, 00:46, 00:49, 00:52, 00:56, 01:05, 01:08, 03:11!

Jazz is an improvisational art. As an art form, it progressed through labor-intensive jam sessions where players learned new ways of self-expression and technique from each other. We may never know precisely where Eddie Durham or Dizzy Gillespie heard the brass phrase that was featured so predominantly in Durham's arrangement of "Wham! (Re-Bop, Boom-Bam)."

Yet we now know something that jazz scholars have ignored for a long time: That Glenn Miller, through Eddie Durham, was the godfather of bop.

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