Tour brings Glenn Miller Orchestra to Santa Barbara
It’s not exactly easy to sit still at a Glenn Miller Orchestra concert.
“A lot of times, we’ll see people dancing in the aisles or swaying in their seats,” Erik Stabnau, the legendary band’s music director, told the News-Press.
The audience will likely be in the mood to tap its feet and maybe even dance when the Glenn Miller Orchestra swings into action at 7 p.m. March 20 at The Marjorie Luke Theatre in Santa Barbara.
Started in 1938 by director and trombonist Glenn Miller, the orchestra will play its famous hits, including, of course, “In the Mood” and “Moonlight Serenade.” The ensemble also performs hits such as “Little Brown Jug,” “Tuxedo Junction,” “A String of Pearls” and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”
The touring band consists of more than a dozen instrumentalists and two vocalists — Jenny Swoish and Mr. Stabnau, who also plays tenor saxophone.
When the band plays “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” the instrumentalists all stop at the same time and exclaim “Pennsylvania 6-5000!” That’s just like they did back in the days of Mr. Miller, who led the orchestra until 1942 when he dissolved the band at the height of its popularity. He did that so he could volunteer for the U.S. Army, where he formed the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. The ensemble entertained members of the armed forces in Europe during World War II.
On Dec. 15, 1944, Major Miller took off in a single-engine plane, flying ahead of his band, to France when he disappeared over the English Channel. Major Miller was never seen again, and the Army declared him officially dead in 1945.
Jimmy Stewart starred in the title role of “The Glenn Miller Story” (1954), and that led to popular demand for a revival of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Miller Estate authorized the re-formation of the band, which has continued to this day.
The ages of the musicians vary from their mid-20s to mid-60s, and some have been with the band for more than 20 years, Mr. Stabnau, the director, told the News-Press.
Mr. Miller’s swing hits remain popular, Mr. Stabnau said.
“One (factor) is the level of the popularity of the original group in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Glenn, at times, was the most famous musician in the whole country. He had so many top hits such as ‘Moonlight Serenade,’ ‘In The Moon,’ ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo.’”
In fact, Mr. Stabnau noted, the Glenn Miller Orchestra had 59 singles in the top 10 and appeared in two movies — “Orchestra Wives” and “Sun Valley Serenade.” Mr. Stabnau added that Mr. Miller started the trend of movies making particular songs popular.
Today, there are fewer people still around who grew up with the music in the 1930s and ’40s, Mr. Stabnau said. “But a lot of the children of the Greatest Generation make up a big chunk of our audience. They may have heard the music from around the household.”
While today’s audience tends to be an older demographic, “we get folks of all different ages, which is amazing,” Mr. Stabnau said.
He said the revival of swing music in recent years has led to younger people attending concerts.
“The younger folks don’t always know Glenn Miller by name, but they still recognize the music, such as ‘In the Mood,’ ‘Chattanooga Choo-Choo,’” he said.
This band is always in the mood and on the move.
“We play over 200 shows a calendar year in the U.S. and Japan, one night per city,” Mr. Stabnau said.
“We begin and end every show with our theme song, ‘Moonlight Serenade,’” said Mr. Stabnau, who earned his bachelor’s in music jazz and contemporary media in 2014 at the Eastman School of Music in his hometown of Rochester, N.Y.
He went on to earn his master’s in audio arts in 2017 at Syracuse University. After that, he joined the Glenn Miller Orchestra, playing tenor saxophone and the solos the legendary Tex Beneke made famous in the 1930s and ’40s.
“I hope we do this music justice and play it in an authentic style and recreate the sound of the original band,” Mr. Stabnau said.
Like the audience moving to the beat, the musicians don’t sit still for the entire concert.
“There’s a fair amount of choreography,” Mr. Stabnau said. “We’re standing up; we’re sitting down. The trombonists are waving their trombones. The saxophonists are going left and right.”